by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the High-level seminar on relations between the European Union and NATO

  • 07 Jul. 2008 - 07 Jul. 2008
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  • Last updated: 19 Aug. 2008 16:47

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The very title of this conference associates NATO and the EU in the same sentence, the same theme, and in the same concept – and that is reassuring.  A whole think tank industry has grown up in Brussels around the lamentation that the EU and NATO have an under-developed, even on occasion a blocked relationship.  To be honest, I myself have contributed to that lamentation from time to time; but always with the single purpose of moving the NATO-EU relationship forward.

Today I want to be – and can be – more hopeful.  Not because of what is known here in France as “la méthode Coué” – the vain hope that things will get better just because we proclaim it to be so.  On the contrary, I base my more positive outlook on the conviction that the NATO-EU relationship is gradually evolving, and will improve over time, whether by choice or necessity.

First, our two organisations find ourselves increasingly operating in the same places, from the Balkans to Darfur to southern Asia.  The notion, once popular, that we would have separate zones of interest and responsibility seems less true than ever.

Second, from a transatlantic perspective, a strong ESDP is more and more necessary.  I said already some years ago that the challenge for NATO was not more North America, but more Europe.  Those of you who were present in Bucharest at the recent NATO Summit will remember President Bush saying the same thing.

Finally, more EU members accept the need for a closer EU-NATO relationship.  We just heard about that from Bernard and Javier. And I am especially grateful to President Sarkozy for recognising the complementarity between our two organisations and his initiative to ensure more representation of NATO in EU meetings when possible, as well as to enhance the EU’s visibility in NATO.   In that connection I should like to thank Bernard Kouchner for sending Jean-Pierre Jouyet to Evere next week to present to the North Atlantic Council the priorities of the French Presidency of the European Union.

I am also following closely the debate here in France following the initiative of the President of the Republic to have France resume its full place in NATO.  I welcome that intention, as I made clear in my speech here in Paris at Sciences-Po last February.  France is already a major player in both the political side of NATO and in our operations.  Making the small final step to a full participation will be a win-win situation.  NATO and the EU can only benefit from a France which is comfortably at the heart of both organisations.

So, in sum, the logic that we need to work together is gradually prevailing – as I always believed it would.  But the world moves fast and the challenges of the 21st century do not leave much time for two major institutions to work out how they should relate to each other.  The report card is clear: improving, but could do better.

But could do what better?  Let me make some concrete proposals.

My first proposal concerns mutual consultation.  The all-too-infrequent meetings between the NAC and the PSC have been limited for too long to discussions on Bosnia-Herzegovina, although we are actually on the ground together elsewhere and in more demanding operations, including in Afghanistan and Kosovo.  If our soldiers and policemen are facing dangers on the ground, I believe we owe it to them to meet regularly and give them the best coordinated strategic direction from the top.  Indeed, not to do so would almost be a dereliction of duty.

Of course, I do not expect NATO and the EU either to always act together or to be systematically involved in each other’s missions.  There will be times when it is clearly preferable to use one institution rather than the other – for political reasons as well as reasons of comparative advantage.  But more intensive political dialogue would help us to take those decisions.  And it would, in the fullness of time, produce more strategic convergence in the priorities of our two organisations. 

That would be helpful in my view not just from an operational point of view.  Our political agendas are increasingly overlapping. As I said, we are both deeply involved in stabilising the Balkans, opening our door to new members from that region.  We are both developing our partnerships with the wider neighbourhood to our East and in the Mediterranean and Middle East region.  We are both investing considerable time and energy to develop a true partnership with Russia.  We are both keen to tackle 21st century challenges such as energy security, cyber defence, terrorism, and proliferation.  Surely our respective approaches would benefit from more regular and sustained political dialogue on those issues as well. 

It must be possible for NATO and the EU to have a better structured political relationship; for instance with monthly NAC-PSC meetings on pre-agreed topics, informal bi-monthly transatlantic lunches or dinners at Ambassadorial level, or regular visits to NATO by senior EU officials involved in issues of common concern, and vice-versa.

I see scope for synergy in another area as well.  The EU has begun work to update and implement its European Security Strategy.  NATO will soon begin to prepare its Declaration on Alliance Security which will be a major deliverable of our Strasbourg/Kehl Summit next year.  To a certain extent both these exercises will prepare the way for a more fundamental review of our strategies or strategic concepts in the 2010-2011 timeframe.  I would very much welcome EU involvement in our process of reflection and I believe that NATO can be helpful to the EU’s deliberations.  If we are to be truly complementary it seems natural that we should have convergent, even overlapping strategic documents; and that the relationship with NATO be given due weight and importance in future EU documents in the same way that I am confident the EU relationship will be a key part of NATO’s new Strategic Concept.

