Chapter 5

The Future Relationship between NATO
And the European Union

Defense Minister of Denmark Hans Hækkerup

T oday I would like to address an issue of extreme importance: the future relationship between NATO and the European Union. As is clear from Minister Scharping’s presentation, the European countries are committed to strengthening their military crisis-management capabilities. The EU wants to be able to take on autonomous action where NATO as a whole is not engaged, and a European defense pillar within the EU is currently under construction. However, unless we are talking about the lower part of the Petersberg scale, EU operations will most likely always be carried out as Minister Scharping stressed using NATO assets and capabilities.


When we talk about activating the European pillar within NATO, we must aim at establishing strong links between the defense pillar in the European Union and the European pillar in NATO. This can be done by developing formalized relations between the European Union and NATO—relations that are close, transparent, complementary, and cooperative. Here “Berlin Plus”—plus is the key word in this term—provides the bricks for the construction of future NATO-EU relations.

The concept of Berlin Plus is based on two meetings. At the NATO meeting in Berlin in 1996, important decisions were made that gave the Western European Union the ability to borrow NATO assets and capabilities for European-led crisis-management operations. These Berlin decisions were further elaborated at the NATO Summit in Washington in April 1999—the “plus” part of the equation.

In Washington, NATO acknowledged that the European Union, not the WEU, was resolved to develop a capacity for autonomous action where the Alliance as a whole was not engaged. The Berlin Plus decision is thus the basis for future NATO-EU relations.


As you know, the “devil is in the details,” and when we speak about NATO-EU relations, there are many details. In this respect, it is worth keeping three fundamental observations in mind.

First, NATO and the European Union are two independent organizations; neither is above the other, and neither can decide what the other organization can do. The developing relationship between the two entities must be based on transparency, openness, and the spirit of partnership. Eleven European countries are members of both organizations, and both organizations share basic values and interests; they are, in a number of aspects, interdependent.

But the two organizations are also very different. NATO remains the foundation of the collective defense of its members. The European Security and Defense Policy is about crisis management. The EU is able to cover almost all aspects of civilian crisis management within its own organization. This includes humanitarian relief, financial assistance, support for democracy, etc. NATO, for its part, has more than 50 years of experience as a coherent and effective defense organization, and almost 10 years of experience as a military crisis-management organization. Effective consultation during crises, crisis management, defense planning, force generation for peace-support operations, as well as planning and command-and-control of all types of operations are but some of the elements developed over the years. As we build close links between NATO and the European Union, we must ensure that we get the full benefits of the experiences of both organizations.

Second, I think we must overcome the problem of inclusion. In NATO, there are six European countries that are not members of the European Union and two North American allies. In the European Union, there are four countries that are not members of NATO. The inclusion of these countries in European crisis management should be handled pragmatically. This is a prerequisite for developing a transparent and cooperative relationship between the European Union and NATO.

Third, it has to be asked whether the European Union Headline Goal is an addition to NATO’s existing ambitions. The answer is that the Headline Goal, together with the Defense Capabilities Initiative, will produce more mobile, deployable, and better-equipped soldiers. The Headline Goal will, when implemented, lead to a stronger European military crisis-management capability. Europe will shift its weight from territorial defense to crisis management.

However, NATO has unique and very useful capabilities and assets that should not be duplicated in the European Union—including capabilities and assets that it is very unlikely the European Union will be able to procure for itself. That is why we need arrangements for European Union access to NATO capabilities and assets built on the Berlin Plus decisions.


We need to agree on an agreement for EU access to NATO planning capabilities. It is important that these arrangements are worked out as soon as possible to avoid the risk of duplication; and here we can build on the NATO-WEU arrangement. The question of the presumption of availability to the EU of pre-identified NATO capabilities and common assets is also very important, but it is a complex and sensitive question. We need to agree on the definition of NATO capabilities and common assets, and we need to combine the concept of presumed availability with the need for case-by-case decisions with consensus. Transparency and involvement of non-EU allies are key to progress.

A range of European command options for EU-led operations also should be identified. The existing arrangements between the WEU and NATO already provide a solid framework for further work in this area. The joint NATO-WEU crisis-management exercise CRISEX 2000 enabled us to learn valuable lessons, and we should use these experiences extensively in further work between the European Union and NATO.

Finally, there is the need to further adapt NATO’s defense planning system to incorporate more comprehensively EU-led operations. Significant work on this question has already been done in NATO, and there is an urgent need to establish contacts between NATO and the European Union regarding this subject.


I hope soon to see NATO assisting the European Union in its work elaborating the EU Headline Goal and the capability goals. This is especially important because the military capabilities are the same; we must not forget that, when we speak about the EU Headline Goal, we speak about the same forces we speak about in NATO. But NATO can do more for the European Union than just Berlin Plus. One of the biggest challenges for the European Union in the coming years will be to fill in the gaps that will be identified between the aims of the Headline Goal and what the EU countries really can do. The WEU’s audit revealed these gaps, and the fall 2000 Capabilities Commitment Conference should also reveal some shortcomings—shortcomings within air- and sea-lift capabilities, intelligence, and command-and-control. NATO knows how to fill in these gaps, and has shown the way with its Defense Capabilities Initiative.


It is time for formalized NATO-EU cooperation to be developed. The work should start as soon as possible, especially work on a NATO-EU security agreement and the arrangements for EU access to NATO planning capabilities. The decisions made at the end of May 1999 in Florence by NATO’s foreign ministers were a decisive step forward. For once, NATO confirmed its readiness to enter into discussions with the European Union, inter alia on the Berlin Plus elements. Now, the European Union should take the hand that NATO has put forward. Although the four NATO-EU working groups proposed by the European Union might not cover the entire spectrum of future NATO-EU relations, establishing these groups is an important step in the right direction.

The objective is clear: a formalized framework for close, transparent, complementary, inclusive, and cooperative NATO-EU relations should be in place by the end of 2000. Relations between the two organizations should be built in a pragmatic way, in a way that benefits us all. If we build relations the right way, we will have a win-win situation.

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