EU defense gets a helping hand from Stoltenberg

Jens StoltenbergNATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.(AP Photo/Lorne Cook)

EU defense gets a helping hand from Stoltenberg

Norway risks being put offside by enhanced defense cooperation within the EU. NATO boss, Jens Stoltenberg, supports the initiative nonetheless.

 

– I have been supportive and positive regarding the work to strengthening EU defense cooperation, as I think that it helps to strengthen NATO, Stoltenberg tells NTB.

Thursday he attends the EU’s informal defense and foreign ministerial meeting in Tallinn where the Ministers will discuss the defense cooperation.

Stoltenberg, who used to oppose NATO in his youth, has attended a number of summits and ministerial meetings in the EU after taking over as Secretary General in NATO, and EU-NATO cooperation today is described as closer than ever.

Divided opinions

The EU’s Secretary of State, Federica Mogherini, has stated that it involves contact on a weekly basis both at staff level and directly between herself and Stoltenberg.

Among the EU member states there are still different perceptions of how important Stoltenberg has been. Some see him as a key actor in the effort to reassure the countries that have been most skeptical about strengthening defense cooperation in the EU. Others tone down Stoltenberg’s role and believe he has been rather wishy-washy

 

– This is a long process. There is no single person who has done anything that suddenly changes everything, says a diplomatic source to NTB.

Breath from the past

Traditionally, NATO has been skeptical towards more defensive cooperation in the EU. The reason has been fear that NATO will lose importance and that the EU will begin to distance themselves from the other countries in the alliance.

– This is a breath from the past, says Stoltenberg.

– But it makes no sense to talk about competition between the EU and NATO, because it is concerning the same countries. More than 90 percent of the EU’s population lives in NATO countries. It is essentially the same countries, with the same security policy reality, he says.At the same time, NATO has for years been asking European countries to take more responsibility for their own safety, the NATO boss points out.

New situation

Brexit is an important part of the backdrop behind the initiatives. The British have been the strongest opponents against a EU based defense. Now that Britain is on its way out, the countries in the opposite camp want to see to what degree they can budge the rest.

At the same time, a realization has emerged that Europe has to cope in a greater extent in a situation where the United States has loosened the ties.

The EU has launched a number of initiatives, including a billion sized defense fund, a military headquarters, strengthening the EU’s fighting forces and a system to coordinate defense budgets.

At the same time, EU leaders have agreed to move on with PESCO, a controversial collaboration including the most ambitious countries.

On the outside

Norway is on the outside, and the EU initiatives have made Norwegian politicians uneasy.

– For Norway it is very important that this happens in a way where NATO and the EU work together. Otherwise, Norway, and other non-EU countries, may end up left out of important decisions, says Stoltenberg.

The worst case scenario is a situation where Norway is without influence due to EU, not NATO, which makes the important decisions about defense and security in Europe.

Stoltenberg nevertheless believes that this will not be the case.

– European leaders have said clearly that this is not an alternative for NATO. It will remain part of NATO. It is the European cornerstone of NATO, he says.

 

© NTB Scanpix / Norway Today

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