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Bruges, 8 October 2019
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Thank you very much for this very warm welcome. I would like to thank you for two big reasons: the first one is obviously for the invitation. This is not really the last commitment I have in my current capacity, because the coming three weeks are still full of commitments and things to do. Things happen in the world until the very last day of the mandate – the difference between my job and others is that the world does not stop according to the transition time of the European institutions. But I am very happy that we managed to do this still in this capacity, after having tried so hard in these last years.
I would also like to thank you for the opportunity you give me to move to a more normal life and explore the possibility that I wanted to explore when I was your age: doing some academic studies and research on what has always been my passion – the state of the world, security and defence and foreign policy issues - and also taking the luxury of doing something that the academic world often does. You will forgive me if I use the verse of a song by a very well-known Italian singer [Fabrizio] De André that might not be translated in English, who said that “it is much easier to give good advice when you cannot give bad examples anymore”. I will be in that privileged position of not only sharing experience but also giving some of the advice that in this position I cannot afford to give. I am really looking forward, as you said, to this new opportunity, also because in these five years in this job I have always enjoyed enormously every opportunity I had to discuss with students and with young people in general. It has always been very refreshing to me; it has always been an opportunity to not only receive questions, but also to ask questions about how you see the world, how you see diplomacy, how you see the current challenges and opportunities that the world offers to us. And I have always found this an extremely valuable opportunity to change the perspective and see things about our job in the institutions that sometimes are not perceived in the system and that with a fresh look that you can bring – and I will come back to that maybe at the end of my speech – you offer a very precious different perspective that is useful also in the institutional work. And on top of it, I enjoyed it. So I am very much looking forward to the next phase of my life and I am very happy to do that with you.
These five years have been quite hectic – to use a euphemism. But we have tried to, including with the Global Strategy and in the daily work, put things into perspective, and go a little bit beyond the day-to-day work.
Looking back at these five years, I will try today to identify a few key elements that have guided this work beyond the hundreds, if not thousands of issues we have dealt with every single day and still do today – I think of Syria. Most of them extremely important by themselves, but the risk of this job is to very easily jump from one crisis to another without the sense of what the mission beyond the emergency issues could have been. So let me highlight three issues and then I will be happy to use your questions to cover other issues that are equally important. But you cannot squeeze five years of work in just a few minutes.
Let me identify three elements that for me have been a little bit the “fil rouge” of this work. If I look backwards, I would say these are the three things that we have done in these five years with good results, even if we can always do better and among the many others that could be added.
First: we have taken the biggest step forward towards a European Union of security and defence, after almost, I would say, 70 years of failed attempts.
Second: we have built the external dimension of probably the first ever European Union migration policy.
And third: we have protected multilateralism. I have to say that in the first years of the mandate we did not perceive that this would have been such a complicated and challenging task – not even so much needed. At the beginning of the mandate, multilateralism was quite safe. In the last two or three years we have seen the most coherent attempt to dismantle it since World War II. So the European Union took on its shoulders – that are I think big enough – the responsibility to protect and preserve and also build the multilateral system in a complicated environment.
But first, the European Union defence. When European integration made its first steps, in the 1950’s, our founding fathers – and allow me to say also mothers, because there were a few, not many but a few - understood very well that Europe would only be irreversibly peaceful and also globally respected with a common defence. When they tried to create a European Community of Defence, they failed, but their intuition is still valid today, in very different circumstances. The logic of power and even of geopolitics in the 1950’s is definitely different from the one that we live in today, but that intuition is still valid in these radically different circumstances.
European defence is first of all about our capacity to take foreign policy decisions autonomously – the so called “strategic autonomy” that you might be studying in some courses. This means to me that the European Union should be able to take full responsibility for our own security – something we have never managed to do in history as Europeans if not one against the other and that does not really count as taking care of our collective security, on the contrary. Europe in today’s world must – and I underline must - be militarily capable of acting autonomously if and when this is necessary.
“Autonomously” does not mean “unilaterally”, on the contrary. All our military and civilian missions have either been requested by their host countries or mandated by the United Nations. And this is actually a way of strengthening the multilateral system through our European Union action. And in these years, we have made our military cooperation with our partners, starting from the UN system but also NATO, closer than ever. This is what I call “cooperative autonomy”.
This concept is not just about defence. The strategic autonomy of our foreign policy also depends, for instance, on other tools and using the power we have in a more effective way. Think for example of the possibility we have of developing the strength and independence of the euro as a currency, which would allow us to take decisions, and not only economic ones, in full independence in the world of today. This will be one of the most interesting frontiers for our foreign policy in the coming years: strengthening the international, global role of the euro as an independent currency in the financial system of the world.
