Check against delivery!
[Thank you] Ms President, Honourable Members [of the European Parliament].
Thank you to the three Members [of the European Parliament] that have presented these reports: Mr David McAllister, Mr [Sven] Mikser and Mrs [Isabel] Santos. Three reports: Article 36 [TEU], the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), and Human Rights [and Democracy].
I wish we could have several differentiated strategic debates to discuss all the interesting points you have raised. But, we have very limited time for three reports, so allow me to cover the most important aspects of them.
First, all reports stress that this year 2020, the [COVID-19] pandemic has accelerated political trends and revealed the weaknesses in global – and European - governance. Facing COVID-19 has been very challenging, but we can be proud, not only did we stick together, but we grew together, and now our block is a more cohesive one.
We have been fighting for multilateralism, the rules-based order, for global solidarity, as the only sustainable way out of the crisis, when others have been pushing narrow, nationalist agendas. I hope that in 2021 multilateral cooperation will make a strong comeback. At the same time, I hope that we will pursue our [open] Strategic Autonomy and apply the concept in concrete ways; to stop discussing about theology and move into practice.
In everything we do, we will continue defending our values, freedom, democracy, rule of law and human rights, as your reports have underlined. I cannot agree more on that.
On the geographical front, you will understand it is impossible to cover everything. Let us do it in a telegraphic style.
[On the] United States and the transatlantic partnership: We have been talking a lot about it. With tomorrow’s inauguration, the Biden administration will hopefully be finishing with the ‘governing by tweeting’, offering another approach and trying to make multilateralism great again. It will require closer cooperation between the European Union and the United States at least on three key areas: climate change, the Iran nuclear deal, and regulating big technological platforms, among others.
[On] Latin America, we have just talked about it.
Africa remains a top priority for us. The COVID-19 [pandemic] has shaped our agenda. We had to postpone the EU-AU Summit [planned for October 2020] and we are still waiting for it. We have been supporting Africa, [but] we need to do more together. The debt-relief initiative is very much important. Our relation with Africa is such a strategic one, that we should invest much more in getting an equal partnership. When you see the demographic imbalance between Africa and Europe, we should ask ourselves how we can engage more with them, otherwise we will pay the price.
On Asia, we have to work with likeminded partners. We have upgraded our relation with ASEAN to the level of a strategic partnership and we are proud of it. I think it is a good achievement. We overcame the difficulties related to palm oil and now we have become strategic partners with these countries. This is going to give us a solid basis to improve our influence in a region where there is a growing request and a growing demand for EU presence.
On China, we maintain a pragmatic approach. Both a principled and pragmatic approach. We have concluded a Comprehensive Agreement on Investment. It shows our effort to address economic imbalances and improve our access to the Chinese market. I am sure it will be a very lively debate in this Parliament about this Agreement. But keep in mind that we have to engage with China. We cannot expect China to stop being China. We have to engage with China on [global] challenges such as climate [change], COVID-19 and debt relief. No one can talk about debt relief today in the world without taking into account the fact that China has become the biggest creditor of emerging countries. At the same time, we must stay firm on defending Human rights and Hong Kong. That is clear.
On the wider neighbourhood, Western Balkans, Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa and the Sahel, Belarus has been the most important issue on our agenda.
[On] Russia and Turkey - we make a particular mention of these countries. Yes, they play a key and often complicated role. We have been talking about that with respect to Russia. Tomorrow I will have a long meeting with the Foreign Affairs Minister of Turkey [Mr Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu]. We are going to engage on trying to look for a better understanding. EU leaders at the European Council sent [in December] a clear signal of willing to engage with Turkey on a better neighbourhood. But, as for tango, you need to be two to be good neighbours. We will try. It seems that the ambiance it much better that in the last summer. Let us hope that my meeting with [Turkish Foreign Affairs] Minister [Mr Mevlüt] Çavuşoğlu will be at least longer than the one I had in Malta in August, which lasted no more than one hour. Let us see if we can change the dynamics. I am sure that we will.
[On] the United Kingdom, the new Trade and Cooperation Agreement, to be ratified by this House, will provide the basis for a new start. Then, we will have to deal with our friends and neighbours as a third country of the European Union.
Let us go to the horizontal issues - the issues that go beyond the geographical approaches.
The first one is disinformation. More and more, disinformation plays a crucial role. Disinformation has always existed. In Spain, before we talked about fake news we called it “bulos”. “Bulo” is something that is not true, everybody tells it, and in the end everybody believes it. It changes mentalities, it changes the perception. It has always existed. The problem today is the incredible power that social networks give to disinformation. The amplification of any “bulo”, of any fake news. If people believe that their election has been stolen, true or not, it does not matter. They believe it and they act accordingly with it. The assault on the Capitol is a good example of this combination of disinformation plus the power of social networks on disseminating it.
I would like to stress the importance of the Strategic Communication Division [StratComm] in the European External Action Service to fight disinformation and the support that this Parliament has given to the StratComm services. I think that in cooperation with Member States, we have to do more and to counter any threats, especially related to elections interference.
On [the Common] Security and Defence [Policy] (CSDP), I would like to commend our colleagues in our 17 missions and operations for delivering on their mandates in this difficult situation. I also appreciate a lot your support. You have helped navigate this Common Foreign and Security Policy budget to a safe harbour during 2020, as well as the Multiannual Financial Framework.
