‘Old’ and ‘new’ Europe divided at NATO Summit

EU divisions were apparent on the eve of the NATO summit in Bucharest on 2-4 April with several heavyweights, including France, opposed to the planned Eastern expansion of the military alliance. EURACTIV Romania contributed to this report from Bucharest.

US president George W. Bush, visiting Kiev just before the summit, stated that he would act in favour of the inclusion of Ukraine and Georgia in the Membership Action Plan (MAP), thus opening the door to NATO membership without guaranteeing it. 

Several EU heavyweights (Germany, France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium) are opposed to such a project. 

In the meantime, several representatives of the new EU members expressed their support for opening the NATO door to Kiev and Tbilisi.

President Bush said today (2 April) during his Bucharest speech that Romanian people have “looked evil in the eye” and transformed their country from a communist dictatorship into a free nation and a NATO member, suggesting that the young democracies Ukraine and Georgia deserve the same chance. 

“My country’s position is clear: NATO should welcome Georgia and Ukraine into the Membership Action Plan. And, NATO membership must remain open to all of Europe’s democracies that seek it, and are ready to share in the responsibilities of NATO membership,” he said.

France and Romania divided

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said that President Nicolas Sarkozy would oppose the idea at the Summit in Bucharest. “France is not green-lighting Ukraine and Georgia’s accession. Paris has a different opinion to that of the US on the matter”, Fillon told France Inter Radio, quoted by Rompres.

Romanian President Traian Basescu, who is hosting the largest-ever summit of NATO’s 26 member states, stated that including Ukraine and Georgia in the MAP is “a logical step from the Romanian point of view”. 

He reiterated the other main topics of the summit: the decision to extend invitations to join NATO to three applicant countries (Croatia, Albania, Macedonia), the situation in Afghanistan and the Western Balkans and the threats facing the Alliance in the 21st century: terrorism, energy security, missile defence and IT security.

Russian concerns

Russia voiced its opinion on Tuesday, with deputy foreign minister Grigory Karasin warning that the prospect of Ukraine’s NATO membership would create a profound crisis between Kiev and Moscow, with a negative impact on the security of Europe. 

But Russia’s Special Representative to NATO Dmitry Rogozin dismissed US ambitions to include Ukraine and Georgia in the MAP as unrealistic. 

Speaking to Dziennik, Mr. Rogozin said: “As far as I know NATO, and the people who work there – I don’t think they will take such a decision. The US is very much in favour, but Bush is leaving soon and he will not take responsibility for the consequences of such an action. Those who will remain will be confronted with the issue. Therefore I don’t think there will be any MAP”.

Macedonia’s NATO accession up in the air

But the invitation to Macedonia to join NATO is not yet sealed. NATO member Greece has threatened to veto Macedonia’s invitation to join the alliance if the former Yugoslav republic does not change its constitutional name, which is the same as Greece’s northernmost province. 

The US mediation failed to achieve a solution ahead of the summit and efforts are now continuing behind the scenes at the Bucharest summit itself.

Macedonia uses its name in bilateral ties with many states, but is called “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” at the United Nations as well as by NATO and the European Union. It split from Yugoslavia in 1991.

Speaking to EURACTIV, Polish MEP Jacek Saryusz-WolskiChairman of Parliament's Committee on Foreign affairs, said he was strongly in favour of NATO opening its doors to Ukraine and Georgia. 

He also downplayed the current divisions among NATO members on the issue, explaining that "decisions on NATO enlargement need a long time to mature".

Elaborating further, Wolski said EU and NATO memberships go hand in hand and that there is some positive synergy between them, although the two organisations are quite distinct and follow different objectives. 

He added that the experience of the East European countries shows that MAP and NATO membership do facilitate the EU perspective, although the process is not automatic. 

"If you look at the new members of the EU, all are very supportive of the NATO perspective of countries such as Ukraine and Georgia," Wolski stressed.

MEP Girts Valdis Kristovskis (Latvia), Vice-Chairman of the Parliament's Subcommittee on Security and Defense, told EURACTIV that the countries which are against the NATO membership of Ukraine and Georgia are motivated by their specific policies with Russia. 

"Because Europe is not in its best position to speak with one voice to Russia, and because of the dependence from Russian resources, Moscow tries to demonstrate its increased power which they had lost in the 90s," he said. 

The EU strategy should be very strongly in favor of the NATO membership of Ukraine and Georgia, Kristovskis stressed, adding that "Russia tries to imply that its positions are more important than any other countries' positions, which recalls the Russian policies from the totalitarian regime". 

"The important thing is that Russia has no veto on NATO enlargement, therefore the West must help these countries achieve their goal," Kritovskis stated.

MEP Jan Marinus Wiersma (Netherlands), Vice-Chairman of the European Socialist Party  (PES), told EURACTIV that US President George W. Bush was too hasty to promise NATO membership to Georgia and Ukraine, prompting divisions among EU countries. 

"Ukraine is seen by Russia as part of its own historic and cultural domain," he warned. 

Wiersma said he shared the hesitations of countries such as Germany regarding the state of preparation of these countries and added that Ukraine's striving for NATO membership was not a proven as the country was in fact deeply divided over the possibility of NATO membership. 

In the case of a referendum, the result would be uncertain, he believes.

The haste of the government of Ukraine to join NATO can be partly explained by the lack of reform in the country itself, he further elaborated. "They took NATO as an objective because they could not carry out the reforms which would bring them closer to the EU," Wiersma stated.

Erhard Busek, the special coordinator of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe, expressed his optimism over the yet unresolved "name" row between Skopje and Athens. 

"Hopefully there will be a last minute solution," he told EURACTIV, added that the issue of the accession of the FYROM to NATO was much too important to be hampered by the "name issue", describing accession as "also in the best interests of Greece".

Heads of State and Government from the 26 NATO nations, partners and other representatives from major international institutions are meeting in Bucharest on 2-4 April to discuss NATO enlargement and operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo.

The three-day Summit will include meetings, at NATO's highest level, in different formats such as the North Atlantic Council (NAC), the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) and the NATO-Ukraine Commission (NUC).

NATO enlargement will be high on the agenda. Allied leaders are expected to consider the membership of aspiring countries that meet NATO's standards and contribute to Euro-Atlantic security, as outlined in the Membership Action Plan (MAP), during the NAC meeting. 

At present, three countries - Albania, Croatia and Macedonia - are MAP members. In addition, both Georgia and Ukraine are currently engaged in an Intensified Dialogue with the Alliance, focusing on their membership aspirations and related reforms.

In Bucharest, many institutions closed down for a week because of the summit and many of its two million-plus inhabitants fled the capital to avoid tough security measures.

  • April 2008: Summit concludes with the meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission, followed by the NATO-Russia Council, which will include the participation of Vladimir Putin.

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