European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen hailed NATO on Friday as an “excellent protective shield of freedom” — just a day after Emmanuel Macron described the alliance as brain dead.
Von der Leyen’s comments, in a speech to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Macron’s criticism highlighted sharp divisions within Europe on the value of NATO and the Continent’s military future.
“In its 70-year history, much has changed in NATO. But one thing has always remained the same: NATO was and is always what its member states make of it,” von der Leyen said in the German capital, according to the text of her speech. “It is up to 29 countries to get involved and make a difference. With words and deeds!”
The former German defense minister added: “In my view, NATO has proved to be an excellent protective shield of freedom despite all its ups and downs, right up to the last few weeks.”
Macron, in an interview with The Economist published Thursday, said that Europe needs to “wake up” and ramp up its autonomy in defense and security following what he sees as a collapse of U.S.-EU strategic cooperation within NATO and other developments.
“What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO,” Macron said.
Von der Leyen, by contrast, praised NATO as “the most powerful defense alliance in the world.”
“[It’s] a unique organisation of 29 member states today, ” she went on. “The countries that have most recently joined know exactly what NATO is still worth today — our friends in the Baltic States but also in the Balkans.”