NATO Summit Highlights Partnership With the EU

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 15 Issue: 111


United States President Donald Trump’s behavior at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) recent summit in Brussels (July 11–12) and in its aftermath has cast a shadow on this landmark event. Trump’s follow-up actions, including the meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, continued hitting at NATO and the European Union from afar. Trump’s persona and his possible motivations furnished the main topic of analysis throughout these events, diverting attention from the actual results of the NATO Brussels Summit. Its agenda and decisions clearly identified Russia as the main source of threats and challenges to the Alliance. The summit’s balance sheet is a mixture of significant accomplishments and unfinished business left over from years past, notably in the Black Sea region and NATO’s eastern neighborhood (see EDM, July 25, 30, August 1, 2, 7, 8, 9).

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union have established a basis for security cooperation and, incipiently, for pooling and sharing their resources in this sphere (, July 11). This is a major accomplishment for both sides, showcased at NATO’s Brussels Summit on July 11–12, following negotiations between the two organizations. This breakthrough comes two years after an initial agreement occasioned by NATO’s 2016 Warsaw Summit (, July 9, 2016). Earlier proposals to define the terms of a partnership between the two organizations had not borne fruit. However, threats and challenges mounting in NATO and the EU’s shared eastern and southern neighborhoods have inspired both organizations to conclude this negotiation successfully.

NATO’s 2018 Summit Declaration characterizes the European Union as a “unique and essential partner for NATO” and speaks of a “strategic partnership” between the two organizations (, July 11, 2018). It identifies the areas of cooperation between them as dealing with hybrid threats, cyber security risks, defense industry and research, and security capacity-building in NATO and the EU’s shared eastern and southern neighborhoods. The North Atlantic Alliance particularly welcomes the EU’s commitment to work together on improving military mobility on the territories of member states across Europe (see below).

The summit’s communiqué implies a mutually agreed division of labor between NATO and the EU. The latter will take up a share of responsibilities mainly in the sphere of soft security and funding military industry, complementary to NATO, without ambitions to duplicate NATO in the realm of hard security and collective defense. The communiqué accordingly emphasizes “complementarity, avoiding duplication,” and “respect for the [two] organizations’ different mandates” as the basis for their cooperation in the future (, July 11).

NATO and EU leaders had negotiated this arrangement down to the wire of the July 11–12 Brussels Summit. The Joint Declaration on EU-NATO Cooperation was signed by NATO’s Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, with Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker, presidents, respectively, of the European Council and European Commission, on July 10. “Our security is interconnected”, the document stipulates, while confirming NATO clearly as the primus inter pares on defense: “NATO will continue to play its unique and essential role as the cornerstone of collective defense for all Allies” (most of whom are simultaneously EU member states and collectively make up an overwhelming majority within the political-economic bloc). At the same time, “EU efforts will also strengthen NATO, and thus will improve our common security.” The two organizations retain, each, their decision-making autonomy. NATO and the EU shall encourage member states that belong to only one of these organizations  to participate in the initiatives of the other (, July 10).

The Joint Declaration identifies military mobility as a major priority for NATO-EU cooperation: “we will aim for swift and demonstrable progress” on this issue.” Military mobility denotes ensuring unimpeded movement of allied military convoys with heavy equipment across Europe. US European Command and US Army Command in Europe have actively promoted this goal in recent years (see EDM, January 18, June 26). This involves boosting the carrying capacities of transport infrastructure (highways, railroads, bridges, tunnels, airstrips). It also means removing bureaucratic obstacles to movement across member states’ borders (a “military Schengen zone”). Ensuring military mobility is a prerequisite to NATO’s ability for rapid reinforcement of threatened allies, as foreseen by the NATO Readiness Initiative (NRI) adopted at US inspiration at the summit just held. The Alliance’s eastern frontline states are vitally interested in this initiative.

NATO and the European Union are now committed to cooperate on improving military mobility across Europe, drawing in part on EU funding via the Permanent Structured Cooperation on Security and Defense (PESCO) initiative. Launched by the EU in December 2017, PESCO is closely connected with a multibillion-euro European Defense Fund under the authority of the European Commission. Military mobility is one of PESCO’s projects, and almost all EU member states (most of whom are also NATO members) have joined the military mobility project. Germany and the Netherlands have agreed to act as project leaders. NATO’s eastern frontline states regard PESCO’s role in promoting military mobility as a crucial added value of the NATO-EU partnership (, June 28).

At present, the European Commission considers allocating 5.7 billion euros ($6.7 billion) during the EU’s 2021–2027 budgetary cycle toward development of transport infrastructure for dual use (civilian and military). It envisages upgrading and expanding the capacities of airfields, highways, railroads, and ports, destined both for civilian traffic and for facilitating military mobility on the territories of EU and NATO member countries (BNS, July 9).

The NATO-EU Joint Declaration also identifies counter-terrorism and resilience to chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear-related risks as cooperation priorities. The two organizations agree to work through PESCO in pursuing these common objectives. PESCO, under the European Council’s ultimate authority, has two principal dimensions: capability development and security operations.

On capabilities, PESCO aims to coordinate member states’ development and production of military equipment, boost defense investments, work to reduce wasteful duplication and redundancies in the military equipment of EU member states, and streamline procurement to ensure interoperability among their forces. This might foster preferences for European producers of military equipment over U.S. counterparts.

On operations, PESCO aims to pool the member states’ resources into collaborative security projects. Participating states have agreed on a list of security projects, straddling the line between the military and civilian realms. In addition to military mobility, these projects include military disaster relief, military medicine, maritime surveillance, cyber security (, June 28; EurActiv, July 4).

As per the Joint Declaration, defense capabilities developed through initiatives of the EU and NATO shall be “complementary, interoperable and available to both organizations” (i.e., avoiding duplication or competition over resources). The joint declaration references a “political agreement” whereby the forthcoming debates on the EU’s next budgetary cycle (2021–2027) should give greater priority to security and defense (, July 10).

Given the large overlap in NATO and EU membership, preventing project duplication and avoiding competition over member states’ resources are perennial concerns. In this light, NATO follows several guidelines for cooperation with the EU generally and via PESCO specifically: that NATO member states not be expected to comply with two separate sets of capability requirements (one for NATO and one in EU/PESCO); that capabilities developed under PESCO be available to NATO; and that NATO’s non-EU members (these include the United States, Canada, Norway, Albania, Iceland, Montenegro and Turkey) be eligible for full involvement in PESCO projects.

Past attempts to define the terms of a NATO-EU partnership had not borne results. They were frustrated by unrealistic ambitions within some EU governments and institutions to create separate defense structures of the EU (aspirationally dubbed sometimes as a “European Army”). Any steps in that direction would have been duplicative of NATO without adding value; would have seen the EU competing with NATO over the resources of European states that are members of both organizations; and would have excluded the United States from would-be defense structures of the EU (“European”), as distinct from Transatlantic. Those unrealistic ambitions are no longer now in evidence within the EU. Instead, the EU has now moved to partner with NATO, on terms amounting to a net increase in resources available to both organizations, capitalizing on each organization’s specific strengths.