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Today in the College we had a very good and useful discussion on the European Union defence and security work.
This is a field that is top priority for European Union citizens. You see it every day, but you also see it in all opinion polls across the European Union territory, no matter what Member State, no matter what political orientation. European Union citizens put a high priority on the European Union’s work on security and defence. There are high expectations from our citizens, strong political will, the EU Treaty offering the right and powerful instruments – not always and not yet fully used.
And so we had an initiative together with Vice-President [of the European Commission, Jyrki] Katainen and obviously with the strong steer by the President [of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker] to bring also the [European] Commission reflection on the future of the European Union on board of this work that is ongoing on the future - and the present - of the European Union security and defence.
It is not only a reflection on the future, but it is also a current work that is ongoing. Those of you who follow the work we do on defence on the other side of the street know that very well. And I will try to give you the broader picture and the general sense of direction and then leave to Jyrki [Katainen] the details on the reflection paper we will adopt on 7 June and the work we are doing on the European Defence Action Plan and the European Defence Fund.
The work in the European Union and across the institutions for the first time is moving fast and forward on security and defence. Just last week with the EU Defence Ministers we decided to establish the first Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC) that will take over command of the EU training missions within the EU Military Staff – decision taken unanimously at 28.
We also agreed just last week to work on the governance of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO): one of the provisions of the treaties that was never put in place on security and defence, now identifying the projects that will be potential elements of a Permanent Structured Cooperation. We have decided with Ministers of Defence to remove the financial obstacles to the deployment of the EU Battlegroups - just to give you a sense of how fast and how substantially the work on defence is moving already now.
And this is why the paper we have discussed today on the future of the European Union defence does not take into consideration keeping the status quo or even doing less, but envisages different elements of a menu doing more and doing better together in the field of defence, because we see a clear political will, a clear indication from our citizens that this is the way to go and this is exactly what we are already doing in our daily work.
Second point I would like to make is that this work is done in full coordination with NATO and I say this ahead of a special day tomorrow. It will be a special day for the EU institutions. We will be happy to host President [of the United States of America, Mr Donald] Trump, but also other presidents like the President [of France, Mr Emmanuel] Macron.
We have developed in the last six, seven months together with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg 42 different actions in 7 different fields where the European Union and NATO have started to cooperate concretely, operationally as we say when tackle military and defence issues, from maritime security to cyber security, to hybrid threats and the list continues.
The Secretary General and myself will report to our respective councils in a couple of weeks from now, jointly. This to highlight how the strengthening of the European Union work in defence in the present and in the future goes very strongly hand-in-hand with strengthening of NATO. For the European Union it is clear that a strong European Union in the field of security and defence makes NATO stronger and a strong NATO is key to European, but also to American security. I want to make this clear ahead of tomorrow that will also be an important day on this side of Brussels.
This simply because the work we can do through the European Union’s means - and Jyrki will elaborate more on that - to support Member States in developing military capabilities will enable Member States to spend better by spending together and this is something that the European Union can support. Actually this is something that only the European Union can support here in Europe and so this is the way for a more efficient way of investing in defence and also in strengthening the development of capabilities in Europe.
Today we started here in the [European] Commission a very important, ambitious, pragmatic and realist reflection. I would say that this is the first time – correct me if I am wrong – that the Commission and the College take such a strong interest and such an active role in supporting the Member States’ ambitions on defence and security, with future options to strengthen this ongoing work on European Union security and defence, including using all the instruments that the European Commission can mobilise – and again Jyrki will elaborate on this file. It is a good example of institutions working tougher, putting together all the instruments we have, including the financial ones.
Q and A
Q How do you avoid, in this new architecture that you just described, that European defence projects become some sort of ''free for all'' for any country that wants to participate without looking at whether that country really can add expertise? The negative example we probably all think about is Airbus' military transport airplane that does not really take off because apparently parts of it are built in countries that actually do not have the expertise. How do you make sure this money is being used in a wise way and that this does not become an exercise where every country sort of joins in because they look for jobs and investment and so forth?
FM: The idea is to link the fund that Jyrki just described with the projects that Member States can present, ideally with the Permanent Structured Cooperation that I hope can be launched already within this year. In this manner we would have a governance system that we have already started to discuss in the Council, where Permanent Structured Cooperation projects would be presented by a group of Member States but overlooked by all the participating Member States to the Permanent Structured Cooperation. The Commission fund could then incentivise and support projects that are commonly recognised as useful and obviously as quality projects. The point here is what Jyrki was saying: while the entire debate about how much Member States or NATO allies spend – the 2% debate which does not concern Austria but many other Member States – is not a European Union debate, what the European Union can do is to work to fill the gap on the output. While the national decisions on how much to spend on defence budgets stays a national decision of Member States or NATO allies, what the European Union can do is to make sure that we incentivise and support projects that can help Member States investing together and in this way investing better.
