The new EU chief insisted Wednesday the bloc would not replace NATO as guarantor of European security as the backlash to French President Emmanuel Macron’s criticism of the alliance rumbles on.
Ursula von der Leyen, the incoming European Commission president, became the latest major European leader to distance herself from a pugnacious Macron interview in which he said NATO was suffering “brain death” and that Europe could defend itself.
The French leader’s comments have caused a rift with Germany, with Chancellor Angela Merkel breaking with her usual reserve to slap down unnecessary “sweeping judgements”, and anger among eastern European allies who see NATO as a vital bulwark against Russian aggression.
The EU has launched various initiatives to make its military spending more coherent and efficient, but former German defense minister von der Leyen said the transatlantic alliance would remain responsible for European collective security “without any question.”
“The European Union will never be a military alliance. The European Union is completely different,” she told reporters after the European Parliament approved her new commission team.
“I see many, many fields where I do not see NATO but the European Union is called upon,” she added, pointing to the bloc’s “huge tool box of instruments” including trade, development aid and humanitarian assistance.
In his Economist interview, Macron said allies should “reassess the reality of what NATO is” in light of US President Donald Trump’s apparent ambivalence about the alliance, adding that he believed “Europe has the capacity to defend itself.”