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Bratislava, 27 September 2016
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Let me thank, first of all, the Slovak Presidency, as I had the chance to do already at the occasion of the informal meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers we had at the start of this month. I know very well that it is important in itself. This is the first time that Slovakia hosts the Presidency of the European Union and it does it in a particularly complicated time and it does it in a wonderful way. So I would like, first of all, to thank the Slovak authorities but also all the Slovak people for a very warm welcome.
The meeting we had today is a very, very important one. If I can share with you a personal note: my heart and also part of my mind was very far away from here. It was actually in Cartagena, in Colombia, where a very important peace agreement was signed and where the European Union should have been present and it was very difficult for me to take the decision, still I think it was the right thing to do to be here, with all the European Union's Defence Ministers chairing this important meeting, even if our hearts and minds were and are with the people of Colombia in this moment, for an historic and positive step.
Why I said this: because this has not been an ordinary informal Ministerial, this has been an exceptional one because we have had on the table very concrete, very constructive, and I can say now, after we finished the meeting, common proposals and ideas on how to move forward on the European Union's defence cooperation. We have a general agreement, a general consensus among all of us on the need to proceed in parallel with three pillars of this work and we will do this from now to the end of this year, so from now to December.
The first pillar is the implementation plan of the Global Strategy in the field of defence and security; and I will come to that in a moment. The second pillar is the work that we are doing together with the European Commission - the European Defence Action Plan that will look particularly in the field of support to the industrial basis of in Europe, especially looking into research, technology and all the incentives that the European Commission for its competences can put in place to support this strengthening of the European defence cooperation. And the third pillar is something that we discussed today with [NATO Secretary General] Jens Stoltenberg who, as usual, joined us in our Ministerial meetings: that is the implementation of our EU-NATO Joint Declaration that we signed in July in Warsaw and that is well on track in terms of turning from words to reality, to action and we have agreed today with all the Ministers and with Jens that NATO and the European Union under our leadership will work at a joint set of proposals for implementation to present to our respective councils in December, so in parallel NATO and the European Union.
The importance of these three pillars moving together, creating somehow a package on the European defence, between November and December is exactly to highlight what I had the honour to highlight already in front of most of you this morning, together with the NATO Secretary General: the work we are doing to strengthen the European defence inside the European Union and the partnership with NATO are not in any possible way neither in contradiction nor in competition, but actually reinforce our common work. We have full partnerships, we have full complementarity and we are going to strengthen this even more. You heard it in the words of NATO Secretary General to which I fully subscribe: a stronger European defence makes NATO stronger and so we are working on that.
So now, coming to this, coming to our defence plans, our defence cooperation plans inside the European Union. This derives from the Global Strategy I presented in the European Council at the end of June. It was very clear to me from the very beginning that we did not need only a paper but something that could be translated into policies and actions.
One of the fields in which I proposed immediate implementation is the field of security and defence. Let me stress: it is not the only one. Today we discussed about that with the Defence Ministers, but we have already proposals on the table that are being worked out with other formations of the Council. When it comes to other aspects of the Global Strategy and namely our work on conflict prevention, on building resilience in countries around us, but also on a full set of other measures we are working on in the field of foreign policy of the European Union more in general.
It is important that the defence part of our work is clearly integrated in a more comprehensive approach as it is always the European way. We never take defence as one single part. We always work in a complementary approach with other policies we put in place.
On the defence part of the implementation of the Global Strategy we agreed today - all 28 - that we will move forward presenting and preparing an implementation plan for November at the Council of Defence Ministers. We will have in Brussels a formal one defining a common level of ambition of the European Union and the capabilities required with some concrete actions and proposals to be identified by November. The focus will be on practical, concrete, operational, pragmatic steps that we can take within the existing treaties as I suggested at the end of the summer. I am very satisfied because we had, I think, a very in-depth discussion, a very open one, a very fruitful one in which we identified a common to move forward. I stress - because I can anticipate some of your questions - at 28. The European Union has 28 Member States, continues to have 28 Member States and this work at my responsibility to make sure it moves forward as much as we can, as long as we can at 28; and today we found a common ground to move together in that direction.