Yet military means are still essential, first and foremost for shaping a global security environment that is conducive to peace and security also in Europe. I believe that we have all understood in these last years that our security, as European citizens, depends on security outside our borders. We have lived through 60 years of building peace inside the European Union and I think that in these last five to ten years we have realised that this was not enough and that if the rest of the world is at war or in conflict, this has repercussions for us as well – in economic terms, in security terms, in political terms.
I believe that if we care about peace and security inside Europe – and I wonder who does not - we must deal with peace and security abroad. And the only way to do so effectively is together – together as Europeans and also together with our partners. But together as Europeans first and foremost, because I know that there is often this understanding that Europe does not have this one Foreign and Security Policy, because we have 28 Member States that have their own national policies – and this is true. I have been a Minister myself and I know that European policy does not substitute and should not substitute the national policy. But today no European state can be a global security provider alone – not one of them, not even the bigger ones.
We were recalling a quote that might sound familiar to you: in the world of today there are no big and small Member States, there are only Member States that are small and the Member States that have not yet realised that they are small. This is the security situation of the world today. So alone, each of us is too small, but together, we are a global security provider.
Just imagine that the defence spending of the European Union Member States taken together is the second largest one after the United States. Far before the Chinese investments, far before the Russian investments. The point is that it is fragmented.
On top of this, the cost of not having a European defence is high in economic terms. The European defence industry is technologically one of the best in the world. But investment coming from national governments so far has always been fragmented, it has suffered from duplications, and it has failed to create economies of scale, which is the point of strength for the European Union as a concept.
In short, the Europe of defence is essential for political reasons, for security reasons, and for economic reasons.
When I started this work five years ago, I tried to focus on this. I wanted us to move beyond many of the “theological” debates of the past - if you allow me, I have nothing against theological debates but in this case, when you talk about defence, you better be practical. So for instance move past the debate on whether we should have a European army or not, or whether strengthening a European defence would weaken NATO, but rather to focus on what we could do in practice, here and now, step by step, and on creating the right political conditions inside the European Union, across the different institutions – the Council, the Commission and also the Parliament – to overcome the scepticism that had always characterised the debate on European defence and to build consensus. Because if you start on the assumption that consensus is something you find in nature, you stop doing anything before you even start thinking of it. Consensus is not something you find, it is something you build.
And by doing so, we achieved in these last three years in particular, after the Global Strategy was adopted, more progress than ever on European defence. We created incentives for Member States to invest together. Thanks to this, they are now investing resources in a smarter way, avoiding duplications, and developing the high-tech capabilities that are essential for our security in this century – think of cyber-defence or artificial intelligence, just a few examples of how the European technology can be useful for the security sector.
But we also created something that was completely unimaginable just a couple of years ago: the first unified command centre for our European military missions – something that, again, everybody would have told you was impossible to imagine.
When I started this mandate, everyone told me: “You will never make it, do not touch it, it is a lost case. European defence has always failed before, it is simply impossible, forget it.” And yet, we made it. And that was thanks to an excellent team work and the dedication of many in the European institutions and in all the 28 capitals – and I underline 28 that includes all the 28 and still does. Today we have the tools to invest together, research together, train our militaries together, and act together when necessary.
And let me tell you that seen from the outside – I had the privilege over these past five years to see the European Union not only from the inside, but from the outside through the eyes of our partners - the world really needs Europe to be a global security provider, exactly because of our way to approach security issues is a different one. We have a sort of “trademark” if you allow me: the European way to peace and security.
When we act, it is never to fight a war. I believe it is because we had too many wars in our history and we know that in a war there is no winner, there are only losers. So we only use military force – as European Union – to prevent a war, to stabilise a country after a conflict, or to train the security forces of partners that are facing very serious challenges.
One of the things I am most proud of, for instance, is [EUNAVFOR MED] Operation Sophia, the military operation that we launched in the Mediterranean to dismantle the business model of human smugglers. We have used in that case our military power – I think we went up to 24 or 25 Member States with their men and women in uniform acting under the European Union flag - to save tens of thousands of lives. Not only at sea, where it was most evident, but also in the desert and inside Libya, because dismantling the criminal networks that make money on migrants’ lives helps protecting those you save at sea, but also those who have not yet embarked on a boat as victims of these criminal networks.
