Behold a European foreign policy

At last week’s summit in Bucharest, the EU has confounded hard-liners in Washington and Moscow by deciding to revitalise NATO

This article was originally published in the Financial Times

At last week’s Nato summit in Bucharest (3-4 April) the European Union asserted itself under Franco-German leadership. It rebuffed US attempts to admit Georgia and Ukraine to the Euro-Atlantic family. At the same time, it stood up to Russian opposition to a new anti-missile shield on Czech and Polish territory.

Earlier in the year, the EU decided to supervise Kosovan independence – again, against Russia’s wishes. Although the decision on Kosovo was not unanimous, the dissenting minority chose to abstain constructively rather than to block the effort.

Now, surprising (perhaps) even itself, the EU has confounded hard-liners in Washington and Moscow by deciding to revitalise Nato.

Here, the big swing has been made by France. President Nicolas Sarkozy is reversing General de Gaulle’s 1966 decision to leave the military side of Nato. Next year French forces will re-integrate with their allies. “The more France takes its place in Nato,” Mr Sarkozy explained, “the more European Nato becomes”.

By way of an entrée, France is sending more combat troops to Afghanistan, relieving pressure on the Canadians in time for this year’s fighting season.

The French initiative has won concessions from the US government. Russia will be consulted about the proposed anti-missile system, and the US will agree to revive the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

Above all, George W. Bush – evidently pushed by John McCain who hopes to succeed him as president – has changed his tune about the development of an EU dimension in defence. In Bucharest Mr Bush admitted that European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) was both “useful and necessary”.

The final communique from Bucharest lauded the closer strategic partnership between Nato and the EU covering security, defence and crisis management, including the fight against terrorism, the development of coherent and mutually reinforcing military capabilities, and civil emergency planning. “We recognise the value that a stronger and more capable European defence brings,” it said.

So how will EU-Nato relations now develop?

It would be a mistake to see future Nato membership as an automatic precursor of EU membership. For one thing, Union membership is more demanding and rigorous.

Six EU states (Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, Malta and Sweden) are not, for various important reasons, members of Nato.

The Bucharest summit agreed to admit Albania and Croatia to Nato next year: yet while Croatia is likely to join the EU within five years, Albania’s prospects of EU membership are far distant.

Likewise, although Turkey has been a key member of Nato for many years, its progress towards EU accession is fraught with difficulties, some of them seemingly intractable.

Many aspects of the EU Nato relationship are bad. Despite the fact that the EU now has as many as twelve ESDP missions in various parts of the globe, only in Bosnia are the EU and Nato integrated.

In Afghanistan, there is no formal agreement between the EU and Nato. Even in Kosovo Nato forces are working separately from the EU governance mission.

Turkey refuses to let Cyprus in to Nato operations; Cyprus keeps Turkey out of ESDP. Greece’s refusal to call Macedonia ’Macedonia’ keeps that poor country, an EU candidate state, out of Nato.

In terms of military capability, the 21 member states of the EU which are also members of Nato together spend only one third as much on defence as the USA. The European pillar of the Atlantic Alliance has never achieved cost-effective interoperability of its armed forces. British RAF planes cannot land on French aircraft carriers for example.

The 1998 St Malo agreement between France and the UK foundered over Iraq. The UK, especially, with its half-hearted support for the Treaty of Lisbon has been a generally negative influence.

The Lisbon Treaty continues to make progress towards ratification so that it may enter into force on 1 January. Poland, once reluctant, is the latest to have ratified.

Under the terms of the new treaty, the EU is not constricted to being the “civilian arm” of Nato. It takes over the mutual security provision of the old Western European Union (rendering that organisation redundant).

A European Defence Agency will have the capacity to rationalise arms procurement policies. There are provisions for a core group of politically willing and militarily capable member states to integrate their armed forces and to undertake operations on behalf of Nato and the Union.

The treaty is flexible enough to allow the EU’s neutral member states to abstain constructively.

The Treaty of Lisbon thus achieves most of the objectives of the European Defence Community Treaty which was scuppered by the French National Assembly as long ago as 1954.

The British government would be wise to join with its French and German counterparts in exploiting the new military dimension of the EU early on in the life of the new treaty. This, after all, seems to be what the Americans want.

The case for sharpening the European Union’s strategic posture on security and defence is pressing. The vehicle for this is the European Security Strategy, drafted by High Representative Javier Solana and agreed in 2003. However, this document needs urgent refurbishment to reflect the clearer and more comprehensive objectives of the Union as set out in the Lisbon Treaty.

It should be revised to take heed of the causes of Europe’s current insecurity : terrorism, energy supply, climate change, immigration and civil liberties. Above all, it must address squarely the future of EU Nato relations where, in the past, we have seen an almost deliberate negligence on behalf of the Council.

If Nato is to survive and prosper, it needs in the EU an intelligent and coherent partner.

José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, was an important figure at Nato’s Bucharest summit. He has the resources at his disposal which allow the EU to complement Nato’s military role in terms of state-building and development aid.

Under the terms of the Lisbon Treaty, Mr Barroso will have the new High Representative as his Commission Vice-President, running a new quasi-autonomous EU external action service which will draw in the main from the Commission’s directorates-general and delegations.

Mr Barroso is central to the negotiations now in train between the Commission, Council and Parliament to ensure that the Treaty of Lisbon can be implemented in full quickly and efficiently. After Bucharest, he and Mr Solana are well placed to force the Council to make a rigorous critique of the present mission and future direction, size and shape of Nato, as well as of Nato’s relationship with the European Union at strategic and operational levels. They should not pull their punches.

Andrew Duff MEP (Liberal/UK) is a member of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

We will store your email address and gather analytics on how you interact with our mailings. You can unsubscribe or opt-out at any time. Find out more in our privacy notice.