An official website of the European Union. See all European Institutions
Check against delivery!
As the head of the [European Defence] Agency, I have the pleasure, the honour and also the duty to share with you some thoughts about these 15 years - even if as Jorge [Domecq, Chief Executive of the European Defence Agency] said, only part of these 15 years have been under our watch - and also of these last years of common work.
First of all, I want to thank Jorge [Domecq], Ministers who are present here and those who are not present here, all of you, all the EDA staff, all Member States, all partners, all other institutions, all our militaries, for the presence here but also for the work done in these 15 years of common work.
I would like to start with a personal memory from the very first days of my mandate. When I started, so many people were saying this is an impossible job because you have two hats. Then I was pointing at the third hat that was often forgotten and still instrumental, I believe, for getting where we are today on defence.
My clear memory is that in my initial talks in particular with Defence Ministers in Member States but also with defence experts here in Brussels, including the EDA management and staff, it was very clear to me that all of my interlocutors, all of us, were sharing the same goal. We all wanted European cooperation on defence to become the norm, and at the time, that was clearly not the case, it was still the exception.
The conviction was there, the knowhow was there and certainly, the need was there to make cooperation on defence the norm. What was missing – at least this was very clear from my initial conversations almost five years ago – was the belief, the confidence that we could actually make it happen and the initiative to untap the impressive potential that we collectively possess. In the following months and years, we took a deep collective breath and we gave it a try. I think this was one of the most courageous, needed and successful steps we have taken together in these last five years.
Five years ago, no one imagined how far we would come. European defence cooperation has expanded in these five years like never before. We have created the instruments to make the European defence cooperation become the norm. The Agency has been at the core of all our work and of all the progress that we have achieved together. All this work was not just long overdue – it was – but it was urgent and necessary.
Today, all of our Member States need European cooperation and if you think of the most different and diverse environments, that is self-evident and very clear. They need cooperation to guarantee the security of our citizens; it is a matter, first and foremost, of the security of our population.
We need European cooperation also to protect our power grids or our bank accounts from cyber-attacks. We need European cooperation so that all our armies share the same standards and the same strategic culture. We need European cooperation because only together we can help partners and our partners ask more and more by the day cooperation with us - I think of the African Union. I have to say that investing in their capacity to take responsibility for their security is also the best investment in our own security.
But European defence is also about how well we invest our own resources. It is about avoiding duplication, it is about triggering economies of scale, so important after such a long economic and financial crisis in our continent and worldwide, and it is about getting the most out of every euro that we invest in defence.
I often say it is not up to us to determine how much Member States invest in defence. This is for national governments and parliaments. But it is up to us to make sure or to help Member States invest in a smart manner.
Ultimately, European defence is about much more than just efficiency or better spending, it goes to the core of what our Union was always meant to be. Europe is primarily and essentially peace projects, we always refer to that. I think there is no better opportunity to remind us all that in the fifties defence cooperation was essentially a way to make war impossible on our own continent. Today, it is much more.
Today, European defence is the only way to confirm our role as a global force for good and a global security provider. The European way: investing in peace and security in a cooperative manner.
This is what our work in these five years has always been about and we must be proud of it collectively. It has been about our defence industry and budgets, but also and essentially, about peace and security in our region and in the world, in a moment when the world needs a global force for peace and security in a cooperative manner, as we are.
When the concept of a European Defence Community was first launched in the 50-ies, it was a relatively simple idea. Today, our world is much more complex and our Europe of defence is today designed for our 21st century security environment, which is very different from that time.
We have set up the tools to research and invest together in the full spectrum of capabilities that we need and that were unimaginable back then. We have made it easier to act together both among Europeans and with our partners, starting with NATO. I will be happy to be again tomorrow evening with our NATO colleagues, strengthening our cooperation.
Three years ago – it was reminded by both of you Jorge [Domecq] and Gabriel [Leș] – in our Global Strategy, we called on Member States to make “full use” of the Agency’s potential.
What happened in the following months and years was indeed unprecedented. First of all, they accepted the invitation and they did take all the measures to make full use of the Agency's potential.
We worked exactly to fulfil the potential of the Lisbon Treaty, establishing the Permanent Structured Cooperation [PESCO]. The 34 common projects that have been launched show the immense possibilities of PESCO – ranging from maritime security to cyber, from euro-drones to military mobility. But beyond that, Member States have also committed to provide troops and assets for our common missions, to speed-up their national decision-making, and to share information among themselves.
