The European Union, a strategic partner for NATO
NATO and the EU, with 22 members in common, have forged a strategic partnership and maintain a regular political dialogue on security issues. In practical terms, they cooperate in the management of international crises (counter-piracy, Afghanistan, Kosovo) and on capabilities. Like many other NATO and EU member nations, France works to reinforce and enhance this partnership.
The Atlantic Alliance and the European Union share the same political values, and 22 European countries belong to both organizations - including France, which is a founding member of both NATO and the EU.
For the last ten years or so, moreover, the two organizations have become major actors in the management of international crises and frequently work side by side in the same theatres of operations. While NATO’s main raison d’être is still collective defence, it has been taking part in the management of certain crises using military assets since 1992. For its part, the European Union has developed a common foreign policy, including a Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), in the framework of which it has carried out some 20 military and civil operations in the last 10 years.
For these reasons – political proximity and joint engagement in international crisis management – the Alliance and the Union have forged a strategic partnership. They cooperate in operations and on the development of military capabilities, and maintain a regular political dialogue.
In this context, NATO’s Strategic Concept, adopted at the 2010 Lisbon Summit, describes the European Union as a "unique and essential partner", stressing that "an active and effective European Union contributes to the overall security of the Euro-Atlantic area".
Most Allied and EU nations, including France, want to intensify NATO-EU cooperation, even though political obstacles have so far prevented the partnership from demonstrating its full potential. France will continue to actively promote increasingly close cooperation between the two organizations as recommended, in particular, in the Védrine Report and the White paper on defence and national security.
In practical terms, the EU and NATO cooperate to ensure the coordination and complementarity of their operational engagements:
- off the Horn of Africa for Operation Atalanta (EU) and Operation Ocean Shield (NATO);
- in Afghanistan for the European Union Police Mission (EUPOL) and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF);
- in Kosovo, in connection with the EU Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) and NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR).
In addition, in the framework of the Berlin Plus arrangements signed in 2002, NATO can make its collective military capabilities available for EU operations. For example, the Operation Althea has been conducted by the EU since 2004 with the support of NATO’s collective capabilities.
Cooperation in the area of capabilities is another essential element of EU-NATO relations (link to Smart Defence). The main objective is to ensure that the actions carried out by the two organizations, particularly in the framework of the Smart Defence initiative (NATO) and the Pooling and Sharing initiative (EU), do not lead to duplication but, on the contrary, complement and reinforce each other. To this end, there is a regular dialogue between Allied Command Transformation (ACT)and the European Defence Agency (EDA) for the EU.
This cooperation is essential for both organizations, as in fact most of them (22 out of the 28 Allies are EU members) have the same pool of forces: military capabilities, both national and multinational, developed in the NATO framework can be used in an EU-led operation and vice versa.
At the Chicago Summit, the Heads of State and Government of the NATO nations welcomed the EU’s efforts in this context (paragraph 20 of the Communiqué), particularly in the areas of air-to-air refuelling, medical support, maritime surveillance and training. They also called for a better sharing of the burden of military efforts between the two sides of the Atlantic and stressed the importance of maintaining a strong defence industry in Europe.