Thank you Mr President.
Let me start by thanking David MacAllister [report on Common Foreign and Security Policy] and Ioan Mircea Paşcu [report on Common Security and Defence Policy] for their excellent work.
Looking at your reports, I see very clearly a shared understanding of our world and of our joint place in this world, as Europeans.
I think we all agree that no single European country can respond effectively to any of the challenges of our times, and I think we agree that we, the European Union, have a responsibility to embrace our role as a global power, working together for peace, security and human development worldwide. And in some cases, even filling a gap.
Yet, I think that we have an interest in doing so, because together we have unparalleled leverage in shaping global rules, peace processes or trade agreements.
Let me say this very clearly: I believe there is no contradiction at all between European interests and national interests, in particular in this field. The European Union is the most powerful instrument we have as Europeans to serve our national interests on the global scene. None of our Member States is big enough in the world of today to pursue their own national interests all alone. This is why some in the world might cherish divisions among us, it might be in their interests but never in ours.
Likewise, there is no contradiction between our support for multilateralism and the work to advance our European and national interests. We know from experience that our national and collective interests are best served through multilateral institutions, and the European Union in itself is the most successful multilateral institution that was ever built.
We need multilateral institutions to promote rights, to protect our environment, to govern globalisation. We need multilateral institutions to build peace and security worldwide – we could not do this without them, in our multipolar, disordered world. When we join forces as Europeans and take part in global negotiations, we are not giving up on our sovereignty, on the contrary, we are exerting our sovereignty more fully, more powerfully on the global stage.
This is why we have chosen the United Nations as our fundamental partner. We are the first economic contributor to the UN system and we support Antonio Guterres' [UN Secretary-General] work to reform the UN system and make it more effective. We are also exploring new ways of working together, for instance, by ensuring complementarity and compatibility between all our new projects on the ground.
Our foreign policy is cooperative by definition. The McAllister report rightly points out that the transatlantic partnership remains indispensable for Europe, for America and for the rest of the world. In spite of substantial disagreements with the current administration on certain issues, we continue to work together on the great majority of issues, from Ukraine to Afghanistan, from the Balkans to North Korea.
In these years, we have also deepened our cooperation with other traditional partners: our cooperation with the African Union is now closer than ever, and the same can be said about a great number of partners – from our Eastern partners to ASEAN, from Canada to Japan, or Central Asia.
I also very much agree on your idea to work on “issues-based coalitions” with like-minded countries and regional organisations, but also with other global powers. And this idea has already driven our foreign policy in these years – successfully I believe. Our work on climate change, or the work to preserve the nuclear deal with Iran [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] – are both examples of our readiness to engage selectively and with ad hoc coalitions.
I will not go through all the geographical priorities and the current conflicts, but let me just mention three points as a matter of priorities.
First, the Western Balkans. David [MacAllister], I could not agree more with the report: our common goal is to bring all the Balkans inside the European Union. We have two urgent tasks ahead of us now: to continue to work tirelessly with our friends in Belgrade and Pristina, so that they can reach a legally-binding, comprehensive agreement to fully normalise their relations, and we must finally open accession negotiations with Tirana and Skopje.
Let me mention two other priorities: Ukraine, we will have a specific debate on this later this evening so I will keep it for later.
The third priority I would mention is the conflicts in the Mediterranean, and in particular Syria, Yemen – and by the way, the beginning of a dialogue on Yemen and with Yemenis parties is also part of the diplomatic work we have done to bring some of the parties to the table – but also Libya and the conflict in Israel and Palestine.
I believe the European Union continues to have a unique even tough difficult role to play, and I am sure that we will continue to work together to support a sustainable political solution to each one of these crisis.
The McAllister report understands that we Europeans have an unparalleled potential as a force for peace and security, with a unique set of foreign policy tools. In these years, we have invested to strengthen and to multiply these tools; our work on security and defence is not a separated chapter on this. It has consistently part of this broader engagement for peace, security and human development.
I would like, once again, to be very clear on this, as you have been, David [MacAllister]. Our work on security and defence is not a way to “militarise” our Union. It will never be. It is not at all in contradiction with our work for non-proliferation and disarmament for instance, on the contrary. As you all know, we are engaged on a daily basis against nuclear proliferation but also to prevent new arms races – here in Europe and all around the world.
