Qioptiq logo Raytheon

EU-NATO Relations: Inching forward? Julia Himmrich By Julia Himmrich , Research Fellow Denitsa Raynova By Denitsa Raynova , Project Manager and Research Associate

16 May 17. The EU-NATO Joint Declaration in July 2016 and the 42 Implementation Action Points of December 2016 have re-energised the relationship between the two institutions. For the first time in over a decade, this represents a significant step forward for their cooperation.

Building on consultations with experts and officials from the EU and NATO and their member states the ELN assesses the progress made since last summer. It takes two key areas of the Joint Declaration as case studies: exercising and capacity building, through which it identifies achievable opportunities for further EU-NATO cooperation.

The report concludes that further constructive and pragmatic development of the EU-NATO relationship is possible despite the political constraints. Member states should raise ambitions for the two institutions to not just cooperate – working together on goals which happen to overlap- but to collaborate – working together towards a common goal.


  • After the Joint Declaration, informal structures were enhanced between the EU and NATO to improve cooperation. Although this has improved the relationship of the two organisations, they still operate mainly on an ad hoc basis, an issue which staff in both institutions are actively addressing.
  • Within the EU, the European Commission’s role in defence and security matters is growing considerably. However, its operational capacity is limited given the limited number of staff who are trained to work with sensitive information, and its underdeveloped secure communications infrastructure. This affects all cooperation activities with NATO, in particular the development of shared responses to hybrid attack.
  • In the area of exercises, staffs are providing pragmatic solutions to facilitate as close cooperation as possible within the limitations on information sharing. The new process of parallel and coordinated exercises (PACE) and its modular structure allows member states of both organisations to take part in different aspects of the exercises, whereas institutions’ staffs can interact in both exercises and at all levels.
  • In the area of capacity building in partner countries, the two institutions are engaging in a process of information exchange to map their activities. More effort should be made towards better defining the level of ambition of EU-NATO cooperation in this area, and ensuring sustainability of their activities, particularly when managing the relations with partner countries.
  • While political differences between member states impose sharp constraints, better cooperation could be achieved if practical obstacles such as security, mutual education and resourcing of the relationship were addressed.
  • Information sharing between the two institutions is greatly constrained by treaty limitations as well as political divisions among member states.
  • Although the process is led by the institutions, successful implementation of the Joint Declaration depends on the political will of all member states throughout.
Back to article list