And here I come to my second point: migration. One thing that was really striking for me, maybe because of my Italian experience, maybe because the day before my hearing five years ago – I was thinking about that yesterday while following the hearing of my successor Josep Borrell who did wonderfully well I think – I was coming straight from Lampedusa and I remember very well meeting people from Lampedusa, the NGOs, the migrants. Back then in 2014, I promised them that I would try to bring that cause into the European institutions.
When I arrived here, I found out with a lot of surprise that the point was simply not a European issue and definitely not a foreign policy issue. When I started my mandate, thousands of people were dying in the Mediterranean Sea and there was simply no common European response to that. It was left to the Member States to deal with it. On some issues, it is still the case and I believe it is one of the next challenges to be faced.
But migration was not even on the agenda of the European Union Foreign Ministers' meetings – something that truly shocked me. First thing, we put the issue on the European agenda. Then we launched Operation Sophia in just two months – and this is a demonstration that the European Union can act fast when it wants to. Building a military operation in two months, anyone of you who has a background on defence knows that even from a national point of view it can be challenging. We did it and it showed us that it was only a matter of political will. When everyone wants to do something, then the European Union can be fast.
Operation Sophia was part of our response to an emergency – the tragedy of deaths at sea. We had a moral duty to act I believe, and we did that.
Immediately afterwards, we then started to work to stop the deaths that were happening inside Libya's territorial waters, where we cannot intervene. We did this by training the Libyan coastguards, with a strong focus on the respect of human rights and international maritime law – not the easiest thing to do as you can imagine but still, I believe, a partially successful story.
Then, we set up an unprecedented form of cooperation with the United Nations and the African Union, to tackle the tragic situation of the detention centres inside Libya. Thanks to this work – I remember very well that at that time the UN agencies were not operating inside Libya, neither the International Organisation for Migration, nor the UN High Commission for Refugees; thanks to our common work, they moved in - we managed to evacuate fifty thousand people from the centres, giving to almost each one of them the possibility to start a new life, either in their home countries if they had voluntary returns or in a safer place if they were entitled to asylum.
Again another step towards the roots of the problem, we started to train the security forces – again, how the military can act for human rights - of countries in the Sahel that were the main entry route to Libya, to prevent so many people from dying in the desert, because that was a huge tragedy - still is even if much less - and it happens far from the media spotlight.
But migration cannot be tackled as an emergency and I hope that this is pretty clear today. It needs a long-term approach, one that understands the reasons such as why does a mother risk her life and the lives of her children. If you have kids, before risking their lives, you have to consider twice why you are doing this. If your motivation to risk your children’s lives is stronger than the fear, it means we have missed something.
We have launched in these years the largest and most detailed ever investment plan for Africa. Somebody asked for a Marshall Plan for Africa, we have it already. It is about two billion euros every year that the European Union invests in Africa, in many different sectors. But most importantly, with a focus and targeted measures discussed locally with not only political authorities and institutions but also the civil society, the people, the communities, trying to understand for instance why from one community there are lots of people leaving and in one community ten kilometres away, there is no one leaving. We are having a targeted approach in developing opportunities.
Let me tell you that I am proud of this work even if I know it is still not enough. I know every single life that is lost, as it happened just a few days ago in Lampedusa, is one too much. But I think that if I look back to where we were five years ago and what we have managed to put in place on the external side of our migration policies today, I am proud. There are things that do not make me proud, that make me quite ashamed but I will come to that at another moment.
I think in those years we have put together an effective external migration policy of the European Union. I believe that we have managed to do so because – and when – we have managed to work together, as Europeans and with our partners, countries of origin and transit in Africa and Asia, the African Union, the United Nations and its agencies and moving from a confrontational approach – we the receiving end against you the sending end – to a partnership approach. We have a common challenge, it is not going to disappear, let us sit around the table and find a way to sustain the difficult challenge of managing a phenomenon that is not going to disappear.
I always say that foreign policy is about interests and values at the same time. This was a controversial point of the Global Strategy. I believe we have an interest in finding a sustainable approach to migration, but this is also about our core European values – first of all, the respect of each and every human life. I always felt a lot of frustration when people are referred to as numbers.
They have names, they have a history, parents, friends, children, and their life. The same about values is true for our work on multilateralism. The idea of cooperative global governance is a core European value. It is our history, it is part of who we are, it is our DNA. We started as multilateral project, and today we are the most successful multilateral experiment ever in history – and maybe this is why some do not like us so much, because we are the living proof that it works.
