Sonia KRIMI (France)

19 November 2020

The relationship between NATO and the European Union (EU) – arguably the two most powerful multilateral bodies in modern history – is a recurring theme in international political debates, not only in Europe but also in NATO. Indeed, some members of the latter – not least on the southern and western flanks – are not, or are no longer, members of the European Union. Evidently, both organisations need to work together. The EU and NATO are continuously confronted with the demand for increased cooperation and synergy. This demand stems from the two organisations' shared roots in a post-war context (both were instrumental in guaranteeing peace and stability in Western Europe), from the duplication of their membership (21 common members), but also from their professed allegiance to the same body of values (democracy, individual freedoms, and the rule of law). These organisations need to combine their efforts to address the new challenges of the post-industrial era, a list that has just been expanded to include the necessity to tackle global health emergencies. Both organisations have adopted a comprehensive approach to security, which fosters closer cooperation between them in spite of their differing mandates and nature (NATO being purely intergovernmental, while the EU has a strong supra-national component).

There is a certain paradox inherent to the present relationship between the EU and NATO. On the one hand, the last few years have seen the rise in joint declarations, meetings, and common projects, and an unprecedented level of activity coordination and intelligence sharing. On the other hand, Brussels and NATO are at long last communicating with one another on a daily basis. Paradoxically, this rapprochement comes in the context of growing centralistic tendencies inside the Euro-Atlantic community. The NATO-EU partnership remains predominantly tactical rather than strategic. Key issues (how to make this cooperation more substantial and avoid unnecessary duplication) and dilemmas (how to push Europe's defence capabilities forward without jeopardising the unity of NATO) have yet to be fully resolved. More importantly, the return of geopolitics and competition between major world powers and the fading memory of the United States’ support for Europe during the Second World War and the Cold War test the very foundations of the NATO-EU partnership. The long-term prospects of this partnership will not only depend on overcoming practical problems such as the coordination of defence planning processes but also on the capacity of NATO and EU members to revitalise their ideological unity and restore a sense of trust and solidarity. [...] 

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