Relations with the European Union

  • Last updated: 15 Feb. 2019 13:17

Sharing strategic interests and facing the same challenges, NATO and the European Union (EU) cooperate on issues of common interest and are working side by side in crisis management, capability development and political consultations. The EU is a unique and essential partner for NATO. The two organisations share a majority of members and have common values.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg meets with the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg meets with the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk on 3 Dec. 2014



  • Relations between NATO and the EU were institutionalised in 2001, building on steps taken during the 1990s to promote greater European responsibility in defence matters (NATO-Western European Union cooperation1).
  • The 2002 NATO-EU Declaration on a European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) set out the political principles underlying the relationship and reaffirmed EU assured access to NATO’s planning capabilities for the EU’s own military operations.
  • In 2003, the so-called “Berlin Plus” arrangements set the basis for the Alliance to support EU-led operations in which NATO as a whole is not engaged.
  • At the 2010 Lisbon Summit, the Allies underlined their determination to improve the NATO-EU strategic partnership. The 2010 Strategic Concept committed the Alliance to working more closely with other international organisations to prevent crises, manage conflicts and stabilise post-conflict situations.
  • In Warsaw in July 2016, the two organisations outlined areas for strengthened cooperation in light of common challenges to the east and south, including countering hybrid threats, enhancing resilience, defence capacity building, cyber defence, maritime security, and exercises. As a follow-up, in December 2016, NATO foreign ministers endorsed 42 measures to advance NATO-EU cooperation in agreed areas. Further areas of joint work were agreed in December 2017.
  • On 10 July 2018, in a joint declaration, the two organisations agreed to focus on swift progress in the areas of military mobility, counter-terrorism and strengthening resilience to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear-related risks as well as promoting the women, peace and security agenda.
  • Allied leaders welcomed this joint declaration at the Brussels Summit in July 2018 and tangible results achieved since 2016. They recognised that the development of European defence capabilities, avoiding unnecessary duplication, is key in joint efforts to make the Euro-Atlantic area safer and contribute to transatlantic burden-sharing.
  • Close cooperation between NATO and the EU is an important element in the development of an international “comprehensive approach” to crisis management and operations, which requires the effective application of both military and civilian means.
  • NATO and the EU currently have 22 member countries in common.2
  • Towards a more strategic partnership

    Strengthening the NATO-EU strategic partnership is particularly important in the current security environment, in which both organisations and their members are facing the same challenges to the east and south.

    In Warsaw in July 2016, Allied leaders underlined that the EU remains a unique and essential partner for NATO. Enhanced consultations at all levels and practical cooperation in operations and capability development have brought concrete results. The security challenges in the two organisations’ shared eastern and southern neighbourhoods make it more important than ever to reinforce the strategic partnership.

    Allied leaders welcomed the joint declaration issued in Warsaw by the NATO Secretary General, the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission, which outlines a series of actions the two organisations intend to take together in concrete areas, including countering hybrid threats, enhancing resilience, defence capacity building, cyber defence, maritime security, and exercises.

    As a follow-up, in December 2016, NATO foreign ministers endorsed 42 measures to advance how NATO and the EU work together, including:

    • measures to bolster resilience to hybrid threats, ranging from disinformation campaigns to acute crises;
    • cooperation between NATO’s Operation Sea Guardian and the EUNAVFOR Operation Sophia in the Mediterranean;
    • exchange of information on cyber threats and the sharing of best practices on cyber security;
    • ensuring the coherence and complementarity of each other’s defence planning processes;
    • parallel and coordinated exercises;
    • efforts to support the local capacities of partner countries in the sectors of security and defence.

    In December 2017, further steps were taken to boost NATO-EU cooperation through the addition of 32 new measures including in three new areas:

    • military mobility to ensure that forces and equipment can move quickly across Europe if needed, which requires procedures for rapid border crossing, sufficient transport assets and robust infrastructure (roads, railways, ports and airports);
    • information-sharing in the fight against terrorism and strengthening coordination of counter-terrorism support for partner countries;
    • promoting women’s role in peace and security.

    On 10 July 2018, just ahead of the NATO Summit in Brussels, the two organisations underlined the essential nature of continued cooperation to address multiple and evolving security challenges. They agree to focus on swift progress in the areas of military mobility, counter-terrorism and strengthening resilience to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear-related risks as well as promoting the women, peace and security agenda. They also welcome the complementary and mutually reinforcing efforts of the EU and NATO to strengthen capabilities in defence and security.