As Peter [Gajdoš, Minister of Defence of Slovakia] said we also discussed in detail with the NATO Secretary General [Jens Stotelberg] about our work on the implementation of the EU-NATO Joint Declaration. In a certain number of issues we are already identifying clear deliverables from now to December. We are sticking to a very strict timetable, but you know we have heard so many times that the European Union is slow, for once we are pushing a bit and I am sure that Member States will follow with this speed.
Also we had a very fruitful discussion with the UN Under Secretary-General, with the NATO Secretary General - so with our two main partners, the UN and NATO – on our missions and operations, particularly focusing on the one in the Mediterranean, Operation Sophia, on the work we are doing in Libya with EUBAM. In Libya our mission is working mainly on border management and the security sector support. And also our work in the Sahel where we have several missions that we are now regionalising so that we can be more effective in responding to our partners in the Sahel which is also a way of investing in our own security, because we know very well that the neighbours of Europe, the frontiers of Europe are not only the Mediterranean. It is also the Sahel, given the state of play in Libya - we have to invest where different threats are developing and so this is what we are doing. We will be doing even more in cooperation and in excellent coordination with the UN and with NATO.
I will stop here and I will be ready to answer your questions.
Link to the video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I126719
Q. How willing are you actually to propose a permanent structured cooperation of some EU Member States or of 27 EU Member States or would you call this a last resort if Britain opposes the propositions the others agreed on?
Thank you for the question. The issue of the structured cooperation was indeed on the table today. It is something that is foreseen by the EU treaties. I do not see it as a way of advancing at 27 if one Member State, namely the UK, is not agreeing on measures. It is a measure that the treaties foresee for those Member States that are willing to integrate more in one field, leaving them the freedom to do so and letting the other Member States not opposing or obstructing this will. So I take it as one of the instruments of the treaties that could be explored. As you know, I said - maybe you don’t remember that but I do - exactly two years ago in my hearing in front of the European Parliament that I would be willing during my mandate to explore the use of all the articles from the treaties that allow us to use our potential in the field of security and defence. This is obviously one of those, so indeed I am willing to explore this option. I do not necessarily link it to the position of the UK. I know this is from a media, from a public opinion point of view hard to digest as a message, but whenever I chair a Council, whenever I go to the Ambassadors meeting - we are still 28. It is for the UK now to define when and how they will decide to turn the result of the referendum into something institutionally relevant, but for me as a chair of three formations of the Foreign Affairs Council I have 28 Member States to take care of and today I am glad to see and to report to you the fact that we do have a common ground at 28.
Q. The British Minister of Defence [Michael Fallon] today has said that is going to block any effort to create anything that would resemble a joint European army and we have though you said this would not be a bad idea. How would you like to convince him?
Let me tell you very clearly: today in our three hours discussion on this topic with all the ministers I never heard once the word veto, I never heard once the word blocking and I never heard once the word army. And I was in this very same room more or less one month ago after the Foreign Affairs Informal meeting and I was asked - maybe by some of you - about the European army and I said one month ago, as I said previously several times - this is not about a European army. This is about strengthening defence cooperation inside the European Union. So I am glad that today we had inside the room at least, and I think we can project this unity also outside of the room - because at the end of the day this is what counts, this serious approach not on ideological abstract debates, but on what we can and we need to do together to strengthen cooperation, to make sure that we respond to our citizens’ demand that is to invest more in their security. That is all about it. So inside the room what I have seen and what I have heard was a united sense of purpose on doing things that we can do and that we must do. There might be differences as we continue our work from now to November on some of the specific measures. I do not say that we agreed already on everything, otherwise we would have finalised our work already, but I see a common ground to advance and identify further concrete specific actions that can be put in place and then obviously agreed formally at the later stage. Obviously it is very important for me that in this process all the Member States, all the ministers are actively involved in finding together what will be a common exercise. And I have to say that today I am very satisfied with the kind of discussion we had.
Q. You are saying that there were no discussions about the European army, then what specific solutions are being proposed for strengthening the European security? Also during the summit there were mentions of the European army being made, so if we are not calling it a European army what are the measures that are adopted for strengthening our security?
