1. Your Excellency, could you explain the role of your assignment to our readers?
The changes we have seen around us in recent years – the growing intensity, frequency and complexity of threats and risks, as well as the opportunities that a globalized, interconnected world presents – they demand of the European Union an active, constructive and empowered presence on the international stage. This is what our citizens expect of us as well, in a world where our values are being challenged and our security cannot be taken for granted. I take this as my main responsibility: to use all the potential that the EU has, all our tools, all our policies, all our strength, in a coordinated and coherent way.
A big part of my job as High Representative is coordinating the foreign policy of our 28 Member States: work we do not just with all European Foreign Ministers, but also with the Ministers of Defence, Development and sometimes even of Interior affairs.
The EU has been deploying its personnel in crisis zones for more than ten years. We are currently running five military and eleven civilian missions on three continents; 7000 women and men are deployed under the EU flag, working and often taking risks, for peace and stability.
Complex threats call for coordinated responses, using military and civilian tools, as well as longer-term financial and development instruments in a comprehensive way. Responding to emergencies is crucial, but we also need to think strategically, prevent rather than simply react to crises, work on their root causes.
Think of the situation in the Mediterranean. After the tragedy that cost the lives of so many migrants in April, the European Council asked us to act against the human traffickers' networks, to save more lives. Within two months we set up and launched the EUNAVFOR Med operation, thanks to a great teamwork and to the contribution of the EU's military staff here in Brussels. Still, the operation is only a part of the effort we are putting together and that has been going on over the past months. We cannot be blind to what happens before these men and women get to the Mediterranean shores. We cannot ignore the reasons why they leave their countries. And, when they knock on our door, we need to answer the question on how to welcome them here in Europe.
"Comprehensive approach" may sound like a somehow obscure phrase, but this is what it means in practice. As Vice President of the European Commission I am coordinating all Commissioners whose portfolio can impact on our common foreign policy – and we are finding out that this means potentially all Commissioners, as there is no field of work that nowadays is purely internal. It’s a team that is capable of dealing with trade, development, humanitarian aid but also energy, counterterrorism, climate and migration.
The EU is not just a big free trade area: we are a foreign policy community, a security and defence provider. For our own people – within our borders and in the rest of the world. And we are ready to take more responsibility to bring security and stability in our part of the world, together with our neighbours and our global partners.
2. You mentioned threats, could you elaborate on that?
Over the past few years the security situation in the EU's direct neighbourhood has deteriorated significantly. The intensity, frequency and complexity of conflicts and crises in the neighbourhood have increased. The speed with which this has happened is perhaps the most unsettling element.
To the east, the illegal annexation of Crimea and the destabilisation of Eastern Ukraine are a fundamental breach of basic principles underpinning Europe's security order.
To the south, the rise of Da'esh represents an unprecedented threat, and conflict has become a common feature. An ongoing fight for regional hegemony has fostered a number of civil conflicts and proxy wars.
In addition, the linkages between external and internal security are now evident to all. So, threats are looming large on the radar of the EU, national governments and our citizens.
The demand for the EU to act as a provider of security will continue to increase. We will only be able to adequately respond to this demand if we make our common foreign policy more effective, and if we make sure we dispose of the right kind of defence capabilities, supplied by a solid industrial base.
3. 2015 will be a pivotal year for development. How are you envisaging policy coherence between CFSP/CSDP and EU development policy?
Indeed, this is the European Year of Development – a political signal for how important this policy is for the EU institutions and Member States, and an opportunity to better contribute to making our world a fairer and safer one. The EU is the biggest aid donor but we aspire to be more than a donor: we want to be a partner and a champion of positive change. This is especially important in this age, when the lack of development is such a direct shortcut to instability, displacement, conflict and suffering.
In its goal to promote development, stability and security, the EU has taken an approach that makes us rather exceptional and has exceptional potential – a comprehensive approach. It brings together all our policy tools in a targeted way in our effort to tackle the root causes of poverty and instability.
On this note, I want to share my pride and admiration with the staff of the EU's ongoing eleven civilian missions and five military operations. They help partner countries build a safe and secure environment where the seeds of our development support can grow. And they do it under the European flag. We tend to forget how indispensable this work is.
We want to build on it. Here I want to highlight my proposal which has the potential to bring together our development support and our security assistance in countries plagued by conflict – the initiative to train and equip partners to tackle security challenges. We want to go this way, because there can be no development without security, as there can be no security without development.
4. Could you highlight the relevance of partnership for CSDP?
The scale and complexity of the crises we face tell us that we cannot hope to be successful without a global network of partners sharing our interests and values.
From security to climate change, from poverty to energy security – we face global challenges. It is no time for lonely superpowers. The only alternative to the current global disorder is a cooperative world order, a multilater approach.
This can only be based on a global network of partnerships. In the area of CSDP, partnership is already showing its results and its potential. The EU could not have conducted successfully over 30 missions and operations without the valuable contributions from some 45 partner countries. Let me just bring forward the example of the Atalanta naval operation against piracy off the Horn of Africa: it brought down pirates' attacks from 163 in 2009 to just two last year, and it did so thanks to our close cooperation with a broad network of regional and international partners.
That is why we are working to forge closer relationships with the countries and organisations that share our concerns and aspirations - from nations where we are helping to bring about security and peace through strategic partners to organisations such as the UN, NATO and regional bodies such as the African Union.
Another good example is the initiative to work more closely with the UN – which we discussed with Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon during his recent visit to the EU institutions. And Member States have just agreed on a new action plan to enhance EU support to UN peacekeeping.
Finally, hybrid risks and our ambition to strengthen our capabilities through CSDP compel us to collaborate more closely with NATO. And the EU will continue to strengthen its cooperation with the Alliance, including on the so-called emerging threats, and very concretely on countering hybrid warfare.
5. What is the future you envisage for the external action instruments?
A future where the EU's external action instruments are more and more efficient in helping make our world a better place for ourselves and our children. But this vision can only be realised if it is a shared one, based on a shared assessment of the challenges and opportunities we face.
And this is one of my priorities right now. As you know, in December 2013 the European Council asked the HRVP to "assess the impact of changes in the global environment". We are currently in the process of elaborating a new Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy for release in 2016. Let me share a few core ideas with you.
My ambition is to use our external action instruments in a more comprehensive way, not only in crisis contexts - a joined-up approach should be the motif of our foreign policy across the board. We should be ready to react to crises, but we should not be events-driven: we need a consistent strategy, with clear objectives, a clear assessment of our resources, clear priorities. And finally, we need to realise that the old debate on "national interests vs the European interest" does not make any sense in today's world. Our external action instruments should all be mobilized towards shared goals. It will not be a real strategy if it won't be common, if it won't be European.