Critics say setting up group to consider alliances future will let politicians pass the buck
Nato is expected to consider at its 70th birthday summit a proposal to set up a group of experts in response to Emmanuel Macrons claim that Nato is brain-dead and its collective security guarantee is under threat.
The German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, first suggested the idea to be considered at a Nato meeting in London next week after the French presidents controversial Economist interview in which he bemoaned a lack of coordination between Nato allies over Syria.
The French defence minister, Florence Parly, said it was time not only to discuss whether Nato was brain-dead, but also to brainstorm its future.
The Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, welcomed the initiative. The team of experts would not publish a report until November next year, by which time the US presidency will have been decided and the politics of the transatlantic alliance more certain.
The proposal has not received universal acclaim, even in Germany, where leading figures claim the plan is a classic abdication of responsibility by those who wish to defer tough decisions on Europes future that ultimately only politicians, not experts, can make.
Germanys Green foreign policy spokesman, Omid Nouripour, said: Too often, expert committees simply become shunting yards for responsibility. The German foreign affairs committee chairman, Norbert Rttgen, was also sceptical: The French president declares Nato brain-dead and now we have a working group where alumni will say what the future is. The politicians responsible have to know that themselves: what is the future of Nato, what do we need it for after the end of the cold war?
Macron has shown no regrets about his comments, even going further by saying the objective of greater European integration is so paramount that the EUs enlargement to the east must be put on hold, disappointing North Macedonia and Albania.
Speaking at the Paris peace conference, Macron said: I think we need truth. Prudery or hypocrisy does not work in these times. Why? Because our fellow citizens see it. We are in an open world. The experts, the citizens, the activists, they see the consequences of this world. When it does not work any more, they tell us. So hypocrisy and silence is not a solution. And intellectual laziness or inaction is not a solution either.
We are experiencing an unprecedented crisis in our international system. This requires new alliances and new ways to cooperate. In an apparent reference to Trumps policies, Macron said the temptation of unilateralism was very risky.
We tried that option in the past: it leads to war, Macron said. Nationalism is war.
It is not only that Trump kept everyone out of the loop on Syria, Macron has complained, but he sees no need to consult as he views the relationship between Europe and the US as entirely transactional.
In Angela Merkel has mildly rebuked Macron in public, and in private has told him she has suffered enough from his disruptive truth telling. According to a New York Times report, she told Macron: Over and over again I have to glue together the cups you broke just so we can sit together again and have a cup of tea.
With Britain edging out of the picture after the EU referendum, she fears that Macron is skilfully exploiting Trumps isolationism to push the traditional French Gaullist agenda on to Europe which will, in turn, anger eastern Europeans and the Baltic states.
At root, the Elyse feels the changes under way in the US are part of a long-term trend, independent of Trump, and that Europe must be ready to take more responsibility for its security.
Macron predicts that whoever succeeds Trump will also be less willing to let the US underwrite Europes low defence spending. Ash Carter, Barack Obamas defence secretary, for example, used to regularly lecture Europe about its failure to lift defence spending to its target of 2% of GDP. Obama, too, spoke of European free riders.
Germany, by contrast, still hopes that Trump is an aberration and is inclined to believe Europe can indefinitely depend on the US for its defence. The idea of Europe replacing the US as the central and recognised leading power in Nato is, in German eyes, fantastical.
In the face of US pressure, European defence spending has been slowly rising, but even now only seven of the 29 allies are due in 2019 to meet the 2% target set at the Nato summit in 2014. Forecasts suggest a shortfall of $100bn (77.5bn) in European defence spending in 2024 against what was pledged in 2014.