European nations fought against one another for hundreds or thousands of years. Then finally, after the greatest catastrophe in human history, when we not only killed each other but we also dragged the others in our own wars, we realised that it was much more convenient for us to address our disagreements in a different way. At the end of the day, I do not want to sound cynical but I think that the European Union was born out of convenience, and it started with something not too idealistic, like steel. It was more convenient for us to make peace than war, starting from an economic perspective - that is the point. I think that this lesson is still very useful and valid in today’s world.
The same should apply to world politics. To me, multilateralism is obviously first and foremost a matter of values. It is the best way we know to give a voice to all nations on our planet, to all people, and ensure that decisions are taken in the most democratic, transparent and inclusive manner. This has a value.
But at the same time, I believe multilateralism is very much about our interests. It is the best way – out of experience I can tell you that it is the only way we have to build sustainable solutions to the conflicts, crises or challenges of our times. Because unless you sit around the table and you agree with all relevant interlocutors that need to agree and sign a piece of paper that says “peace” - but also those who are on the ground and need to implement it day after day - any piece of paper will be of no value if you do not have that multilateral approach that keeps everybody together.
Multilateralism is not a nice ideal, it is about security. It is about creating the conditions for our economies to prosper. It is about trade, about avoiding war through mediation and dialogue, and about respect. And yet, in these years we have witnessed, as I was saying, the greatest attack against multilateralism since World War Two.
We, as the European Union, have tried our best – in most cases it has been enough, it has been very difficult - to preserve the multilateral system in these extremely difficult circumstances. We have worked to preserve for instance the nuclear deal with Iran (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) – it is extremely difficult but it is still in place - and the Paris agreement against climate change. We have literally saved UN agencies from collapsing, think of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees [UNRWA]. Here, it is not only a matter that counts for millions of Palestinian refugees, it is also a matter that counts to preserve the two-State solution.
At the same time, we have tried to build new multilateral solutions to the great challenges of our times.
We have created an International Contact Group to try to help find a peaceful and democratic solution to the crisis in Venezuela. We have brought together all the different regional powers to accompany peace processes in places where normally regional powers do not find it easy to cooperate, I think of Afghanistan or Syria. We have worked like never before with other regional organisations, for instance with the African Union to support peace, security, development and opportunities in Africa.
But also with other regional organisations, I think of the ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations), the G5 Sahel, the Mercosur, the Pacific Alliance, and the list could continue. We have invested in building strong partners, as we have realised that having strong partners around us is not a threat but was a point of strength.
On one hand, we have always tried to bring together at the same table players that have diverging interests and views – that is legitimate, you cannot ignore it but you have to handle this - because this is the only way to end a crisis. But at the same time, we have invested in creating a strong network of friendships and partnerships with those who share our interests and values.
A lesson I have learned in these years is to dedicate time and energy not only to problems that obviously and naturally attract your interest, but also to building stronger friendships all around the world: investing energy and political capital in those relationships that seem easy before they turn difficult because it could happen and making your friends and partners stronger. As [Josep] Borrell rightly said yesterday in his hearing, you cannot be multilateral alone, you need to invest in the strengths of your partners to make your agenda stronger.
For instance, when a country goes from authoritarian rule to democracy, or when a peace deal is signed, it is essential to support that change, sustain it and make it grow over time. Only the European Union, among the global players, has this long-term consistency – also thanks to our long-term financial framework that allows us to accompany processes for a long time.
Very often, our best interest is to invest in the good stories. To invest in friendships, both old and new. In these years, this has made the European Union a point of reference all across the world. Our friends know that they can rely on us. Those who work for positive change know that they can count on our support.
Europe today is an indispensable partner for all those working towards a more cooperative and non-confrontational global order. I do not think I exaggerate when I say that the world counts on us. Our partners rely on us. I have the impression that this happens much more than we realise inside the European Union. If you see the European Union from the outside, you probably see someone on which you can rely on – with its own problems but problems are part of life.
I always had the impression in those five years that Europeans were less aware of our strengths than our partners in the world.
In these years I have seen that the European Union can live up to this role. To do so, it has to continue on the path of greater unity, consistency and integration. It has to continue its global engagement and commitment.
For this, it needs you. It needs you because it needs a new generation that understands - first of all the new world and second, Europe's potential role in it, that sees our collective potential and work to fulfil it with enough courage not to stop when people tell you that it was never done before.
I think we now face the need for a new generation of Europeans – I mean Europeans at large – that sees the need for Europe, and makes the dream of a truly united Europe a reality. I think that for once, you have a chance of having a generation of Europeans that has something not only to learn but also to teach.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-178691