The European Union wants to improve its defense capabilities only in the areas where NATO is not present, the EU Commission president said on Wednesday.
“NATO is the strongest military alliance in the world, and the European Union will never be a military alliance,” Ursula von der Leyen told a news conference following the EU-Western Balkans summit in Brdo, Slovenia.
“It is not a question of either NATO or EU. We want a strong European defense which in a way bolsters our alliances,” Charles Michel, the head of the European Council, pointed out, summarizing the main findings of the EU leader’s working dinner on Tuesday.
He also noted that the bloc was working on a joint declaration with NATO which they planned to publish before the 2022 NATO summit in Spain.
“There are scenarios when we do not see NATO, and it might be necessary for the European Union to be able to act,” von der Leyen added, explaining that the bloc was mostly interested in improving interoperability, strengthening industrial bases, and adapting capabilities to the new threats, mostly in the cyberspace.
“All these efforts are complementary to NATO, but they give the European Union the capability to act if the political will is there to engage,” she said.
Von der Leyen also explained that she had a phone call with US President Joe Biden where they discussed EU-US relations, including the financial support for developing countries in climate change, COVID-19 vaccines, and the latest plans on EU defense.
Discussions about strengthening the bloc’s military capacity started in August when EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell suggested setting up a rapidly deployable 5,000-strong EU army as one of the main lessons learned from the crisis in Afghanistan.
The EU ministers will discuss in detail the plans on the EU rapid reaction force during their next meeting in November.
In her yearly State of the Union speech on Wednesday, von der Leyen also expressed support for a European Defense Union and promised to come up with a new European Cyber Resilience Act.