    At the July 2018 Brussels Summit, Allied leaders welcomed the joint declaration and the tangible results achieved in a range of areas, underlining their determination to develop and deepen cooperation by fully implementing the common set of 74 proposals. They recognised that the development of coherent, complementary and interoperable defence capabilities, avoiding duplication, is key to joint efforts to make the Euro-Atlantic area safer. Such efforts will lead to a stronger NATO, help enhance common security, contribute to transatlantic burden sharing, help deliver needed capabilities, and support an overall increase in defence spending.

    Allied leaders also welcomed the call for deeper NATO-EU cooperation by the European Council in June 2018. They noted that the fullest participation of non-EU Allies in the EU’s efforts to strengthen its capacities to address common security challenges is essential for the strengthened strategic partnership between NATO and the EU.

    The NATO Secretary General and the EU High Representative regularly report to NATO Allies and EU member states on progress in cooperation. (See reports: June 2017November 2017June 2018)

    Non-EU European Allies make a significant contribution to these efforts. For the strategic partnership between NATO and the EU, their fullest involvement in these efforts is essential.

    NATO and the EU can and should play complementary and mutually reinforcing roles in supporting international peace and security. The Allies are determined to make their contribution to create more favourable circumstances through which they will:

    • fully strengthen the strategic partnership with the EU, in the spirit of full mutual openness, transparency, complementarity and respect for the autonomy and institutional integrity of both organisations;
    • enhance practical cooperation in operations throughout the crisis spectrum, from coordinated planning to mutual support in the field;
    • broaden political consultations to include all issues of common concern, in order to share assessments and perspectives;
    • cooperate more fully in capability development, to minimise duplication and maximise cost effectiveness.
  • Cooperation in the field

    Combating illegal trafficking in humans in the Aegean and the Central Mediterranean

    NATO defence ministers decided on 11 February 2016 to deploy ships to the Aegean Sea to support Greece and Turkey, as well as the European Union's border agency Frontex in their efforts to tackle the refugee and migrant crisis. Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2) is conducting reconnaissance, monitoring and surveillance in the territorial waters of Greece and Turkey, as well as in international waters. The deployment in the Aegean Sea aims to support international efforts to cut the lines of human trafficking and illegal migration. NATO ships are providing real-time information to the coastguards and relevant national authorities of Greece and Turkey, as well as to Frontex, helping them in their efforts to tackle this crisis.

    In October 2016, ministers agreed to extend NATO's deployment in the Aegean Sea and also decided that NATO's new Operation Sea Guardian will support the EU's Operation Sophia in the Central Mediterranean with NATO ships and planes, ready to help increase the EU's situational awareness and provide logistical support.

    The Western Balkans

    In July 2003, the EU and NATO published a ″Concerted Approach for the Western Balkans″. Jointly drafted, it outlines core areas of cooperation and emphasises the common vision and determination both organisations share to bring stability to the region.

    • The Republic of North Macedonia
      On 31 March 2003, the EU-led Operation Concordia took over the responsibilities of the NATO-led mission, Operation Allied Harmony, in the country at the time known as the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. This mission, which ended in December 2003, was the first "Berlin Plus" operation in which NATO assets were made available to the EU.
    • Bosnia and Herzegovina
      Building on the results of Concordia and following the conclusion of the NATO-led Stabilisation Force (SFOR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the EU deployed a new mission called Operation Althea on 2 December 2004. The EU Force (EUFOR) operates under the "Berlin Plus" arrangements, drawing on NATO planning expertise and on other Alliance's assets and capabilities. The NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe is the Commander of Operation Althea. The EU Operation Headquarters (OHQ) is located at SHAPE.
    • Kosovo
      NATO has been leading a peacekeeping force in Kosovo (KFOR) since 1999. The EU has contributed civil assets to the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) for years and agreed to take over the police component of the UN Mission. The European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) in Kosovo, which deployed in December 2008, is the largest civilian mission ever launched under the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). The central aim is to assist and support the Kosovo authorities in the rule of law area, specifically in the police, judiciary and customs areas. EULEX works closely with KFOR in the field.

