Sunday

16th Jun 2019

NATO chief admits failure in drawing EU closer

  • Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen (left) could succeed Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (right) as NATO secretary general (Photo: NATO)

Outgoing NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has said he regrets not having been able to bring the military alliance and the EU closer together.

"I'm sad that at the end of my mandate as secretary general I have not been able to bring this relationship more forward than on a pragmatic basis. I hope that after the end of July my successor, NATO and the EU will have a fresh look and see how we can bring the parties together," Mr Scheffer said on Monday (26 January).

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In his first public appearance since the Obama administration took office in Washington last week, Mr Scheffer gave a speech and answered questions at Security and Defence Agenda, a Brussels-based think-tank.

He mentioned Kosovo, where NATO and the EU work "side by side", but also highlighted "political reasons" for the difficult transatlantic relationship, as most European countries are part of both organisations.

The double membership means there are limited resources for sending troops to different EU and NATO missions.

"I try to be as pragmatic as I can. So does Javier Solana, my EU counterpart. I'm not going to point the finger at any capital, because I think it is a combination of factors which makes this a rather intractable and difficult problem", the NATO secretary general said.

As NATO approaches its 60 anniversary in April, marked by a special summit in France and Germany to underline the European dimension and the post-war reconciliation of the two great continental powers, EU and American allies remain divided over several issues, especially NATO enlargement to Ukraine and Georgia.

The Dutch diplomat, who worked at NATO during the Cold War, suggested that allies should resume political discussions, the way they did before the fall of the Soviet Union, even on topics which do not require NATO action, such as the recent gas crisis or the Middle East.

It is important that allies get a feel of each other's positions on various issues, he argued.

Mr Scheffer said Europeans should not expect President Barack Obama to wave a "magic wand" over the world's problems and underlined that Washington needed Europe to step up its burden sharing, especially in NATO's main theatre of operation – Afghanistan.

"If Europeans expect that the United States will close Guantanamo, sign up to climate change treaties, accept EU leadership on key issues, but provide nothing more than encouragement, for example in Afghanistan – then they should think again," the NATO secretary-general warned.

For the first time, Mr Scheffer mentioned Iran as part of a regional solution to Afghanistan's problems, echoing the change in Washington, where Mr Obama has pledged to involve his country in direct diplomacy with Tehran if certain conditions are met.

NATO resumes relations with Russia

Mr Scheffer also announced that he had met the Russian NATO envoy Dmitry Rogozin on Monday for informal talks and that the relations, severed after Russia's August war with Georgia, would be resumed on 6-8 February at the Munich security conference.

"We and Russia need to find a way to a new, more trusting and more rewarding relationship", he said, while stressing that "no one gets a veto over NATO enlargement" and maintaining his previous position that Russia violated the territorial integrity of Georgia.

Mr Scheffer admitted, however, that Ukraine's and Georgia's accession to the alliance were "not around the corner", but emphasised that they were performance-based.

The ambassador-level NATO-Russia Council, the main forum for co-operation, was suspended after NATO condemned Russia's actions during its war with Georgia as disproportionate.

Quest for successor begins

The NATO ambassadors meeting on Monday also marked the beginning of a search for a new secretary-general, as Mr Scheffer's mandate runs out in July. A formal announcement could be made at the April summit.

Early frontrunners for the top job include Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski, Norwegian foreign minister Jonas Gahr Store and former British defence secretary Des Browne.

Two Canadian contenders are also being mentioned - Peter MacKay and John Manley - the country's current defence minister and former foreign minister respectively. But according to the Economist, an EU candidate is more likely to be picked in order to secure a smoother relationship between the two organisations.

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