Particularly important is the political agreement reached on the European Peace Facility (EPF): €5 billion [over] seven years. It will make our CSDP more effective and respond better to our partners’ needs.
[EUNAVFOR MED]Operation Irini deserves a special mention. It has made an important contribution to improve security in the Mediterranean. On Operation EUNAVFOR Atalanta, if we want to be a global maritime security actor or provider, we have to expand the mandate of Atalanta and to introduce this idea of the coordinated maritime presences. Member States always have a war ship somewhere. Not all of them at the same time in the same place, but look at any geographical position and you will find that at certain point of time there are some war ships from some Member State. Why do not we coordinate their presence and make all of them together an EU presence through coordinating the presence of the Member States? We are going to launch a first pilot initiative in the Gulf of Guinea next week. We also launched a new civilian mission in the Central African Republic, a country in a very difficult situation, complementing the existing military mission [EU Training Mission in the Central African Republic].
Dear members, our partnership with NATO remains strong but we need to strengthen our role in security and defence. It is not one thing or the other, it is not one thing against the other, it is not more of one and less of the other; they are complementary.
Now we are building on a threat analysis, conducted for the first time at the European Union level, the so-called Strategic Compass. I think this is going to be very important to define the challenges that we are going to face in all critical domains.
This is complementary also of other reports, like the first strategic review of PESCO that has been focusing on how the Member States have been fulfilling their commitments. There are 26 out of 46 PESCO projects that will deliver results by 2025, but I think that PESCO projects have to be much more operational, focusing less on capabilities and more on operability.
Finally, the area of human rights. I think there is one achievement that we should mention, it is the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime. Your support was vital,. We launched this initiative in December 2019 at the first Foreign Affairs Council that I had the honour to chair and now I am expecting the first proposal for listings to come from Member States. If there is a tool, it has to be used. If you keep the tool in the toolbox, it is useless. Let us wait [to see] if the Member States have the will, once they agree in the Council by unanimity, to use it.
In tangible terms, through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, we have supported nearly 45,000 human rights defenders over the last five years. This is a figure to take into consideration. When people say ‘What are you doing? What do you do?’ Please give this kind of answer. We have been supporting 45,000 human rights defenders financially along the last five years. We remain particularly committed to women and girls’ full enjoyment of human rights as reflected in our Gender Action Plan.
Dear members, I would like to talk about a lot of other things in our Foreign and Security Policy. We have to work more on the security side of this policy. We have to work more to ensure human rights are taken seriously by third countries. And there, there are also some successes. We should not be hiding our successes. We should be proud of what we have achieved.
Mongolia and Pakistan agreed to conduct child labour surveys. In Sri Lanka child labour has gone down from 16% to 1%, through the pioneering ‘Child Labour Free Zones’. Bolivia and Myanmar raised to 14 years the minimum age to work. 14 is still too low for us, for our standards, but it was even lower.
Through the implementation of the third Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, we will increase our resilience even more. We have approved the European Democracy Action Plan, you know we have a lot of plans and a lot of strategies, but the important thing is at the end, how do you implement it. You should be more attentive to the implementation than to the drafting. The important thing is action. Yes, I know, we have to have a plan, we have to have a strategy, but this is just the starting point. What really matters is what comes later and, funny thing, people, the media - even the parliamentarians - pay more attention to the plans than to the implementation of the plans. It would be better to have the debate about how it has been implemented, not about the plan, because this is the real thing that matters.
Thank you for your work and especially to the ones that have been participating as Chief Observers in Election Observation Missions. The last three in Guyana, Peru, and Ghana. This year has been a very meagre year from the point of view of electoral observation missions, it is one of the effects of the virus. I know the parliamentarians are very much involved in that, they are eager to participate in these missions; it is an important part of our external action. I hope that we will be able to do more in 2021, even though the prospects for the time being are quite dire.
We have done a lot, and we will do more. This year will be a year of recovery, hope and delivery. We have demonstrated the added value of the European Union in 2020. The Union is more cohesive, it is much more difficult to doubt the utility of the European Union after the pandemic because the answer of the European Union – and even if you compare with the answer we gave to the euro crisis it is still more – has been impressive, both internally and externally. Be it on the pandemic or in the wider set of challenges that we are facing.
Many thanks to all of you. I will now listen to your comments to learn what and how we can improve our work.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-200950
Thank you President, thank you to all of you.
I am not going to try to answer all the questions that you have been asking in your interventions. I have to summarise by saying that overall I think we can be relatively satisfied of what we have achieved in 2020.
I would not do hyperbolical declarations about how good we have been doing on everything, because I am very much aware that we have to do more. I prefer to say that we have to do more and better. But at the same time let us show what we have been doing on CFSP, CSDP and human rights.
COVID-19 has accelerated the changes in the international landscape. It means that we have to continue working on our strategic autonomy, which only means the capacity to act, nothing more and nothing less, working with partners. Tomorrow [20 January, with the inauguration of President Biden], we will have a new and important partner – reinforcing multilateralism. The EU must remain multilateral and autonomous, depending [on the situation]: autonomous when it is needed and together with others when we can. In these efforts, the European Parliament has played and will continue to play an important role.
I thank all of you for your contributions and I continue to count on you to push forward the agenda of building a security and foreign policy for the European Union and to protect human rights worldwide.
Thank you President, thank you Members.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-200955