    Cooperation in other regions

    • Afghanistan
      Over the past decade, NATO and the EU have played key roles in bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan, as part of the international community's broader efforts to implement a comprehensive approach to assist the country. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) helped create a stable and secure environment in which the Afghan government as well as other international actors could build democratic institutions, extend the rule of law and reconstruct the country. Both ISAF and its successor Resolute Support Mission have cooperated with the EU's Rule of Law Mission (EUPOL), which operated in Afghanistan from June 2007 to December 2016. EUPOL Advisers at the Afghan Ministry of Interior and the Afghan National Police supported the reform of the ministry and the development of civilian policing. The EU also initiated a programme for justice reform and helped to fund civilian projects in NATO-run Provincial Reconstruction Teams that were led by an EU member country.
    • Darfur
      Both NATO and the EU supported the African Union's mission in Darfur, Sudan in particular with regard to airlift rotations.
    • Piracy
      For several years NATO’s naval forces deployed under Operation Ocean Shield (2008-2016) and EU naval forces (Operation Atalanta) worked  side by side with other actors, off the coast of Somalia for anti-piracy missions.
    • Iraq
      Both NATO and the EU are increasing their presence in Iraq. The EU is focusing on the civilian security sector. NATO is helping build the capacities of the Iraqi defence and security structures, and is scaling up these efforts with the launch of a non-combat NATO Training Mission launched at the Brussels Summit in July 2018, at the request of the Government of Iraq. NATO’s mission will complement the ongoing efforts of the Coalition to Defeat ISIS/Daesh and other international actors.
  • Other areas of cooperation

    Political consultation

    The range of subjects discussed between NATO and the EU has expanded considerably over the past two years, particularly on security issues within the European space or its immediate vicinity. Since the crisis in Ukraine, both organisations have regularly exchanged views on their respective decisions, especially with regard to Russia, to ensure that their messages and actions complement each other. Consultations have also covered developments in the Western Balkans, Libya and the Middle East.


    Together with operations, capability development is an area where cooperation is essential and where there is potential for further growth. The NATO-EU Capability Group was established in May 2003 to ensure the coherence and mutual reinforcement of NATO and EU capability development efforts.

    Following the creation, in July 2004, of the European Defence Agency (EDA) to coordinate work within the EU on the development of defence capabilities, armaments cooperation, acquisition and research, EDA experts contribute to the work of the Capability Group.

    Among other issues, the Capability Group has addressed common capability shortfalls in areas such as countering improvised explosive devices and medical support. The Group is also playing an important role in ensuring transparency and complementarity between NATO’s work on Smart Defence and the EU’s Pooling and Sharing initiative.

    Terrorism and WMD proliferation

    Both NATO and the EU are committed to combating terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). They have exchanged information on their activities in the field of protection of civilian populations against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks.

    Civil emergency planning

    The two organisations also cooperate in the field of civil emergency planning by exchanging inventories of measures taken in this area.

  • Participation

    With the enlargement of both organisations in 2004, followed by the accession of Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia to the EU, the two organisations have 22 member countries in common. Albania, Canada, Iceland, Montenegro, Norway, Turkey and the United States, which are members of NATO but not of the EU, participate in all NATO-EU meetings. So do Austria, Finland, Ireland, Sweden, and since 2008, Malta, which are members of the EU and of NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme.

    However, Cyprus, which is not a PfP member and does not have a security agreement with NATO on the exchange of classified documents, cannot participate in official NATO-EU meetings. This is a consequence of decisions taken by NATO in December 2002. Informal meetings including Cyprus take place occasionally at different levels.

  • Framework for cooperation

    An exchange of letters between the NATO Secretary General and the EU Presidency in January 2001 defined the scope of cooperation and modalities of consultation on security issues between the two organisations. Cooperation further developed with the signing of the NATO-EU Declaration on ESDP in December 2002 and the agreement, in March 2003, of a framework for cooperation.

    NATO-EU Declaration on ESDP: The NATO-EU Declaration on ESDP, agreed on 16 December 2002, reaffirmed the EU assured access to NATO’s planning capabilities for its own military operations and reiterated the political principles of the strategic partnership: effective mutual consultation; equality and due regard for the decision-making autonomy of the EU and NATO; respect for the interests of EU and NATO member states; respect for the principles of the Charter of the United Nations; and coherent, transparent and mutually reinforcing development of the military capability requirements common to the two organisations.

    The “Berlin Plus” arrangements: As part of the framework for cooperation adopted on 17 March 2003, the so-called “Berlin Plus” arrangements provide the basis for NATO-EU cooperation in crisis management in the context of EU-led operations that make use of NATO's collective assets and capabilities, including command arrangements and assistance in operational planning. In effect, they allow the Alliance to support EU-led operations in which NATO as a whole is not engaged.

    NATO and the EU meet on a regular basis to discuss issues of common interest. Meetings take place at different levels including at the level of foreign ministers, ambassadors, military representatives and defence advisors. There are regular staff-to-staff talks at all levels between NATO’s International Staff and International Military Staff, and their respective EU interlocutors (the European External Action Service, the European Defence Agency, the European Commission and the European Parliament).

    Permanent military liaison arrangements have been established to facilitate cooperation at the operational level. A NATO Permanent Liaison Team has been operating at the EU Military Staff since November 2005 and an EU Cell was set up at SHAPE (NATO’s strategic command for operations in Mons, Belgium) in March 2006.