I often mention two numbers – Jyrki mentioned already the cost of non-Europe in the field of defence, I will mention one number about the gap across the Atlantic: the European Union Member States invest in defence 50% of what our American friends invest in defence, but the output we get in terms of capabilities is 15%. So while the investment gap has to be decided nationally – because it is national budget – we can work with the European Union instruments and for the first time with the Commission instruments – this is the news, I would say – to reduce the output gap and make sure that for that amount of money you get the most – obviously quality-wise – and cooperative projects, because the big power Europeans have and that is not always exploited at the maximum is the economy of scale. And that is exactly the purpose of the project we are working at.
Q I have a question for the High Representative / Vice-President. You are meeting today the leaders of the Western Balkans. Since you are speaking about security and defence, what is the role of this region in this policy and what is the purpose of your meeting today?
FM: Indeed, we have seen that the Western Balkans is a region that is key for the European Union when it comes to security. When it comes to the prevention of radicalisation, we have a very strong cooperation with them. When it comes to the management of the refugee flows, when it comes to the management of our borders, I often say: we do not talk about the European perspective of the Western Balkans, because they are Europe already. The point is the European Union perspective of these countries. And this is exactly the purpose of the dinner – I invited the Prime Ministers and the Prime Minister-designate from the six Western Balkan partners exactly to share with them the state of play of the situation in the region, the way ahead, how the European Union can strengthen opportunities and perspectives for good neighbourly relations in the region, increase cooperation among them and between each of them and the European Union, and to consolidate what we normally refer to as the transformative power of the European Union perspective, with the aim of developing inclusive societies, good governance but also vibrant economies. As you know, our commitments, both of myself and Commissioner Hahn but also of the three Presidents if I can say so – I am sure about that [of] President Juncker, but also Presidents Tusk and Tajani, strong commitment from the European Union institutions to work closely together with all the six Western Balkans. And this does not mean only working for them, but it means working with them – and this is the purpose of the meeting tonight, to call them together – the convening power of the European Union makes them meet here – and encourage common work on how the region in itself and the region with the European Union can work better together. We have seen recent developments lately – some difficulties, but also some encouraging steps. It is always good to meet and exchange all together on the steps we can take for the future. So I think it is going to be an excellent opportunity to build better regional understanding and how we walk the European Union path together.
Q [Translated from IT] I would like to know if President Trump's visit tomorrow and his meeting with President Juncker were discussed in College. What does the Commission expect, what does the High Representative for Foreign Affairs expect? And a second question concerning the Libyan coast guard's interventions: according to several NGOs, yesterday the Libyan coast guard has shot at migrant boats in the SAR zone and has carried out some push-backs. I wanted to know if this is in line with what you are asking from the Libyan coast guard or whether you plan on stepping in to prevent this kind of accidents from happening again.
FM: [Translated from IT] On the second part of your question: we do not have direct information of this kind. The work that we have been doing and that we keep on doing with the Libyan coast guard is of a training kind, which also includes a very strong component on the respect of human rights – especially women's rights, an element that is particularly important for the work not only at sea but also on shore, in Libya as well as along the whole smuggling route – to the point that we give this part of the training – through Operation Sophia – in partnership precisely with the NGOs operating in the Mediterranean and the UNHCR and other UN agencies. So these are certainly the standards to which we train the Libyan coast guard, whom we ask to stick to the highest standards of respect of human rights. The aim of Operation Sophia and of the training programme we are carrying out for the Libyan coast guard is to counter the smugglers' network and to perform sea rescue in case needed, as is a legal and moral obligation for everyone at sea to do.
We did not discuss President Trump's visit tomorrow in College; I have briefly discussed it with President Juncker bilaterally. What I expect from tomorrow's visit is a message of continuity with the message Vice-President Pence delivered to the European institutions very few weeks after he took office. I think he is the American Vice-President who let the shortest time pass after his appointment before paying an official visit to the European institutions – a clear sign of attention, a clear sign of the willingness to work together, without hiding the points on which we may diverge and on which we continue to discuss. For us, the work on climate change and the full implementation of the Paris Agreement is fundamental; for us it is fundamental to invest in the UN system and in multilateralism, in conflict prevention, in peacekeeping, in humanitarian and development aid. But we also see some room for engagement that the European institutions can take with the American administration, in both these areas – many of which the American administration is currently revising when it comes to its policies, and hence it entered [into] an open and constructive dialogue also with us. I have had myself the chance to meet Vice-President Pence and other colleagues, the Secretary of State, the National Security Advisor several times in Washington, New York, and here in Europe; we have an open dialogue in which we clearly tell each other what the EU's priorities are and on which areas we believe a common engagement is fundamental. I am thinking for instance of the work on Syria that we continue doing together, of the work on the Ukraine conflict that we continue doing together, on the Middle East peace process. I have met President Trump's special representative Jason Greenblatt several times – including here in Brussels once – precisely on the peace process between Israel and Palestine: this will be one of the grounds where the EU and the U.S. will need to continue working together and also with our Arab partners. So there will certainly be points where we will potentially diverge, points where we will certainly converge and some bilateral issues such as the perspective of our commercial agreements or other matters that will be discussed tomorrow by the Presidents.
