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Joint meeting of the NATO-PA
and the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs

European Security and Defence Policy after the Helsinki Summit

European Parliament, Brussels, Tuesday 22 February 2000

International Secretariat, March 2000

On 22 February, in the context of the annual "February meetings", the NATO Parliamentary Assembly held its first joint meeting with the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy ("Foreign Affairs Committee") of the European Parliament (EP). That meeting, the principle of which had been agreed a few weeks earlier on a tentative basis by NATO PA President, Javier Ruperez and EP Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Elmar Brok, provided a very valuable exchange of views. As the decision has now been made to set up a regular consultation process between the Assembly and the EP Foreign Affairs Committee - although the modalities remain to be defined - the International Secretariat has deemed it useful to issue the enclosed summary of the debate.

This summary records the brief introductions of the two chairmen, the ensuing presentations by Mr Chris Patten, EU Commissioner for External Relations, Congressman Doug Bereuter, Head of the US Delegation to the NATO PA, and Mrs Catherine LalumiŹre, Vice-Chair and Rapporteur of the EP Committee on Foreign Affairs. A brief record of the subsequent debate is also provided.

Making a point of using the new European phrasing "ESDP" (European Security and Defence Policy), Mr Brok stated that "ESDP is not an alternative or a competitor to NATO; rather both will develop in a co-operative manner". He continued by saying that although the European Union already seemed to have important competencies as far as non-military crisis management was concerned, it still needed a military capability to be credible. He did specify, however, that the sending of troops would continue to be legitimised by national parliaments. Finally, he drew the attention of the audience to the necessity of taking into account the European members of NATO which are not members of the EU.

After reminding the participants of the significance of this first meeting, President Ruperéz set the initiative in the context of the decisions taken by the EU in Helsinki in December 1999, noting that the latter were the culmination of a momentum that had started the previous year with the St Malo Declaration. He pointed to NATO's long-stated support for ESDI/P, also expressing concern for the status to be granted to the non-EU members of NATO in the new European arrangements. Finally, he listed a number of questions that remained to be resolved such as the decision-making structure of ESDP (including the debate over "the right of first refusal"); the nature of the future European "command and control" structure; the implications of the disappearance of the Western European Union and the role of the WEU Assembly; and the problem of allocating more resources to the military in an environment where the threat is perceived as low in most European countries. He concluded by stressing the contribution that the NATO PA could bring to the debate on ESDI/P as it involves EU, European non-EU, and North American members.

Commissioner Chris Patten began by noting that for years Europe had grown in economic clout and political self-confidence but this had not been matched by sufficient action in the field of foreign policy, although there had been much talk on it. This was in the process of being changed. He expressed surprise that there was "little public debate in Europe, apart from the expression of some scepticism and at times hostility" in matters related to ESDP. Ironically, the debate seemed to be much more intense in Washington, where one encountered mixed feelings about the issue. Mr Patten underlined the importance of Europe endowing itself with a "well-organised and well-equipped" defence structure, hailing Helsinki as a new departure, with the planned creation of a "Rapid Reaction Force" of 50,000-60,000 men.

The need for a sufficient military capability was indeed an essential feature of a functioning ESDP. But as important was the political will to apply the "military option at the last resort if and when needed". Mr Patten drew attention to the gap between the United States and EU member states, both in terms of defence budgets (EU members combined spend 60% of the amount the United States devotes to defence) and in terms of capacity to project military force (only 10-15% of the sorties in Kosovo were performed by European planes). He noted the need to put these defects right because they are making the Europeans weaker allies than they should be, while stressing that what the EU seeks is not the duplication of NATO as a collective defence organisation.

Pointing to the ESDP's original nature, he underscored that in addition to enhanced military tools, the EU was planning to have efficient "non-military crisis management tools" to deal with demands in humanitarian assistance, election-monitoring, police deployment, border control, institution-building, mine clearance, arms control, prevention of illicit trafficking, counter-drug and counter-terrorism operations. The EU was already engaged in all these areas but there was still a lack of effective co-ordination with the national capacities of the member states. More flexibility and speed were required in the decision-making process and in the delivery of these services than had been demonstrated in the past (in Bosnia, for example). The establishment of a "Rapid Reaction Facility" in the civilian field would contribute to this.

Mr Patten also stressed the need for greater attention to conflict prevention, as further crises are not a remote possibility within and near European borders. Addressing in particular the US members of Congress in the audience, he concluded on the EU's desire to be "a stronger and more effective ally in return for the bold American help in the past".

Congressman Douglas Bereuter spoke on the basis of an earlier presentation of his to the joint meeting of the Presidential Committee of the WEU Assembly and the Steering Group on ESDI of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly held in Madrid in December 1999. His initial remarks concerned the issue of inclusion of the non-EU members of NATO in ESDP and the question of the establishment of appropriate linkages between the Alliance and the EU. Tracing back the steps that led to Helsinki, he expressed the prevailing American feeling that by locating ESDI clearly in the EU, Cologne had been a surprise for American decision-makers, as this seemed to depart from the earlier NATO consensus that ESDI should be firmly anchored in the Alliance. Be that as it may, the US Administration and Congress had expressed concern that ESDI/P could lead to the fatal three Ds: "Decoupling", "Duplication" and "Discrimination" within NATO. Mr Bereuter listed such American concerns as the risk of a future competition between ESDI and NATO; the need for "greater burden-sharing by the European allies"; the necessity for Europe to focus on the development of greater military capabilities rather than new institutions; the American desire for NATO to have a "right of first refusal" after which an "autonomous" action could be taken by the Europeans.