  • Milestones

    February 1992:  The EU adopts the Maastricht Treaty, which envisages an intergovernmental Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the eventual framing of a common defence policy (ESDP) with the WEU as the EU's defence component.

    Close cooperation is established between NATO and the WEU.

    June 1992:  In Oslo, NATO foreign ministers support the objective of developing the WEU as a means of strengthening the European pillar of the Alliance and as the defence component of the EU, that would also cover the “Petersberg tasks” (humanitarian search and rescue tasks, peacekeeping tasks, crisis-management tasks including peace enforcement and environmental protection).

    January 1994:  Allied leaders agree to make collective assets of the Alliance available, on the basis of consultations in the North Atlantic Council, for WEU operations undertaken by the European Allies in pursuit of their CFSP. NATO endorses the concept of Combined Joint Task Forces, which provides for “separable but not separate” deployable headquarters that could be used for European-led operations and is the conceptual basis for future operations involving NATO and other non-NATO countries.

    June 1996: In Berlin, NATO foreign ministers agree for the first time to build up a European Security and Defence Identity (ESDI) within NATO, with the aim of rebalancing roles and responsibilities between Europe and North America. An essential part of this initiative was to improve European capabilities. They also decide to make Alliance assets available for WEU-led crisis-management operations. These decisions lead to the introduction of the term "Berlin Plus".

    December 1998:  At a summit in St Malo, France and the United Kingdom make a joint statement affirming the EU's determination to establish a European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP).

    April 1999:  At the Washington Summit, Heads of State and Government decide to develop the “Berlin Plus” arrangements.

    June 1999:  A European Council meeting in Cologne, Germany decides "to give the European Union the necessary means and capabilities to assume its responsibilities regarding a common European policy on security and defence".

    December 1999: At the Helsinki Council meeting, EU members establish military "headline goals" to allow the EU to deploy up to 60,000 troops by 2003 for ‘Petersberg tasks'. EU members also create political and military structures including a Political and Security Committee, a Military Committee and a Military Staff. The crisis-management role of the WEU is transferred to the EU. The WEU retains residual tasks.

    September 2000:  The North Atlantic Council and the EU’s interim Political and Security Committee meet for the first time to take stock of progress in NATO-EU relations.

    December 2000: Signature of the EU's Treaty of Nice containing amendments reflecting the operative developments of the ESDP as an independent EU policy (entry into force February 2003).

    January 2001:  Beginning of institutionalised relations between NATO and the EU with the establishment of joint meetings, including at the level of foreign ministers and ambassadors. Exchange of letters between the NATO Secretary General and the EU Presidency on the scope of cooperation and modalities for consultation.

    May 2001: First formal NATO-EU meeting at the level of foreign ministers in Budapest. The NATO Secretary General and the EU Presidency issue a joint statement on the Western Balkans.

    November 2002:  At the Prague Summit, NATO members declare their readiness to give the EU access to NATO assets and capabilities for operations in which the Alliance is not engaged militarily.

    December 2002: EU-NATO Declaration on ESDP.

    March 2003:  Agreement on the framework for cooperation. Entry into force of a NATO-EU security of information agreement. Transition from the NATO-led Operation Allied Harmony to the EU-led Operation Concordia in the Republic of North Macedonia (then known as the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia).

    May 2003:  First meeting of the NATO-EU Capability Group.

    July 2003:   Development of a common strategy for the Western Balkans.

    November 2003:  First joint NATO-EU crisis-management exercise.

    February 2004:  France, Germany and the United Kingdom launch the idea of EU rapid-reaction units composed of joint battle groups.

    December 2004:   Beginning of the EU-led Operation Althea in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

    September 2005: Transatlantic informal NATO-EU ministerial dinner, New York.

    October 2005:  Agreement on Military Permanent Arrangements establishing a NATO Permanent Liaison Team at the EU Military Staff and an EU cell at SHAPE.

    November 2005:  NATO Permanent Liaison Team set up at the EU Military Staff.

    March 2006:  EU cell set up at SHAPE.

    April 2006:  Transatlantic informal NATO-EU ministerial dinner, Sofia.

    2006 - 2010:  Transatlantic informal NATO-EU ministerial dinners are held in New York (Sep. 2006); Brussels (Jan. 2007); Oslo (April 2007); New York (Sep. 2007); Brussels (Dec. 2007); New York (Sep. 2008); Brussels (Dec. 2008); Brussels (March 2009); and New York (Sep. 2010).

    November 2010:  At the Lisbon Summit, the Allies underline their determination to improve the NATO-EU strategic partnership and welcome recent initiatives from several Allies and ideas proposed by the Secretary General in this regard.

    September 2011:  Transatlantic informal NATO-EU