These points having been made, I believe that the biggest, concrete challenge that we currently face is in the area of military capabilities and generating forces for our respective operations.  Here I am struck by the mounting evidence that we face many of the same problems.  Defence spending levels are a concern to both our organisations.  In planning its deployment to Chad, the EU experienced the same shortfalls in helicopters and strategic lift as we face in resourcing our ISAF mission in Afghanistan.  And forces deployed by NATO and the EU face the same challenges of force protection, countering terrorist attacks, and dealing with asymmetric threats.

We must stop wasting valuable money and effort by duplicating our capabilities and development programmes.  Forces are national, and the EU and NATO have exactly the same needs, Bernard, you are right.  That is why I would like to see us move beyond the current state of affairs -- where our respective capabilities experts can scarcely exchange information -- to one where they cooperate to develop real synergies.  Consequently, I ask myself why we can’t establish a limited number of “Combined NATO-EU Capabilities Projects” to address some of the urgent common requirements that I just highlighted, building on the strengths and expertise of each organisation, as well as on work already ongoing?  After all, we cooperate successfully at the national level, for instance in the recent Franco-British Helicopter Trust Fund project which complements the NATO helicopter initiative, and which is now taken on board in the EDA as well.  So why can’t we cooperate between institutions as well?  Why could we not contemplate setting up a joint strategic airlift project, bringing together the A400M and the C17?  Or working more closely together on the subject of helicopters?

Everything that I have said already brings me inevitably to another reflection which concerns the future of Berlin + -- the arrangement whereby NATO has offered to the EU the use of its assets and capabilities for EU-led operations.

Berlin +, I agree with Javier, was conceived over 12 years ago in a very different age.  It was based in particular on the premise that NATO and the EU would not be present in the same theatres of operation.  In reality, our experience has been that, more often than not, we operate in the same places but with different missions.  The EU often deploys civilian missions or police, as in Afghanistan and Kosovo, while NATO focuses on its core military added value, as well as on security sector reform.  So Berlin + has become too often a straitjacket rather than a facilitator.  It is useful to have it as an important option but we shouldn’t make it the only template for our relations.

I would therefore like to see new, complementary options and possibilities whereby NATO and the EU can in principle have access to each other’s assets and capabilities, and which would allow us to plan in concert in those instances where Berlin + is clearly not the right framework.  Let me be clear: both organisations would retain their independence and decision making authority, that goes without saying. I sometimes hear it said that NATO wants the EU to be its “civilian agency”.  Nothing could be more ridiculous.  I simply believe that we need pragmatic working procedures for joint planning, technical agreements and operational coordination that correspond to the reality of what we are actually doing these days. 

More simply, I also think that how each organization interacts with non-Member partners in operations is a good indicator of the avenues for progress in NATO-EU relations.  I do not presume to lecture anyone on the subject, but it is true that NATO, with more than a decade of experience of operations conducted with the help of outside partners, has gradually developed robust, open and transparent procedures for consultation and information exchange.  Those consultations take place at every stage of an operation, from planning to political discussion to conduct of the operation.  Those procedures – which are not yet perfect, I am aware – are regularly revised and improved, and I believe I can say that, on the whole, they satisfy those nations that, side by side with the NATO nations, face the same risks and assume the same responsibilities in the field.  In the same vein, NATO is also entitled to be pleased at having developed with all the ISAF partners the Comprehensive Strategic Political-Military Plan for Afghanistan, adopted in Bucharest.  On that basis it seems to me that the European Union, whose procedures are more recent and perhaps also reflect a more legal and stricter approach, might, sometimes, make greater room for its partners, whether or not they are NATO members.  In NATO's experience, one can gain from greater involvement of the partners, without loss of autonomy or flexibility.  This increased flexibility in relations with third countries would certainly be a little drop of oil that might make the complex machinery of the NATO-EU relationship run considerably more smoothly.

Furthermore these new forms of interaction are fully in line with what we at NATO call the comprehensive approach to crisis management, where we better calibrate civilian and military instruments.  They should involve more cross-representation and liaison in our planning headquarters and in our respective command structures in the field.  I would very much welcome the opportunity to develop this idea pragmatically in both NATO and with the reinforced ESDP structures. 