He further evoked the risk of "potentially divergent strategic perspectives" between the two sides of the Atlantic on matters such as nuclear policy, the United Nations mandate, and inter-operability standards, as well as the potentially negative spill-over effects of EU-US trade tensions on the transatlantic security relationship. In his opinion, the worst outcome would be if ESDP resulted in "competing institutions accompanied by a decline in European capabilities, and American resentment".

Clearly, NATO had to remain the "primary security forum for European security", Mr Bereuter said. He concluded by re-stating the American consensus that the "3Ds" should be carefully avoided and that there should be enhanced co-operation and transparency between NATO and the EU, adding that "ESDI should be institutionalised within NATO even if located in the European Union".

Mrs LalumiŹre begun by stating that her presentation reflected only her own views, as the Foreign Affairs Committee had not yet had a chance to discuss her draft report on ESDP. By way of introduction, she pointed to the EP's broad approval of the Cologne and Helsinki outcomes, and its increasing support for the implementation of a robust ESDP. Developing ESDP was not a matter of pride but rather a question of necessity. Indeed, after the Gulf War and the Great Lakes conflict, the Kosovo experience had demonstrated the incapacity of the EU to handle military operations and its reliance on US assistance. This situation was fundamentally unhealthy, as the US had had to intervene in areas where it had no primary interests. It was dangerous for Europe to remain unprepared as such situations could arise again in the future, with the United States abstaining from engagement. Therefore, action was needed. The creation of a Military Planning Staff, a Military Committee and a Political and Security Committee were important steps in that direction.

On the highly debated issue of the relationships between the EU and NATO she said that steps needed to be taken - although she did not go into details. In parallel, she reasserted that NATO remained the core of collective defence. Responding to Mr. Bereuter's statement, she said that ESDI would grow within NATO but that did not mean that the Europeans should do nothing. Measures would be taken, she added, to ensure transparency and co-operation between ESDP and non-EU NATO members. The very nature of the US/EU links had to change as a result of the new geopolitical configuration, even if Russia remained unstable.

Speaking on the issue of procurement, Mrs Lalumière expressed the view that much could and should be done to reduce wasteful duplication among European countries, but she also said that it was essential for the cuts in European defence budgets to be halted. She urged the Europeans to improve their R&D efforts in order to stop the widening gap with US R&D levels. She mentioned the WEU audit of European defence capabilities as a good starting point to build up future programmes.

Evoking the traditional preference of many Euro-MPs for non-military means of crisis management in the Scandinavian tradition, she asserted that these were increasingly seen as insufficient by the members: many now recognised that the use of force was, at times, necessary.

Addressing briefly the question of democratic control and the accountability of ESDP, she said this would have to entail a strengthening of EP competencies. She said regular interaction with members of the US Congress would be helpful as this was an opportunity for the EP to learn from a much more experienced legislative body, especially in the field of defence oversight.

Questions & Answers

The question of non-EU NATO members (i.e. Czech Republic, Hungary, Iceland, Poland, Norway and Turkey) and their prospective status within ESDI/P, was a theme reiterated by many participants during the open debate. Mr Tahir Köse, Vice-President of NATO PA, pointed to the need for "non-discrimination" and "inclusiveness" in the EU's efforts to strengthen its security, defence and crisis-management capabilities. Like his Polish and Czech colleagues, he also emphasised the necessity of appropriate dialogue, co-operation and co-ordination mechanisms that would ensure the adequate participation of these states in the decision-making, planning and preparation processes within the new ESDI/P framework. During his contribution to the open debate, Mr Brok reassured non-EU members of NATO by saying that mechanisms would be worked out to involve them. He also remarked that as more countries acceded to the EU, the problem should be seen as a transitory rather than a long-term structural one.

Several participants, including one German MP, made the argument that even though "there is no alternative to NATO", EU members still need to develop their own defence capabilities as they cannot expect the United States to "come and bail [the European countries] out of every conflict that [they] shall face". On the same point, the importance of efficiency, specialisation, and R&D, in addition to readjusted defence budgets, were underscored by a number of speakers, including Commissioner Chris Patten and NATO PA member Mr Forcieri of Italy.

Coming from the opposite ends of the political spectrum, Mr Meckel of Germany and Mr Van Orden of the United Kingdom both stated that while defence should remain a NATO issue, the EU should strengthen its capacity to handle civilian tasks.

A number of debaters, including Mr Brok, addressed the risk of trade war "spill-overs" into the security realm, initially raised by Congressman Bereuter. Commissioner Chris Patten downplayed the issue, stressing that EU-US disagreements concerned only about 1% of the transatlantic trade.

Mr Cohn Bendit expressed his surprise that not a word had been spoken on Chechnya during the whole morning. He urged "clear language vis-ą-vis Russia", drawing a parallel between the brutal displacement by Stalin of the Chechen population in 1944 and Mr Putin's contemporary extermination of Chechens, just 56 years later.

Many speakers also returned to the issue of parliamentary oversight of ESDI/ESDP, noting that the details still had to be worked out. There was, on the part of Euro-MPs, a clear feeling that their role had to be reinforced in this respect. All participants agreed that the decision of the NATO PA and the EP's Foreign Affairs Committee to hold regular consultations in the future would be an important component in this oversight as it would ensure a continuing degree of transparency in the development of ESDP and provide a forum where all interested parties, EU and non-EU, would be represented.

   © NATO Parliamentary Assembly 2004 By iBi Center