22nd Feb 2020


Nato and the Lisbon Treaty

  • Bosnia remains the sole item discussed at formal EU-NATO gatherings (Photo: Nato)

After Nato swiftly adopted its Strategic Concept at the summit recently held in Lisbon, it is irresistible not to observe the striking similarities between the revamping of both Nato and the EU structures that have taken place less than one year apart.

Both institutions openly admitted to redefining their goals in order to equip themselves to modern challenges. Brussels-based, they both signed their ticket to reinvention in Lisbon. Their leaders and high officials alike, called the day of that signing "historic." And whilst Nato folks insist that their alliance is not "just a military pact" but equally a "political alliance," EU leaders take pains to demonstrate how the European Union is not "just an economic club" but a "Union of values."

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That is where the similarities end. Nato's strategic concept is 11 pages long, easy to read and deliberately crafted for its members to interpret flexibly. The Lisbon Treaty is 270-pages-long full of dense, legal language, laying out rules for its signatories to tightly respect.

EU leaders heckled for years over the Union's decision-making process before reaching a significant breakthrough that gave birth to extended co-decision and qualified majority in many new fields. More conservatively, Nato has held on to its "consensus"-based approach where agreements are reached by common approval rather than votes; in practice that means that any Nato member can wave around its hidden veto.

Addressing the Youth Alanticist Summit held in the margins of the Nato gathering, Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen joked about the problem: "It is not part of my DNA to be patient, but I have had to learn the lesson. Important decisions can be made by consensus, it just takes more time". True, common defence policies still require unanimity within the EU, so why should Nato have it differently?

What comes across as more startling to the casual observer is how the Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov admitted to the same crowd that "the most controversial issue during the Nato negotiations was the difficulty in developing EU-Nato relations" adding that this relationship "needs to be smoothed out."

Given that 75 percent of Nato countries are also EU members, and that 21 states are members of both organisations, it is hard to imagine. Tellingly, Nato's strategic concept stretches out globally to incorporate new geo-political realities for its future, opening the door to political consultations with powers such as China, India and Russia. One wonders how technical co-operation to align EU mechanisms to Nato missions could prove to be a more rocky enterprise than embarking on political dialogue on defence matters between Nato and China.

There are some promising tools that might help boost EU-Nato co-operation. With any luck, the new EU Directive on Defence Procurement, entered into force in 2009, will push EU member states to make better use of their defence budgets, stop pursuing individual defence programs and open up a common defence market. After all, for years experts have stressed that duplication efforts must be avoided.

The Lisbon Treaty also provides for reinforced co-operation in areas of defence, but that will not necessarily smooth out EU-Nato relations. To this date, it is senseless that Bosnia remains the sole item discussed at formal EU-Nato gatherings, even if troops work together on the ground in Kosovo and Afghanistan. The technocratic excuse given is that Bosnia is the only operation where Nato formally gave its assets to EU troops under the Berlin Plus agreement.

Beyond purely military pursuits, the EU, Nato - and even the UN - should be able to formally sit around the table to co-ordinate civilian reconstruction and development, which is not the case today.

As the situation in Afghanistan highlights, police training, good governance, development assistance and political dialogue all go hand-in-hand for a successful mission. Indeed, military operations cannot be conducted in a void of civilian chaos, and civilian efforts need to be protected by soldiers in order to get their job done.

The European Council has tasked the High Representative Catherine Ashton to come up with new, creative ideas on EU-Nato co-operation for December 2010. Let us hope that her aides will copy and paste Nato's strategic concept onto the Lisbon Treaty, interpret the cluster of words simultaneously, and propose practical schemes that can bypass current legal obstacles.

At the end of the day, both documents should echo governments' will to develop a common culture of security, whether in Brussels, national capitals or in the field where the troops operate.

Joelle Fiss currently lives in New York and works for the US organisation Human Rights First. Prior to that, she worked six years in the European Parliament, as a policy advisor to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and previously as a press officer to the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs committee


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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