The building blocks of the European Defense Union are being put in place, Germany's defense minister told CNBC on Thursday.
Ursula von der Leyen was speaking at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland.
"We hope to build up a structure where on one side we have a reliable NATO, which will always be for collective defense and on the other side, we have us, the Europeans," she said. "We have to build up the European Defense Union."
"We have to solve the problems in our neighborhood as Europeans and therefore we're building up the European Defense Union," she added.
The union is designed to prevent the European Union from having to rely on NATO for its defense requirements. Twenty-five nations within the bloc have signed up to the common defense plan.
Von der Leyen said it was crucial "just to have the structures and have the forces that are deployable when a crisis hits... and to be able — if the political will is there — to be able to act sufficiently."
The minister's comments come after German Chancellor Angela Merkel told an audience at WEF that multilateralism was under threat and that protectionism was not the answer to the world's problems.
"Germany wishes to be a country that lends its contribution in the future to solve the problems of the world together. We think that shutting ourselves off and isolating ourselves will not lead us into a good future. Protectionism is not the proper answer," she said.
Merkel attributed increasing populism and polarization to both the euro zone crisis and migration crisis seen in Europe over the last few years, but said Germany would not shrink from the world stage.
Von der Leyen said Merkel had given a very strong speech and that it was interesting that both she and Macron were both looking to the future and were "ready to step forward."