'Warm' welcome

De Gaulle quit the command structure, which is responsible for the alliance's strategic planning, in 1966 in a row over the influence of the United States in Europe.

Although Sarkozy could authorise the Nato reintegration without consulting parliament, he has called a confidence vote over the issue next week to give added legitimacy to his decision.

He is expected to win the vote easily.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Nato's secretary-general, said he "warmly" welcomed the French decision.

"It is now, of course, up to the French parliament to state its position, but the president has clearly indicated that the process that should lead France to resume its full place has reached its final stage," he said.

France is already Nato's fourth largest contributor of troops, and officials have said its self-imposed exile from the integrated command was hindering its ability to influence decision-making within the 26-nation military bloc.

Wednesday's announcement will make little difference on the ground in missions such as Afghanistan, where France has 2,800 troops, but it is symbolically significant and will firmly tie European defence ambitions to the Atlantic alliance.

De Gaulle 'betrayal'

Opinion polls show a majority of French voters support the move, but many of Sarkozy's political opponents have criticised it, saying it would limit France's freedom on the international stage.

Many influential conservatives have also distanced themselves from any rapprochement with Nato, seeing it as a betrayal of de Gaulle's vision of an independent France.

France was a founding member of Nato, but de Gaulle argued that Paris did not want to be dragged into a war that was not of its own choosing and left its high command.

Sarkozy, who is due to host a 60th-anniversary Nato summit in April, made a full return to the alliance conditional on creating a greater role for Europe within the organisation.

He said on Wednesday that this demand had been met.