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European Union External Action

Remarks by HR/VP at the press conference following the informal meeting of EU Ministers of Defence

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Thank you very much Jüri [Luik, Minister of Defence of Estonia]. First of all, for a wonderful hospitality that - let me stress - all the ministers appreciated enormously, and also congratulations for what is so far a very successful presidency. 
 
We have had three main points on the agenda of the defence ministers' meeting, the last one jointly with the foreign ministers who will continue their work immediately after this press conference. We had, as Jüri mentioned, a very useful exercise on a cyber-attack, for the first time ever with NATO Secretary General [Jens Stoltenberg] being invited to observe the exercise. As we will have an increased role for the European Union in the next NATO exercise, this is the first time this happens and this is the testimony of a stronger than ever cooperation and coordination between the European Union and NATO, in particular on hybrid threats and cyber.
 
On the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, all the Member States, all ministers expressed strong support to an increased work of the European Union in both regions, as both of them are strategically important for the security of the European citizens. In the Sahel, the European Union has few weeks ago provided the first €50 million to the Joint Force of the G5 countries of the Sahel [Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad] to prevent and fight terrorist networks and trafficking organisations in the territory. I have seen large support from all Member States on more presence, and a more coordinated presence, of the European Union on the security and defence aspects in the Sahel, as well as on the Horn of Africa. As you know, there our main work is focussing on Somalia and also with the Operation Atlanta that has been fighting very effectively piracy of the coast of the Horn of Africa.
 
But let me focus particularly on the last point we had on the agenda, because exactly one year ago at the informal ministerial in Bratislava, under the Slovak Presidency, I was proposing to the Ministers to launch a process to deepen and strengthen EU cooperation on defence. At that time, scepticism was quite the norm around the table. Many observers and also many around the table were expressing maybe appreciation, but some scepticism of the fact that this would have been possible at all and maybe it would have taken decades. And many remember the fact that already in the 50s this was one of the building blocks of the European dream of our founding fathers and mothers – few, hidden, but still somewhere there. Instead, one year exactly later, we are at a stage that was completely not possible to imagine back then. And this is thanks to an excellent teamwork that all Member States and all European institutions have managed to make in this last year. And I would like to thank all ministers, but also all the teams that both in Brussels and in the capital cities have been working on this.
 
So, today, what we have recorded is a broad consensus of all Member States on the European Defence Fund that was proposed by the European Commission to finance and support and incentivise projects on research and also on capability developments in the industrial sector, including Small and Medium Enterprises to reinforce the capacity of the European Union to have also strategic autonomy, which is quite important in the complicated and confused times of today's global politics. 

 

And today we have registered a broad consensus on the main lines of the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). Substantial support for the proposal – black on white, put on paper - on how to launch the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) with a detailed list of binding common commitments in line with treaty provisions. Now these commitments focus on different elements: investment levels, measures to reinforce operational readiness and capability cooperation. 
 
Now we will continue in the coming weeks, from now to the end of September, to consolidate this list of commitments, finalise the last points that need to be clarified - also taking into consideration the debate of the ministers today. This will be the basis for a common notification of interest of Member States to myself and to the Council. I believe this can be achieved already within more or less a month, by mid-October. 
 

They would, in this way inform me and the Council on their intention to participate in a Permanent Structured of Cooperation (PESCO) and, in accordance to our treaties, following this notification, we would adopt a formal legal decision that can be negotiated then within the following three months, which brings us to more or less the end of December, the end of the Estonian presidency, when I am convinced the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) can be launched within the European Union.

For the moment - just to give you a sense of the interest that Member States have shown in this - we have already received proposals for more or less 30 projects that could be developed under the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). So, I believe, that this is really going well, on a good track, and with a lot of active involvement from all Member States.
 
I will stop here.
 
 
Q. On the criteria that you were talking about that some of these countries would have to fulfil. The European Union has Member States who have vastly different spending, vastly different capabilities. How low does the common denominator have to go so that there would be an inclusive way, that all Member States would be able to actually join the Permanent Structured Cooperation?
 
I can be very brief. It is about binding common commitments that Member States define among themselves - this is Member States-driven. The role that we have in Brussels is to accompany, to prepare support to this process - but it is a national governments' decision to join in this cooperation. And the level of the ambition that we have seen in these weeks of preparation and again today around the table, is high – high ambitions, but also inclusivity.
 
And I would like to stress one point that maybe can be the natural opening for the reply of the Minister: the work we are doing on the European defence is not necessarily about additional resources, but it is about spending together, it is about cooperating. Then, the decision on how much every single Member State spends on defence, or invests on defence, is a matter that stays in national parliaments, in national governments.
 
What the European Union can provide is a common platform for investing together and in this manner, making the most out of the investments that might be already there or might be increased - this is a national choice. But what we are offering is a platform for joining investments, joining projects and in this manner, overcoming the fragmentation that is characterising currently especially the environment of defence industry in Europe. In this way, the European industrial framework in the sector of defence will be enormously enabled to play a major role globally, and the European Union would then be, I think, really a credible security provider globally.
 
Q. I also wanted to specify on PESCO [Permanent Structured Cooperation]. So, would it be more like an administrative coalition of the willing inside the EU or would the aim still be to include all the EU Member [States]?
 
According to the Treaty [on the Functioning of the European Union], it is a Permanent Structured Cooperation, meaning that it would not require unanimity among all the 28. We could have a group of Member States deciding to launch a Permanent Structured Cooperation, so it is on a voluntary basis and it is established through a Qualified Majority Voting by the Council.
 
What I have to say is that so far, on the basis of the discussions and the preparation we have had, I see a very large - if not unanimous - willingness of Member States to join. But obviously, this will need to be seen in the moment when these commitments will be completely defined, which, as I said, I expect will happen already in the coming weeks.
 
The sense of direction today is clearly for a very broad interest in joining a Permanent Structured Cooperation, but again it does not require unanimity and it is conceived to allow Member States that are willing to do more together, to do so without needing the unanimity of decision at 28. And this is true for capability developments, for research, for also operational decisions that can be taken, and I believe that this is going to be a definitive step towards a European Union defence cooperation that so far has been existing only on paper.