EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Tuesday spelt out the political steps needed in order for the military alliance and the EU to overcome a political deadlock stemming from a long-standing row between Turkey and Cyprus.
Mr Rasmussen argued that the EU must move to accommodate Turkish concerns and conclude an security agreement with Ankara.
"[EU] high representative Catherine Ashton and I have gotten off to a strong start in our co-operation and we both share the view that Nato and the EU need to talk and do more together from planning to procurement to operations," Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters after co-chairing a joint session of EU and Nato ambassadors with Ms Ashton.
The meeting, which was the first since Ms Ashton took office in December last year, was dedicated to the joint operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also touched on broader EU-Nato relations and the changes brought about by the Lisbon Treaty, such as on how information on defence and security matters will be dealt with within EU's new diplomatic service.
Nato and EU diplomats have met informally every three months, but their gatherings have been limited to discussing the practicalities of missions such as the one in Bosnia. Any other issue touching broader inter-institutional relations would have immediately been blocked by Greece or France, who would stress that such matters needed to be discussed together with Cyprus, a member of the EU but not Nato.
Mr Rasmussen said he wanted these meetings to take place on "a much more regular basis," especially since the new treaty gives the EU and Ms Ashton a "more robust foreign policy role."
He conceded that the Turkish-Cypriot row, which has been blocking co-operation between the two institutions, is a "political complication" that won't be cleared "overnight", but he spelled out what needed to be done on both sides for this to happen.
The dispute over the northern part of Cyprus, which is still occupied by Turkish troops and whose independence is recognised only by Ankara has unsettled EU-Nato relations ever since Cyprus joined the EU in 2004. Ankara has vetoed any attempt at opening access to classified Nato documents to the Greek Cypriot authorities, while Cyprus has been blocking Turkish participation in EU defence activities.
Turkey has no access to EU documents relating to military missions, as it is the only Nato member not having signed a security agreement with the 27-strong bloc, precisely because of the Cypriot issue. Additionally, joint procurement initiatives on European level that are co-ordinated by the European Defence Agency are also off-limits.
"Speaking frankly, maybe a bit bluntly, the EU must move to accommodate some concerns raised by Nato allies that are not EU members. The EU should include non-EU contributors to the military decision-making process, it should conclude a security agreement with Turkey and an arrangement between Turkey and the European Defence Agency," Mr Rasmussen said.
But the former Danish Prime Minister, who admitted he was no diplomat but that this allowed him to speak openly, also conceded steps needed to be taken by his own organisation.
"On our side, it should be accepted that Cyprus is a country that deserves a seat at the table when we are having a dialogue between the EU and Nato," he said.
Just as in past meetings, Cyprus' ambassador to the EU's political and security committee was not invited at the Tuesday gathering, which is based on a series of practical arrangements called the "Berlin plus" agreements, allowing Nato to offer its technical support to EU-led missions, such as the one in Bosnia.
In some European capitals, this bilateral row is already starting to be seen as increasingly embarrassing, especially since more and more EU countries need to slash public spending, with parallel EU and Nato programmes translating into unnecessary additional and costly expenditures.
Berlin, for instance, has already been voicing its concern with Greek and Turkish authorities to stop treating each other as if they were still at war over the divided island of Cyprus and cut down their defence budgets.
Greece spends more than any other EU member on its military, about €13.4 billion or 5.6 percent of GDP and has recently pledged to bring the figure down to three percent, but only if Turkey does the same.