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Thank you very much, Mr President [of Finland, Sauli Niinistö], Mr Prime Minister [Juha Petri Sipilä], Mr Secretary General [Jens Stoltenberg].
Dear colleagues and friends,
It is for me really a pleasure to mark today the inauguration of the European Centre for Countering Hybrid Threats together with you.
In almost three years of common work with Jens [Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General] - and I will always remember we started almost together and you were the first person I met when I took office – we have done a lot of work. We have brought the cooperation between the European Union and NATO to a level that is definitely unprecedented. And I believe that this inauguration, this centre, is an example of it and this is also another place for working together. And I believe it is very telling that the centre is opening here in Finland, in Helsinki – a member of the European Union that is not also a NATO ally. NATO and the European Union are two different things, are autonomous, our job description somehow is different but we are partners at the same time and we work so closely together in so many fields. A stronger European Union of security and defence makes also NATO stronger and today’s inauguration I think proves it perfectly well.
This Centre is indeed a very step towards a stronger European Union. The Centre was an ambition that was set in the Joint Communication that I have put forward in July last year, together with the European Commission. And it is just a bit more than a year ago, and already today we are here in a Centre that is up and running, with 12 countries contributing to it and four more that will probably join soon. So I would like to really thank Finland for having set up this centre in such a short time, with such high quality and for having gathered such support. It shows that when there is a strong political will, we can really push the boundaries of what is possible in our Union. We always complain, the Union is slow, is fragmented. Now we can do things fast, well, united and I have to say that in the field of security and defence, we are doing this in a quite an impressive manner recently. In the last years we have done giant steps towards the Union of security and defence and this has gone hand-in-hand with strengthening the partnership with NATO.
Finland has also shown that there is no contradiction – no contradiction at all - between national leadership and common European interests. Having different national fields of expertise, geographies, histories within our Union is not a liability. On the contrary, it is one of our greatest strengths, provided that we all work towards our shared goals. This is what being a Union means. I always say our problem is not speaking with one voice. Our problem is if the different voices we have do not sing the same song, but it is good to have different voices. It is strength. It is also democracy and freedom. And there is no doubt that addressing hybrid threats is an interest we all share. These threats are transnational by definition. They run on the web, they don’t stop at borders, be it bicycles or sand, you don't stop them.
We have all seen that cyber-attacks spread very easily from one country to another. Fake news are picked up and translated beyond national borders. And once they are out it takes double or three times to readdress the perception worldwide. And terrorist activities and terrorist groups target all our societies, from North to South and from East to West. And let me here express a few words of sympathy and condolences to our American friends who are facing today in Las Vegas terrible losses. If one of us is vulnerable in Europe or elsewhere in the word, we are all vulnerable. We can only be strong if we are strong together. Anyone who preaches the 'go alone' theory, well, they sell illusions in our global times. No one can go alone anymore – not because it is not nice or because it is not politically correct but simply because it does not work with the threats we are facing today.
So cooperation is the key word, cooperation is essential among countries and also within countries. And here let me commend again Finland. It was one of the first countries to mobilise all its ministries, with a ‘whole government approach’. Because hybrid threats need to be addressed with both a military and a civilian angle - they are about business as well as information, they are about digital and non-digital infrastructure. This approach is very visible in the structure of this centre, putting together three communities of interest with three different focuses: on 'influence’, on ‘vulnerabilities and resilience’ and on 'terrorism and radicalisation'.
And I think this awareness of the fact that the threat is not purely military anymore, it is hybrid, that has pushed so much the cooperation between the European Union and NATO, because we have different assets and they work so much better if we put them together. So I am very confident that this Centre will become an essential partner and point of reference for all our European activities to counter hybrid threats. I understand you are already engaging with the EU Hybrid Fusion Cell on the analysis of trends and threats and your intent to issue regular Strategic Analysis papers will also help very much inform decision making at the European level. Because we need, as the President said, to increase and improve our understanding of the phenomenon and our readiness to tackle this.
Last month, in Tallinn, we took part - for the first time together with Jens and together with our Defence Ministers - in our first ever exercise on a hybrid and cyber-attack. It was a double first time ever. It was the first time that a NATO Secretary General was joining a European Union exercise as an observer, still, but we are making progress and it was first time that we had an exercise on hybrid and cyber. And I am sure this will be the first of a long series on both cases – on common activities in this field and focusing our training and exercises on hybrid and cyber. So your support – the support of this Centre - to exercises and training will also be a very important element. I also look forward to your support as we plan our regular EU exercises with a Hybrid theme and as we design scenarios for our parallel and coordinated exercises with NATO next year in 2018.
But it is not just about our exercises. Your Influence Community has a focus on Strategic Communications. And I am sure we will establish a strong cooperation between this Centre and the two Task Forces that I have set up within the European External Action Service, focusing on communication to the East and to the South of our Union – but not only externally, also inside our Union towards our European communities that speak respectively Russian and Arabic because strategic communications are not only something that we address to the external action we have, but also to our own citizens.
The same goes for your Community of Interest on vulnerabilities: the Estonian Presidency has launched the Friends of the Presidency group to share lessons and trends on the exact same topic, and this is yet another good field for cooperation. I could go on to mention other key agencies such as the European Defence Agency and the European Union Institute for Security Studies. Because inside our Union we already have great expertise – I would say great expertise - on many issues that release to hybrid threats, from defence cooperation to capability development and academic research. And I am sure that this Centre can become somehow the hub of this expertise, working together with European agencies, with Member States, and with our partners, such as NATO, but other countries as well.
Cyber-attacks, disinformation, terrorist groups – all these threats are relatively new, if not as such, in their new ways of operating, in their new forms and the mix is clearly new and unprecedented.
So, at the end of the day, no individual country alone and even no organisation alone has the power to effectively address all these challenges. But we have one tool that others don't have. We can come together. We can cooperate and together we do stand a chance to succeed. Only together we can make our citizens and our world more secure. And this Centre is the kind of initiative we need. So here we are, together, to make it succeed.
Thank you very much.
Link to the video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I144649