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Mr Stoltenberg did not mention the French President by name but his comments were seen as a rebuke to Mr Macron’s increasingly loud calls to cut defence and security ties with Washington. In an interview at the Politico 28 event, Mr Stoltenberg said a close transatlantic alliance was essential to meet growing challenges posed by China.  He said he was in favour of greater EU investment in defence but insisted it had to happen alongside a continuing strong alliance with the US and NATO.

To protect Europe, we need the transatlantic bond, we need North America – the US and Canada

Jens Stoltenberg

Mr Stoltenberg said: “To protect Europe, we need the transatlantic bond, we need North America – the US and Canada.

“Any attempt to go alone, either for Europe or for North America, would be bad for all of us. We need to stand together.

“And any attempt to divide Europe from North America will not only weaken NATO but also divide Europe.

“So I welcome European unity, but European unity will not replace transatlantic unity.”

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Mr Macron sparked controversy last month when he openly criticised German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer for warning “illusions of European strategic autonomy must come to an end”.

The French President went as far as to suggest Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer’s political mentor and close ally Angela Merkel disagreed with her and shared his position on the future of European defence and security.

The French president said he “profoundly” disagreed with Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer’s and described it as a “historical misinterpretation”.

The clash highlighted growing divisions within the EU about its future relations with the US under Joe Biden’s presidency.

Mr Macron has warned Europe can no longer rely on the US as an international partner and wants the bloc to operate more independently by increasing its military power, creating global corporate giants and securing its own key supply chains.

But his critics argue that strategic autonomy is a dangerous and unrealistic concept and the EU’s interests are best served by a close alliance with Washington.

Mr Stoltenberg said close co-operation between Brussels and Washington was particularly important amid “serious challenges related to the rise of China.”

He said: “We all realize that the global balance of power is changing in a fundamental way.

“The rise of China is really changing the security environment we face.

“If anything, the size of China – the military size, the economic size, their achievements in technology – all of that makes NATO even more important.

“No single ally, not even the United States, can address this alone.”

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Ms Merkel has described transatlantic friendship as “indispensable if we are to deal with the major challenges of our time” and said the US and Germany, as part of the EU, must stand “side by side”.

Mr Macron has previously called for the development of a “true European army”.

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