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Thank you Helga [Schmid, Secretary General of the European External Action Service], first of all, and thank you all for your presence here today. I think it is an important way to start, as usual, our work to begin together this new year.
I want to make this clear from the very outset: this year that has just started – it is the first week of September - will be for us another full year of work. I know that many people in Brussels and possibly elsewhere in Europe will be focused on the electoral cycle in 2019. But our work does not end with the European elections, and the world will not adapt to the European electoral calendar. It will not be an electoral year for us and it will not be an electoral year for me. I want to make this clear, because we have a lot of work to do. So do not relax and do not get distracted by European politics. I will not and I expect you to do the same. Sorry for being very blunt at the outset, but I think it is good to have it very clear in the beginning of this year that will be a bit particular.
We have a lot to do this year. First of all, to preserve what we have achieved so far – which has been a lot, but fragile in these circumstances and I will come to that in a moment. We have a lot to do to complete the job and to leave to the one that has the honour and the pleasure to do this job after me, next year, the house in order and all the instruments that she or he will need to do it properly. And also today – in this current year - there are still many conflicts and crises that we cannot ignore, and also opportunities that we cannot miss. So it is going to be a full year of work, fully focused on what we need to do.
Looking at the conflicts and crises. Look at Idlib or Gaza. In Israel and Palestine, tensions rise and the two-State solution is getting dramatically out of reach. The war in Syria is not over yet, and an attack on Idlib could bring devastating humanitarian consequences to a people that has already suffered far too much. We must do all we can in these weeks and in these days to prevent that from happening. And we must keep engaging with all our energies for a political solution that respects the freedom and the dignity of all Syrian people: this is essential for a sustainable peace, for reconciliation and also for reconstruction and the return of refugees. We discussed this just a few days ago in Vienna with the Foreign Ministers of the 28 Member States, but the wider Middle East is just one example of the urgencies we face today and on which we need to keep ourselves completely focused.
Together with the Middle East, I could also mention Libya, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] – and the list would be very long. I will skip the list, also because I count on our exchange later to go more into the details on all the different theatres where we are engaged.
Beyond the specific cases, I believe it is essential for us to focus on this: the whole world is going through a moment of chaos. And the question is: is it a moment or a long-term trend? In both cases, we need as Europeans, as the European Union, to be extremely clear, united and firm with our own compass in mind: the set of values, principles and interests that guide our actions on the global scene. Because the number of global powers continues to rise, but instead of having a system that governs this multi-polar world through multilateral institutions, the very idea of multilateralism is being challenged more every day. There is a return to the logic of bilateral transactions between powers – if not between individual leaders; a situation where “might makes right”, and the world is split in spheres of influence. This is not our logic and many others in the world do not want to go this way.
You will remember just two years ago we wrote our Global Strategy for foreign and security policy. It was a very different world, indeed. But what we wrote in the Strategy still stands in an impressive manner. We described a world that was getting more complex, more conflictual, and more unequal. And we wrote that the only way to change our world for the better was to work for a more cooperative world order, and to do so together - together as Europeans and together with our partners around the world.
In these last four years of work, I believe we have shown that a more cooperative, peaceful and just world order is indeed possible. And I believe we have already put in place some elements for a more effective multilateralism. I will mention a few of them.
First, the nuclear deal with Iran, an unprecedented kind of multilateral non-proliferation agreement, which has made the whole world more secure – Europe more secure – as the IAEA has certified with its 12th report just a few days ago.
Second, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals, which are both centred on the UN system.
Third, new trade agreements that defend our traditional trademarks, create jobs, contribute to improved standards for workers and protect the environment - a new generation of trade agreements. Because free trade and fair trade can go hand-in-hand and we Europeans have shown it together with our partners in the world.
Fourth, our trilateral cooperation with the African Union and the United Nations on migration. The number of arrivals to Europe has dropped also thanks to this multilateral cooperation, based on equal partnership, on mutual interests, and on the desire to govern human mobility in a way that is at the same time sustainable and that respects fully human rights and dignity.
The list could continue, but today the point is that many are questioning multilateralism both inside and outside of the European Union based on national interest. I believe that we Europeans can tell with no doubt that we have advanced our national interests in these last 60 years not in spite of multilateralism, but through multilateralism. The year ahead will be essential also for this reason. We must try to consolidate our achievements, because it takes a long time to build them, but it takes very little to destroy what has been built.