Our work on defence stays true to this approach. There is a unique “European way” to security and defence, a way that is very much needed in the world of today, that is very much appreciated and for which I see a lot of demand. We have somehow the responsibility to exercise this special European way to peace and security.
When we send a military mission abroad, it is to save lives, it is to protect peace, or to help rebuild a country. When we invest in military capabilities, it is to defend our citizens from attacks, or to put the best technologies to the service of peace.
Yes, we are investing in Europe's hard power - finally. We would prefer that we lived in a world where this was not necessary. But our work on defence is always, always at the service of peace. This is why it is so important to strengthen it in these times.
It is also for this reason that I wanted a new “compact” on civilian missions to be integral part of our work towards a Europe of defence. I talked about it in this hemicycle exactly one year ago, and last month, the Council has approved our “civilian CSDP compact”. The civilian dimension of our international missions is already today a pride – from Mali to Ukraine, from Iraq to Somalia.
We now want to expand our civilian action even more with new capacities and shorter reaction time. The Paşcu report calls for closer cooperation between civilian and military initiatives – it is one of the goals that we want to achieve with the civilian compact and with the reform of our command structures in Brussels.
Our two command centres – civilian and military – will work now more closely together.
On the military side, our command centre should be ready by 2020 to also run small-scale executive operations – so, going beyond what is done now which is commanding, training and advisory missions.
Last month, together with Member States, we also decided to double to number of cooperation project in the framework of the Permanente Structured Cooperation in defence – from 17 to 34. The new projects cover many capabilities that we collectively need – from drones to a European school of intelligence, from cyber-security to aerospace. By investing together, we will invest our resources more efficiently, and we will make it easier for our national defence forces to work together.
In the coming weeks, we will also finalise the general conditions for third States to be exceptionally invited to join PESCO projects.
The Paşcu report asks to move forward also on military mobility, and as you know, work is ongoing well through a project within the Permanent Structured Cooperation, but also at the European Defence Agency and in full coordination with NATO. Let me add that this is not an investment done at the expense of civilian projects, but on the contrary, a clear dual-use investment.
One of the main goals of all our work on security and defence is to help Member States spend their resources more effectively. It is not up to the European Union to define how much of the national budgets is spent on defence, but we can help Member States to invest more efficiently and better. We can have an impact on the output of the investments. That is to say that with the same investment, we will be able to achieve more for our citizens' security.
This is also the objective of the Coordinated Annual Review of national defence budgets. We have concluded its trial run, and the Review will become a standing activity as of next year. This will help coordinate defence planning among national governments, to find new opportunities for cooperation and joint investments.
Finally, in support of this work, we have proposed a very substantive defence package for the next Multiannual Financial Framework. We want to address the fragmentation that has hampered Europe’s defence sector for decades – again, to make national defence investment more effective and efficient than they are today.
I am particularly glad that the Paşcu report supports my proposal to establish a European Peace Facility. Our goal is to be more strategic in how we plan our missions, and to work more closely with our partners – to prevent new crises or to stabilise a country after a conflict. The Facility will fully respect the legal parameters provided by the Treaty, and it will avoid duplications with existing instruments – as demanded by your report.
We all acknowledge that security today is much more complex than it ever was. It is military but it is also civilian. It is about defence and development, but it is about artificial intelligence and climate change, it is crisis management and also reconciliation. It is about our own capabilities, but it also requires that we work to strengthen our partners and their capabilities all around the world.
I believe the two reports we discuss today understand this very well. There is no contradiction between investing in Europe's strategic autonomy, and cooperating even more closely with our partners – on the contrary. We, Europeans, are taking more responsibility for our own security and for the world around us. We are doing this together with the United Nations, together with NATO, together with the African Union, and with all our partners around the world.
Rather than discussing whether we have chosen between strategic autonomy or cooperation, I would say that we have chosen the path of cooperative autonomy. And we have taken this path together – joining forces among the Commission, the Council, all our agencies, and of course the European Parliament that has accompanied this process from the very beginning.
I think that this is a legacy that you can share with the Council and the Commission as the mandate comes to an end.
We still have a few months of common work ahead of us. They will be important months for many of the issues we have discussed. My appeal to you is that we can still continue our fruitful cooperation and make the most of these few months ahead of us.
Let me thank you again for all the cooperation and all the support of these four years of work together in this field.
Thank you very much.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I164935