Even before precise working arrangements between the European Union and NATO have been agreed, an informal EU-NATO dialogue has begun with the aim of promoting debate about security policy and encouraging consensus on key defence issues.
The dialogue is taking place under the auspices of the New Defence Agenda (NDA), an initiative launched within the framework of Forum Europe, the Brussels-based events organiser and European issues group, in May of this year under the patronage of EU High Representative Javier Solana, European Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten and NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson. Participants include senior officials and policy-makers in both the European Union and NATO as well as security analysts and industry representatives.
"The NDA is not going to duplicate the work of any existing think tank or research body," says Giles Merritt, director of both Forum Europe and the NDA. "Its aim is practical: to fill the empty ground between the European Union and NATO, and to give a higher media profile to the complex questions of Europe's new defence and security policies. We have got to bring the European Union and NATO closer together and headed in the same direction."
NATO is currently modernising itself to ensure that it is equipped to meet the security challenges of the 21st century as effectively as it met those of the last. Meanwhile, the European Union is seeking to develop military capabilities to be able by next year to take on a range of crisis-management missions, the so-called Petersberg tasks. As a result, European defence and security matters have become a dynamic area of new ideas and fresh developments. Despite this, they are not widely reported by media, and Brussels has not had a meeting point for the separate worlds of the European Union and NATO to come together.
The NDA has set up three working groups covering European force projection and capabilities; the transatlantic relationship; and defence-led research and development and industrial innovation. These groups meet quarterly, operating under "Chatham House rules" so that contributions to discussions will not be directly attributable to individual participants, and produce working papers that can be downloaded from the web site.
As of mid-2003, the NDA is also to organise an annual high-level security and defence conference in Brussels at which it will bring together major players from around the world. And it plans to publish discussion papers that will be circulated to national and international leaders and media.
In addition to the working groups, conferences and publications, the NDA has created a so-called rapid reaction forum. This body is designed to raise the public profile of defence-related issues and consists of 20 prominent defence experts - including senior EU and NATO officials, four leading NATO ambassadors, four MEPs, leading security analysts and Eduardo Serra, the NDA president and a former Spanish defence minister - all of whom are able to offer regular briefings on security matters to international media.
In the course of September and October the three working groups met for the first time. A second round of meetings is scheduled for December this year and January next year, a third round in March and April 2003 and a final round in June 2003. Meetings take place at Forum Europe's headquarters at the Bibliothèque Solvay, next to the European parliament, and are open to NDA members and invited guests.
The NDA is funded via membership fees and corporate sponsorship. Supporting companies include Agusta, BAE Systems, Dassault, EADS, the European Defence Industries Group, Finmeccanica, Snecma and the Western European Armaments Groups.
Further information on NDA activities and membership can be found on the Forum Europe web site at http://www.forum-europe.com