For instance, we must continue with determination, perseverance and let me say stubbornness - our work in and with the Balkans. Last year was incredibly intense, but the coming months will be even more decisive.I believe there is a real chance that Presidents [Aleksandar] Vučić [President of Serbia] and [Hashim] Thaçi [President of Kosovo] can reach an agreement that addresses all open issues between Belgrade and Pristina; a comprehensive, legally-binding agreement to normalise relations between the two sides; an agreement that is fully in line with international law and that can help stabilise the entire region. And let me play with dates, because next year, in 2019, it will be twenty years since the war in Kosovo: I believe it is about time to finally put an end to that conflict. So, I believe we must do all we can together with our partners in Europe, in the region, in the international scene starting from the UN Security Council, to support the negotiations through the dialogue and within the international community.
Just before the summer we celebrated together the agreement between Athens and Skopje, and in just a few weeks' time there will be a referendum on it, in what I hope will become the Republic of North Macedonia. It will also be an intense year for preparations towards the opening of accession negotiations both with this country and with Albania.
Let me say very clearly: these opportunities have to be taken now – this year is the year. It is not a concession we make: it is in the interest of the European citizens, both inside and outside of the European Union. In the Balkans, it is today very clear that the European Union is the point of reference. And let me say to all those that fear other powers being more and more present in the region: whenever we are present in the region, there is no space for others.
But this goes well beyond our continent. We are and we can be the point of reference all around the world. Because all around the world there is a growing demand for Europe’s strong presence in global affairs. Most of you see this much more than we do in Brussels. There is a demand for a cooperative global power. There is a demand for a reliable partner, one that sticks to its commitments and upholds international norms. There is a demand for a principled partner – not everywhere, but in many places in the world – that puts human rights and sustainable development at the core of its agenda.
So in the year ahead, we should focus on this demand for Europe coming from our partners across the world. I have two main tasks for all of us for the year ahead:
The first one is to deepen and widen our network of truly like-minded partners. Heiko Maas [Foreign Minister of Germany] has called it "an alliance for multilateralism". We are not alone in our work for a more cooperative world order and we should work on that. Take Canada for example or as an example. Canada and the European Union see the world through the same eyes: from peace and security to free and fair trade; from climate change to social inclusion; from the role of women to the value of diversity in our societies. We have seen this during the Canadian G7 Presidency, and we will continue to work very closely together.
But we have good friends and partners at all corners of the world – starting with our neighbours, from our Southern and Eastern partners, to the other side of the world.
Over the summer I was in Asia and the Pacific, and all our partners in that part of the world expect the European Union to play a leading role in the current phase. This is true for Australiaand New Zealand, with whom – by the way – we have just launched negotiations for trade agreements and that are culturally extremely close to us, but not only. South Korea and Japan want us to continue to follow closely the negotiations with North Korea, because they know that our expertise and our approach are truly needed, especially in this phase. We are working on new strategies for our partnership with India and for connectivity in Asia as a whole. We have strong ties with ASEAN [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations], and the same attitude towards diplomacy, security and trade. We have signed new trade deals with Singapore and Japan, and Vietnam should follow shortly.
In a different continent, we are concluding negotiations to modernise our trade agreements with Mexico, Chile and Mercosur. We have normalised our relations with Cuba, and are playing a leading role in support of peace and reconciliation in Colombia. Let me say that the nature of our partnership with Latin America - because our continents are also changing - is no longer only focused on development aid. Our global agenda is very much the same, and we face the same challenges – from migration to the fight against inequalities. This autumn we will present a new Strategy for Latin America and the Caribbean, precisely to mark this new phase in our partnership. I am glad that in the last years we have worked intensely to intensify our contacts with Latin America.
Something similar can be said about Africa. In these years we have finally – and let me stress finally - started to build a real partnership of equals with Africa, particularly after the summit in Abidjan last year. We are no longer only focused on humanitarian aid, development cooperation and our common work for peace and security, which are still extremely relevant in a continent that is the closest one to Europe. But today we work together as equal partners on our shared interests – and this is a new approach. I have mentioned our work on migration with the African Union and the United Nations, and I am going to meet again with Moussa Faki [Chairperson of the African Union Commission] and António Guterres [Secretary-General of the United Nations] in the margins of the UN General Assembly to bring this work forward in the coming weeks. But think also of the cooperation with the G5 Sahel; our support to security and reconciliation in the Horn of Africa; and of course the External Investment Plan to bring private investment in the most fragile parts of the continent.
Je dois passer au français pour dire qu'Emmanuel Macron [Président de la République Française] l'a très bien dit il y a quelques jours et je cite: “L’Afrique n’est pas seulement notre interlocuteur pour parler des crises qui l’affectent. Elle est d’abord notre alliée pour inventer les grands équilibres du monde de demain.” Africa is becoming a privileged partner for the European Union to shape the world of tomorrow and also to shape a more equal global order. This is a change in mind set; this is a change in policy. This is what we have in mind when we talk about multilateralism – the idea of regions working together that was already in the Global Strategy, and that drives our action.
