EU-NATO: Distinguishing Narrative from Substance


At the NATO Summit in Brussels, the EU and NATO have committed to deepen their cooperation. This was an important political signal as it came after revived fears that the EU’s defence cooperation efforts might lead to decoupling, duplication and discrimination.

Nicole Koenig critically assesses these fears and distinguishes from progress in practical cooperation. While fears of duplication and decoupling have largely been assuaged, there is concern that the EU’s initiatives might not deliver and could discriminate against non-EU Allies. Meanwhile, practical EU-NATO cooperation continues to circumvent old and new political obstacles through informal channels. Four recommendations emerge from the analysis:

  1. The EU and NATO should deepen cooperation by increasing joint or at least parallel action in two key areas: countering hybrid threats and increasing resilience in the South.
  2. Both sides of the Atlantic should mind the narrative. US representatives should encourage the strengthening of NATO’s European pillar and EU representatives should keep explaining its contribution to burden sharing.
  3. The EU should raise the level of ambition of its defence cooperation initiatives. The next set of projects agreed under Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) will be a litmus test in terms of its contribution to both EU strategic autonomy and burden sharing.
  4. The EU should counteract fears of discrimination by keeping the doors to the Defence Union open and establishing mechanisms to ensure transparency.