At the same time, as you all know, we launched the Coordinated Annual Review [on Defence, CARD] of national defence budgets – that is, the first-ever systematic process for our Member States to synchronise their defence spending.
And for the first time, the Commission has created a European Defence Fund to incentivise cooperative projects on defence.
The European Defence Agency has made essential contributions to crafting all these initiatives all along the way, and it is now central in their implementation. The Agency is the secretariat for both the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence and on PESCO, together with the European External Action Service and the EU Military Staff. We are working with Member States so that their defence budgets incorporate our common Capability Development Plan.
In these years, I have seen this Agency grow and adapt to new tasks and to new challenges – and I want to thank each and every one of those who work here – men and women – in the Agency for your professionalism, your dedication but also your flexibility because there have been times of adaptation that have not been normal times.
Your role is today more important than ever, and it will be essential in the future to ensure that the Agency always has the means to fulfil its new tasks. New level of ambition brings together new expectations, new challenges and also the need to invest more in the Agency and its capacity to adapt.
But this is not just about resources. We have new defence tools, but to make full use of them, we also need a new mind-set. A mind-set and an approach where European cooperation is the norm today, because it is our shared interest - not because the decision has been taken and needs to be implemented, but we understand, starting from our capitals that this is the best, if not the only, way to do things effectively in this world.
Five years ago, no-one believed that we would achieve so much. In my hearing at the European Parliament I remember perfectly well, when I was asked about the Permanent Structured Cooperation, the role of the Agency, the European Union defence work.
I was saying that I believed the limit is the Lisbon Treaty and we can implement at full the provisions of the Treaty. Many were telling me, and for sure some Members of Parliament in that hearing that I was dreaming too high, that the political will was not there and that that would have never happened.
Almost five years later, here we are. We have managed, I believe, to find the determination, the resolve and the courage - for some - to break a 70-year long deadlock on European defence and make it happen. This has also been possible thanks to the work of the Agency. The same strong determination will be necessary and vital in the years ahead. The choice of making cooperation the norm will have to be confirmed day by day by everyone, in the national capitals, in the Commission, in the Parliament, and everywhere across Europe.
It would be a big mistake to believe that this is done and now we can relax and go back to normal. This is done, it has started, we have the tools, the instruments and the setup, and it needs constant investment to be consolidated and to grow even further.
Because for me, as the head of the Agency, in this extraordinary moment for the European defence today, I can see the achievements and they make me proud. It is maybe my biggest and most important legacy that has been possible thanks to the collective work of all of you and us together.
But it has also been a challenge from time to time and people telling me if I am sure to want to take the risk of going this way, it will not be consensual, it will not be unanimous, you will face a lot of resistances. I think that, today, we see that sometimes courageous and bold decisions, taken collectively together, bring to some changes. It is not true that whatever you decide does not make a difference - it does. Again, the true test is the consolidation and the capacity to implement the decisions taken.
I think that at the 30th birthday of the Agency, we will see if the seeds we have planted will bring real results and the difference will be depending on the political, financial investments, human resources investments that all of us will put into the work of the Agency and into the work of the European Union defence initiatives and package as we have crafted them in this last three years in particular.
I want to again say in particular to the colleagues of the Agency that it has been for me a privilege to be the head of the [European] Defence Agency. I also want to reassure those that were working on the Lisbon Treaty back then that it is not an impossible job. The three hats need each other and are essential to ensure coherence and convergence of efforts. There was good intuition and definitely do not touch a comma of the job description and the Lisbon Treaty, because if we manage to get here, I believe it is also because there is this unique combination of responsibilities and roles - even if it is not always easy.
I have to say that being at the same time the High Representative, the head of the Agency and the Vice-President of the Commission gives you a unique opportunity to push different strands of work that naturally would not necessarily come together, and move in the same direction. This is really priceless.
Whatever will happen next, I can say that I know that there are here great, dedicated and committed professionals that give their best every single day to make our cooperation more effective, our industry stronger, our continent and our people more secure, and our world more peaceful.
Without each of you, these achievements would not have been possible and the future achievements would not be possible.
So, a big thank you and in particular to the Agency staff, and a big encouragement for the years to come because it is to be continued.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-174533