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4th Jul 2022

'Intense' discussion on EU-Nato relations at Lisbon summit

  • EU chief Herman Van Rompuy (l) spoke of 'tearing down the walls' between Nato and the EU (Photo: nato.org)

A "long" and "intense" debate led by Turkey on EU-Nato relations was the main stumbling bloc for agreement on the final language of a new Strategic Concept for the military alliance at a summit in Lisbon, with Ankara unwilling to make concessions unless it is involved more in EU decision-making on security matters.

Despite a "powerful speech" by EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who echoed Ronald Reagan's famous address to the Soviets to "tear down the Berlin wall," EU-Nato relations remain blocked, Nato sources told this website.

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Mr Van Rompuy, who spoke to Nato leaders at a dinner in Lisbon on Friday night (19 November), said that "the ability of our two organisations to shape our future security environment would be enormous if they worked together. It is time to break down the remaining walls between them."

The Nato-EU stalemate rests on the issue of Cyprus, a divided island whose northern part is recognised as independent only by Turkey and whose EU membership since 2004 failed to reunite the two parts.

According to Nato diplomats, the Turkish delegation: "wanted to focus on the problems rather than the vision of what EU-Nato relations should aim to."

Negotiations on the final wording of the Strategic Concept concerning EU-Nato relations took "over three days" and prolonged the leaders' dinner on Friday night.

"It was a long debate over dinner, indeed. But we didn't ask for anything that was not promised to us already," Selcuk Unal, spokesman of the Turkish foreign ministry told EUobserver on Saturday (20 November). "Nato-EU co-operation is a must, we fully support that it improves, but only based on a clear and transparent legal framework. We want more consultation and transparency from the EU."

Cyprus is blocking Turkey's membership of EU's defence agency (EDA) which helps member nations to co-ordinate defence procurement and to streamline legislation in the defence industry. Mr Unal stressed that EDA membership "is not a Turkish request, but an EU promise."

From Ankara's point of view, no EU-Nato progress can take place until the "Greek Cypriots" budge on the reconciliation of the island or until they lift their objection to Turkey's EDA membership.

Turkey also wants to have consultations on the EU's common foreign and security policy, pointing to the fact that it was a member of the recently defunct Western European Union (WEU). Dating back to the Cold War era, the one-for-all-and-all-for-one security guarantee for European nations was considered to be even more powerful than the Nato pact, which leaves member states the option not to participate in the defence of an ally if it is attacked.

With the coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty, which establishes more EU competences in common foreign and security policy, the WEU was abolished, leaving Turkey out of any consultation format.

EU officials say it would be "impossible" to imagine any say for Turkey in political planning of EU military missions, as Ankara requests.

In the final text of the new Nato Strategic Concept, the 28 leaders "welcome the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty," but also point to the "significant contribution of non-EU allies" in adressing common security challenges. "For the strategic partnership between Nato and the EU, their fullest involvement in these efforts is essential," the document says, in an apparent reference to the Turkish demands.

More keywords from Turkish President Abdullah Gul - "mutual openness" and "transparency" - are also found in the description of an ideal EU-Nato relationship, along with more Cyprus-inspired ones on the "autonomy and institutional integrity of both organisations."

Meanwhile, Cyprus' request to participate in Nato meetings was dismissed as "completely unreasonable" by Turkey, which is a member of the military alliance since 1952.

The EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, tried to unblock the deadlock via "practical," confidence-building measures between Nato and the EU, such as in-theater co-operation on medical assistance, joint exercises and seminars. In a letter sent to the Nato secretary general ahead of the Lisbon summit, Ms Ashton said both organisations "should work closely with Cyprus and Turkey to identify possible ways to address the key concerns on both sides."

Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt, who has taken a special interest in the Cyprus issue, considers that solving the conflict is a priority for the Cypriots' sake rather than anything else. Improving EU-Nato relations "is really a sideshow to this," he told EUobserver.

"The key thing is for Cyprus to come together for its own sake. This European nation has been divided for too long. It needs political will and ability to compromise in the near future."

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