The EU’s incoming chief Ursula von der Leyen on Friday hailed the transatlantic alliance NATO as an “outstanding” shield, following sharp criticism from French president Emmanuel Macron.
Without referring to Macron’s attack that the body was experiencing “brain death”, von der Leyen said the 70-year-old NATO was “the strongest defence alliance in the world” and a unique one.
Singling out NATO for “explicit” praise, the EU chief said: “I think that through all the bumps along the way up to the last weeks, NATO has been an outstanding protective shield for freedom.”
The history of Europe cannot be told without including the defence partnership, she said, adding that newer NATO members in particular “know exactly what NATO is still worth today”.
After Macron blindsided allies with his comments published on Thursday, Europe’s biggest power Germany immediately hit back in rejecting the French president’s assessment.
In unusually emphatic words, Chancellor Angela Merkel said the French leader “used drastic words” and that “such sweeping judgements are necessary”.
The storm over the transatlantic partnership came as Germany celebrates three decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall, laying bare the growing divisions among traditional allies.
While 9 November 1989 was once thought to have unleashed an unstoppable trend of liberal democracy throughout the world by bringing down the Iron Curtain, three decades on, tensions are not only visible among Western allies but are also once again rising with Russia and China.
“Today, we have to admit that our complacency was naive,” said von der Leyen.
Russia is “using violence to shift established borders in Europe, and is trying to fill every vacuum that the US has left behind.”
And hopes that China would develop closer to the Western liberal democracy model has not been fulfilled, she said.
In the face of such challenges, von der Leyen said Europe needs to bulk up against the world’s biggest players.
“Soft power is no longer enough today, if we Europeans want to assert ourselves in the world,” she said, adding that “Europe must also learn the ‘language of power’.”
This include “building our own muscles, on where we’ve for a long time been able to rely on others -- in security policies.”
Faced with a mercurial US president Donald Trump, European leaders including Merkel have in the last years intensified their calls for the bloc to ensure that it stand on its own feet.