Let me go back to Africa for one minute to say that we need to dedicate in the year to come even more time and attention to Africa. I will work with the Commission to launch a new framework for EU-Africa cooperation that will promote a range of concrete initiatives in the area of investments, education and skills and also economic cooperation. I also hope that the future agreement for cooperation post-Cotonou will contribute to bring our relations with African countries to a new stage and we are working on this together with Commissioner Mimica and the entire Commission.
So, this is the core of our approach to multilateralism: partnerships based on an equal footing, recognising the political value of our interlocutors, showing respect, and basing partnerships on cooperation.
Because the idea that the great powers take decisions over everyone else's heads does not work. It is simply not realistic. First of all because no great power is really great enough in the world of today and secondly, and most importantly, because as a song that most of you will know says: "people have the power". There is a need for ownership; there is a need for constant reality checks; there is a need for mechanisms that take into consideration complexity and that take into consideration the real aspirations of people on the ground.
This year, the priority of our work will be to strengthen a global network of partnerships for multilateralism. This requires a new mind-set, maybe less focused than before on the traditional bilateral diplomacy – but I think that we are ready for that.
But the precondition for this work – and I come to our second task - is to give our partners a clear message about ourselves. I know that this is probably the most challenging one.
Europe is not withdrawing from the world stage. On the contrary, we will be even more engaged in global affairs in the year ahead. This is the message I think that we need to bring to our partners.
We can and must tell our partners who ask for the European Union to be a major global player – and even to those who don't ask so clearly for it – that we are ready for that.
We are not just the largest free trade zone in the world, which is relevant in itself; we are already much more than that. We are a diplomatic, political, security player. We are a security provider, and we are investing in our defence cooperation more than ever before in our history. Tell this to our partners. Because our partners know that there is a “European way” to security and defence, where military force, whenever needed, is never sufficient alone. It is always part of a much broader engagement.
The progress we made together on defence in these years is unprecedented. And we did it together, inside the European Union and in full complementarity with our partners, starting with NATO.
The work is not over yet, and will continue in the months ahead at full speed. We discussed this with the Defence Ministers a few days ago in Vienna. I have seen determination from Member States exactly as there was determination in the last couple of years. There is determination to continue the work and to finalise it. New projects are in the pipeline. We have started the work to strengthen our command centre here in Brussels, potentially bringing executive military missions under its responsibility. And there is not one single partner that I am meeting in these months that is not asking for more cooperation with us in the security and defence sector as well. I believe this is a welcome development for us.
I have also proposed a new funding mechanism - the European Peace Facility - to make it easier to fund our missions and operations and to support our partners in the field of security and defence.
And beyond security and defence, we have proposed to increase the overall budget for our external action by 30 per cent in the next Multiannual Financial Framework. This is a very concrete way to tell our partners around the world: you can count on us. We are ready to play our role in the world – with our principles, our values, our policies, but also with our resources and our unity.
I do not want to sound overly optimistic. I am a very optimistic person; this year it requires a little more work. Because our Union is indeed going through a difficult moment, when its very existence is being questioned by some, both from inside and outside our Union.
And yet European unity is the best way to advance our interests and our values in a competitive world like ours. Weakening our Union can only make each of us weaker – all of us Europeans, none excluded. The only way to gain sovereignty in our difficult world is to share sovereignty within the Union. Those that would like to see a weakened European Union have understood it very well; and we should understand very well that our strength lies in our unity.
Your role in all our Delegations around the world is essential. Not only to work with our partners around the world to pass these messages and also to listen to their messages, but also to coordinate our Member States in the daily job of our foreign policy and to bring the results of this work back to Europe. The benefits of a trade agreement for our economies; the security that we get when we help a conflict to come to an end; and each of you could add to this list. With every single move, step and action you shape, take or bring, wherever you are posted, bring something good back to our continent. This is an essential part of our work.
This is our contribution – a key one for today's Europe: a Europe that has, I believe, finally understood that what happens outside of our borders has an impact and makes a difference on everybody's lives.
Let me thank each and every one of you, but also each and every one of those who work with you in all of our 140 delegations around the world for the excellent work that you are doing. I think that I have visited far beyond half – I cannot promise that I can conclude the other half in the last remaining year but we can work on it – but I have seen the work that you do. Not only for the results that come back to Brussels but also for the work that I have seen on the spot, of the Heads of Delegation and of all the teams, with a dedication, an energy, skills, and wisdom that contribute to avoid that the world collapses completely.
Without this excellent, professional work, the world would be in a much worse situation and Europeans could not benefit from the many daily achievements of our European diplomacy. Some of them are now taken for granted, but let me say that I am proud of the work we are doing around the world, for Europe and for the rest of the world.
So all this to say: good job and get ready, because it is going to another intense year of work together.
Thank you very much.