Q My first question is about the Battlegroups. You mentioned that some of the impediments for their deployments are removed. Can you elaborate a bit? Because until now the so-called EU units were not deployed anywhere and the EU corps when it was deployed was part of the NATO force. And my second question: you said that European citizens expect the EU to do more in the security area. But they expect, if something happens in Latvia at 03:00 am, the EU to be able to react by 06:00. When will this be possible?
FM: On the Battlegroups: we have had now the Battlegroups for ten years and they have proven to be already now, even if they have not been deployed, a very useful tool to have our militaries working together. So the transformational power of the exercising of being ready for deployability has been a very powerful tool that has transformed the way in which our militaries are now able to work together. That was not the case ten years ago. So we have achieved already one of the objectives, but I believe and I see that there is a general understanding, also among Member States, that we have to be ready now to deploy the Battlegroups, if the need comes. We would not create an artificial crisis just to deploy Battlegroups, but if the need comes we have to be ready to do that. And the main obstacle for doing that is the financial responsibility: who pays the bill? And this is why I found it very encouraging that the Ministers – because this is a Council competence – decided to work in the coming months to review the financing mechanism of the Battlegroups with the Athena mechanism review. So the obstacles are not yet removed, but I have seen a strong determination from Member States to work for removing them. So you will have to come back to me in the Council building, probably a few months from now, and ask me if the Member States fulfilled their own ambition in this regard. I believe this is particularly useful in the current security circumstances, because we see many security crises that need rapid deployment, especially to bridge with UN missions that require long times for being put in place – especially in Africa or in other areas that are key for European security. So this would be a substantial step forward in using the tools we have. The second part of the question: you know it is not an issue of timing for reaction. We can react even in 20 minutes. The problem is: what is the level of expectation on the kind of reaction? We have had this discussion in the College today; we are living in a time of history where security threats are changing in nature. And while last century the main point was the traditional military assets, today the demand and the expectation of our citizens from Latvia to Portugal to Cyprus, is how to counter terrorism and radicalisation, how to counter a cyber-attack, how to counter hybrid threats. And these are all fields where it is not so much how fast the European Union will be in reacting, but how equipped the European Union, but also other institutions or Member States themselves, are to respond effectively to the new security threats. And this is why the work we are doing now is so important, because it will cover not only the traditional military field but also the new fields – meaning intelligence cooperation, meaning cyber-capacities – to face the threats of today. And this is why this work we are doing is so relevant also for NATO, because the European Union has a unique mix of hard and soft power that responds exactly to the security needs of today. So we simply cannot afford not using it.
Q I will try to be very practical. I am not expecting a very political answer, but how do you intend to solve this core issue of the duplication of the systems in the EU. I see in your own infographic here that Europe uses 29 types of destroyers and frigates and the United States only 4. The industry tried to solve it once, some decades ago, but failed. This is the very known story of the Eurofighters and the French pulling out. How are you going to solve the duplication problem since the duplication starts from the difference in demands of the different Member States – by a vote, by cost-efficiency analysis, by what?
FM: We come out of, I would say, ten years of budgetary constraints in the European Union Member States, most of them; and at the same time increased demand on security and defence. I believe that Member States today realised that the only way to match these two different trends – budgetary constraints and demand for more investments and defence – brings them to the natural reply that is: we put together the resources and we invest together. Given two additional elements. One what Jyrki was saying before, that the plan we have been working at involves not only the big industries, but also the small and medium enterprises, which offers something positive for all. And the other element that is more an operational/military element: we have currently 16 military or civilian operations of the European Union in the world, thousands of EU men and women serving in uniform under the EU flag – it makes it much easier for them to work together in a military operation if their national forces use similar or identical assets or capabilities. The interoperability element in terms of military use is going to be in time a very good asset for improving the Member States' capacity to come together in EU operations and missions, because they will have been trained and been using nationally similar capabilities. In perspective it also helps having better common defence operations and missions, easier, I would say.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I139221