"Soft power alone is no power at all," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told foreign affairs, security and defence MEPs and national MPs on Monday. Speaking in favour of "holding the line on defence spending" in Europe, he said Europeans must also "have the political will to use" the right capabilities. MEPs called for more cooperation between the EU and NATO in times of austerity.
"If European nations do not make a firm commitment to invest in security and defence, all talk about a strengthened European defence and security policy will just be hot air," Mr Rasmussen said, adding that the December European Council, dedicated to security and defence, "should showcase a Europe that is both able to act and willing to act".
Asked by MEPs about possible ways to step up practical cooperation between the EU and NATO, Mr Rasmussen replied that it was "smooth in theatre", for example in Kosovo and Afghanistan. He pointed however to an "absurd situation" in which NATO and the EU were "only allowed to discuss the issue of Bosnia in formal meetings" and said this would continue unless a solution was found to disputes between Cyprus and Turkey.
No to duplication of efforts between the EU and NATO
In response to calls by MEPs for complementarity between the EU and NATO, Mr Rasmussen pointed to the recent agreement between Belgrade and Pristina, brokered by the EU, with NATO guaranteeing the security needed to implement the agreement. Both MEPs and Mr Rasmussen also said the joint EU-NATO efforts to fight piracy in the Horn of Africa were a "success story".
MEPs asked the NATO Secretary General for assurances that there would be no unnecessary duplication of effort and spending on equipment between the EU and NATO. Mr Rasmussen cited the commitment of the European NATO members to engage in developing European air-to-air refuelling capabilities, to avoid depending on US ones, as a positive example in this respect.
Members also wondered about NATO's enlargement prospects, pointing to Georgia and countries of the Western Balkans. Mr Rasmussen replied that NATO was ready when each candidate or potential candidate country was ready and meeting its current obligations.
The situation in Syria following the recent Israeli strike in Damascus, missile defence plans and the need to reinforce cooperation on cyber-security were among other issues raised by MEPs and their national counterparts in the debate.
In the chair: Elmar Brok (EPP, DE)