BRUSSELS ― Members of the European Parliament have adopted a wide-ranging report that welcomes the “reaffirmation” of the United States’ commitment to NATO and European security, and addresses Brexit, Russia and defense spending.
It says that despite recent spats over a host of issues, including trade, climate and the Iran nuclear program, highlighted by last week’s acrimonious G7 summit in Canada, the two sides remain “key” to ensuring NATO’s ability to fulfill its missions.
Even so, the U.S. is urged to “continue efforts for a better understanding of European strategic interests,” the European Union’s legislative body said.
In adopting the report on EU-NATO relations in Strasbourg, France, on Wednesday, the European Parliament also agreed on “the need for the EU to ensure a close security and defence relationship with the United Kingdom after Brexit.”
The report cites a need for the EU to ensure a close security and defense partnership with the U.K. after Brexit, saying that the U.K. will remain a lead contributor to the continent’s defense as both a NATO member and a European nation, even after Breixt.
Its adoption comes just ahead of July’s NATO Summit in Brussels and coincided with an announcement Wednesday by the European Commission of a new €10.5 billion (U.S. $12.4 billion) “European Peace Facility,” designed to help improve the EU’s ability to “prevent conflicts, build peace and guarantee international security.”
This comes in the wake of a €13 billion European Defence Fund and the commission’s commitment to substantially increase current security funding, from €3.5 billion to €4.8 billion.
NATO welcomed the parliamentary report that says the potential of EU-NATO relations “can be further exploited.”
“NATO’s views on our cooperation with the EU are well-known, and the secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, spoke about this during the recent ministerial meeting,” a NATO spokesman said.
The report welcomes enhanced NATO presence in the alliance’s eastern flank and the deployment of four multinational battle groups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, which, it notes, is to guard against “Russian penetration” in the region, which “should be prevented and countered appropriately.”
The report, drafted by Romanian MEP Ioan Mircea Pașcu, a former defense minister, speaks of “an upsurge in Russia’s activities,” its “more assertive military behaviour” and “Russian interference in European internal affairs, violating international law and norms.”
On defense spending, the paper supports the target for NATO members to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense “to maintain an appropriate defence capability.”
It welcomes the “continuing trend” of increased defense spending among NATO allies and encourages all members to “make substantive progress” toward the 2 percent target, with 20 percent of such spending going to major new equipment.
The recent increase in EU defense spending, and the possible creation of a European Army, has led to fears of a duplication of roles with NATO. Of this, the report says the actions of both should be “complementary.”
“There may indeed be fields where the EU can contribute, but these should be clearly defined and complementary to, not duplicative of the NATO alliance,” U.K. Conservative defense spokesman Geoffrey Van Orden said.
The resolution also says the EU and NATO “should do more together to bolster the resilience, defence and security” of the neighbors and partners of both organizations.
It warns that after Brexit, 80 percent of NATO’s defense spending will be “non-EU,” and three out of four battalions in the east will be led by non-EU countries.
“It is right that due attention is given to the ease of mobility of allied forces across Europe, not just in time of tension but for exercise purposes when necessary in order to ensure the rapid and efficient reinforcement of the continent from the U.K., the United States and Canada, and the ability to sustain operations,”
“Particularly at a time when there is some friction in trans-Atlantic relations, and as we approach July’s summit, it is doubly important that European nations signal to the United States our willingness to bear more of the defense burden,” Van Orden said.
“The European burden-sharing is not improved by the creation of separate defense structures, by the exclusion of major third countries from defense industrial projects, or from pursuit of an elusive and ill-defined EU ‘strategic autonomy.’ This is all about European political integration, not defense, and is the central flaw in EU defense ambitions,” the former senior British Army officer added.
“The danger is that it will lead to division between Europe and the United States, particularly if those pressing for removal of national vetoes in the EU on defense and foreign policy were to be successful once the U.K. is no longer at the EU Council table. The vulnerability of the continental nations, if they were to face a determined and aggressive power such as Russia without the backing of the United States, would quickly be exposed.”
Martin Banks covered the European Union, NATO and affairs in Belgium for Defense News.