The programme of the French EU Presidency in the ESDP field also contains many useful ideas: for instance in responding to natural disasters or having a European carrier group - which would benefit from development in close consultation with NATO.  I continue to hope, moreover, that the new structures for ESDP will emerge despite the uncertainty now surrounding the Lisbon Treaty.  I believe that faster coordination and decision making in the EU facilitated by the enhanced role for the High Representative and the implementation of the common external action service will also progressively facilitate faster and better coordination with NATO.

I welcome in this respect the emphasis that the French Presidency has put on the need to develop more robust EU military capabilities in addition to strengthened planning structures.  NATO – no less than the EU – has no interest in an EU that is only able to do the “soft side”, such as civilian missions, be they police or justice and order.  If the soft side becomes the planning standard in the EU, the European Allies in NATO will inevitably focus on these things in NATO too and invest even less in high-tech, state-of-the-art military capabilities.  Both our organisations will suffer as a result. Not the soft side for the EU and the heavy lifting for NATO.

The corollary of this is that our standards should therefore be compatible and equally demanding.  The implementation of the French Presidency’s proposals in areas such as the development of new structural capability projects, the consolidation of EU defence industries and freeing up the EU market for defence equipment would help NATO too.  If neither of our organisations alone can persuade our governments to spend more on defence – and that is a point on which I shall not relax my efforts – then we need to work better together to eliminate duplication and establish a common “set of forces” that we can both draw on for our operations.

In making these suggestions, I am aware that it “takes two to tango”.  NATO also needs to shape up to be a viable partner for the strengthened ESDP.  Over the past four years I have been pushing hard for NATO reform, and I will continue to do so.  We need to do better at delivering the key capabilities needed for our operations, and to share the burdens more equitably in both human and financial terms.  We need to do a better job of prioritisation so that we devote our limited resources to the things that we actually need for the range of missions that we have identified in NATO’s Comprehensive Political Guidance.  My initiative on Defence Planning Reform is a crucial part of this effort.  We also need to develop more common capabilities within the Alliance, and faster, as well as overhaul our funding arrangements.  I am struck by the immense time and effort it takes to acquire the most basic common assets, such as an Allied Ground Surveillance system or C17 transporters or multinational logistics.

Finally, I shall not evade what we specialists delicately call the “participation issue”.  I have said before that NATO-EU relations could only benefit if all the members of each institution are comfortable with that relationship.  And that means we need to continue our efforts so that EU partner countries that are not members of NATO are closely associated with NATO's activities, particularly on operations.  It also means that, conversely, NATO Allies that are not members of the EU must be able to have an appropriate level of participation in the ESDP and play a full part in the specialised bodies supporting the ESDP.  As everyone knows, this is not currently the case and the political repercussions are having a major impact on both internal NATO business and the NATO-EU relationship.  In saying that, I am naturally thinking of the issue of non-participation of Turkey in the activities of the European Defence Agency.  I am aware of the political context in which this issue sits, but it seems to me precisely that in view of the technical nature of that body and all the underlying factors I have just described the current situation cannot be considered satisfactory by anyone.  I therefore call here for real efforts to be made, on both sides, to change the deal.

Against this background, I welcome the letter we received from Norway, Finland and Sweden, following on from other French proposals which mentioned the relationship between the EDA and NATO.  Those countries have made to my mind some sensible, constructive suggestions.  I hope they will be followed-up and that the member states of both the EU as well as NATO will make a good faith effort to find a solution which can at least move us forward.  This must be, of course, without prejudice to later decisions on further EU memberships or to the ultimate settlement of outstanding bilateral disputes.  That said, we cannot allow this participation issue to hold us back any longer with our soldiers and policemen out on so many dangerous missions, and with the need for close NATO-EU coordination growing all the time.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The French poet Paul Valéry once said:  “l’homme ne réalise qu’une partie de son possible”.  That may be true of one’s personal life, but key security institutions, such as NATO and the EU, need to do better and realise their full potential. 

I would hope that NATO’s 60th anniversary Summit in Strasburg/Kehl, in the heart of Europe, next April could see not only a new relationship between France and NATO, but that it will also send a powerful message regarding the future of the NATO-EU relationship.  NATO’s 60th anniversary must not be an occasion for looking backwards, but one where we take a bold look at the future.  In this century of globalised threats and multiple power centres, we need an even stronger transatlantic partnership to defend our common values and interests.  Political will by itself will not be enough; we need to make fuller and better use of the institutions and instruments we have at our disposal – starting with a real NATO-EU strategic partnership.  So I would sincerely like to attend in Strasbourg  and Kehl the first ever NATO-EU Summit, or at least a transatlantic event which could put its seal on reinforced consultation mechanisms such as those I have described, and which I would like to see implemented before the end of my mandate as Secretary General.

Thank you.