First of all, again: it is not a matter of wording, it is a matter of substance. If you look at NATO, NATO does not have an army. This does not mean that it is not an effective military alliance. The European Union is not NATO. NATO is not the European Union. We are not a military alliance but we do have instruments that allow us to cooperate more on defence among us and to sustain in a more effective way our common work on the defence and security of our citizens. I can give you some examples, but they are not exhaustive. The way in which we have concluded today's discussion is with a task, a clear task, to myself, to all services, to continue to work with the Member States, and with the European Commission in the weeks to come on continuing to go through the list of ideas that we raised and that I put on the table during the summer already and see which ones are the priority now, which ones can be maybe tackled at a second stage. Which ones are not for now, so this work is going to continue. As a matter of example, I can share with you for instance the issue of the Battlegroups. It is an instrument we already have; it is an instrument that could be already used but because of lack of political will so far in ten years it has never been used. Maybe there are ways in which we can work on making them usable and this could be a contribution to not only the European security but also the security of some of some of our neighbours. Another example – a very important one – is the work we can do to support the investments in the sector of defence, especially the industrial base. I can give you an example that is very much telling: the European Union spends or invests in defence more or less 50 per cent of the budget that the US invests in defence. Still our output is not 50 per cent, but is 15 per cent. This means that we are lacking the economy of scale. This is something that can be addressed through more cooperation on the basis of the industrial initiatives and especially looking at research, technology and innovation on the field of defence. This is a field where again a more intense cooperation of the Europeans is also helping NATO because it could translate into more capabilities of Europeans that are also supporting NATO. Other issues we could elaborate on from now to November are how our structures of civil and military work in our missions and operations. I mentioned the fact that we have seventeen missions and operations, they are up and running, they work well, but there are always ways to improve our ways of working in that field. And the list could continue. There are many different issues like the system of financing we have, like the force generation issue. One important element for instance would be to look at how both the European Defence Agency but also the European Commission can support more investments and common investments on defence and things like that. It is, again, not an exhaustive list but there are clear examples of concrete things that are not at all a European army but are going to make, if we go there, the work of the European Union on the defence field much more effective and a response to the needs that we commonly identified. The structure cooperation obviously can also be one of the instruments we explore in this perspective but again, the list could be long and you will have not only the list but also a little bit the substance of that in November, in Brussels.
Q. On the will of the European countries to protect their borders?
You know, I originally come from a country or as we say sometimes in the European Commission, the country I know best, is the country that for instance warned the entire European Union, if I am not wrong, three years ago, about the fact what was going to happen in the moment when 300 plus people died on the coasts of Lampedusa. At that time the reaction was not that overwhelmingly cooperative I would say. This to say that probably the countries that are part of the European Union have all their national priorities that can change with time. I do not think this is an element that should allow us to blame one or the other. It is simply that the national cycles of domestic politics determine the national political agenda in each and every of the 28 Member States.
The good thing to me is that, finally now, three years after that dramatic experience in Lampedusa, two years after – or one year and a half after - some 900 people died again in the Mediterranean, one year after the waves started to affect the South East of Europe, now we are, I think, finally together, all together realising that, first, this is a priority, second that we need a complex answer to a complex problem that for sure includes also part of the border management capacities that only one year ago was defended as an absolute national competence by all Member States and that now is finally developing in something that we understand we can have an advantage in doing together and that together, in the same way together, we have to act on different other aspects. For instance investing in the countries of origin.
Again, we are entering here in a field that is not properly defence but I am glad to discuss about the other issues. Investing in, for instance, the security of the Sahel, the capacity to manage borders in Africa, in southern African countries - our capacity to collectively invest in economic development, sustainable development, the fight against climate change even, strengthens the resilience of countries that might look far away from us but are very close in a world that is a globalised one. So I think, I hope, that finally, after waves of uneven awareness in Europe, I think that we finally realise that first we need to be together in this, that only together as Europeans we have the instruments to face the challenges we are facing and secondly, that we need all the different components of our work to be developed together in a coherent manner.
And I am glad that this is also reflected in the work that Defence Ministers did today. Again, it is part of the work we are doing, it is an important part, it is not the only part and, by the way, I would like to stress this, when we talk about strengthening the European defence, we have to keep in mind the threats towards the security of our citizens and this means for instance, working more and more with our partners around us, in our region, both East and South, to strengthen their capacity, to strengthen their resilience, to strengthen their own security because, again, this is an investment in our own one.
Link to the video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I126720