Tuesday

26th Oct 2021

Fear of US damaging EU-NATO relations, NATO chief says

NATO and the EU are far from capable of tackling a world crisis jointly as their relationship is still "problematic" and sees a "remarkable distance" between them - partly due to European fears over US influence, NATO's chief has said.

Speaking to EU officials in a Berlin conference hosted by the German foreign ministry on Monday (29 January), the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance's secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said it is "astounding" how far from the envisaged "strategic partnership" the two institutions have remained despite attempts to bring them closer.

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"Some deliberately want to keep NATO and the EU at a distance from one another. For this school of thought, a closer relationship between NATO and the EU means excessive influence for the USA."

"I do not share European instinctive fears about undue influence of the USA in European affairs anyhow. Europe is sufficiently self-aware – and they know it in Washington too," Mr De Hoop Scheffer argued.

The NATO chief added that even the US has overcome original suspicions towards the EU's security and defence policy and does not view the policy as a potential danger or the alliance and the EU as rivals.

But at the same time, differences in opinion due to differing membership structures of the two organisations still lead to "formal wrangles over security agreements, the exchange of information or the format of meetings," Mr Scheffer said.

"We have been able to circumvent many of these hurdles through informal procedures But if those who put up these hurdles do not display more responsibility and flexibility, it will continue to place a heavy burden on NATO-EU relations."

Solana highlights EU's tiny budget on defence

According to Mr De Hoop Scheffer, conflict zones such as the Western Balkans and Afghanistan have proved that NATO and the EU are "dependent upon one another" for their operations to succeed.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier agreed with the NATO chief that the potential for a strategic partnership between the two bodies "has yet to be used."

He added that the union's goal is to create a "joint defence of Europe" in a "shared vision" which would pool defence spending of individual member states and enable them to make savings.

However, the EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana - himself a head of NATO eight years ago - pointed out that defence spending still lags behind in Europe - in contrast to the US.

"Only a handful of member states' defence spending is over 2 percent of gross domestic product," he said, stressing that the US spends twice as much with over 30 percent of budget put aside for research and equipment while Europeans invest less than 20 percent in new technology.

Mr Solana was far less critical about the ties between the EU and NATO than the alliance's chief however, arguing instead that mutual operations have been successful.

"We have also worked closely and effectively side-by-side in Darfur, and we will be doing so in Kosovo and Afghanistan this year," he concluded.

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