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It is going to be quite a historic day today for European defence. Today, after so many years, the provision of the Lisbon Treaty establishing the possibility for the European Union Member States to have a Permanent Structured Cooperation on defence is going to be initiated.
I expect to receive a letter - a notification letter - from a high number of Member States, more than 20, indicating their will to start a Permanent Structured Cooperation. This will allow us to prepare a Council decision already in the next weeks.
I expect the next Foreign Affairs Council to adopt this formal decision so that we will be able to launch, for the first time ever, a European Defence Permanent Structured Cooperation with concrete projects that Member States have presented already – more than 50 concrete projects both in the field of capabilities and in the field of operations.
So, today we will launch a new page for the European Defence and I think this will be the news of the day.
We will also discuss with the NATO Secretary General [Jens Stoltenberg] our EU-NATO cooperation that is advancing extremely well. In December, with [Jens] Stoltenberg, we will present the second report on our common activities, more than 42 concrete measures that have already been implemented, and we will also look at the future fields for cooperation.
We will expand on the concrete ideas on which we cooperate and we will have a discussion today with the Defence Ministers and [Jens] Stoltenberg on this.
With the Foreign Ministers in the morning we will also have short points: one on the Summit between the European Union and the African Union which will take place at the end of the month in Abidjan - a very important summit for strengthening our partnership-; and one point on strategic communication.
You know we have very much increased our communication, especially with the focus on Eastern Europe, but also on the Western Balkans and on the Mediterranean. We will discuss with the Ministers how they can further support this work that I have initiated two years ago for the East Strategic Communication Task Force, and this summer on the Western Balkans and the Mediterranean.
I expect Member States and Ministers to support my request to increase the budget for strategic communication, especially for the Task Forces. We live in times when communicating both internally in the European Union and in our region, the value of the actions of the European Union has a political value, so I expect support from the Member States on this.
Q. Why does the European Union need its own Defence Union or defence programme when there is NATO?
First of all, you know very well not all European Union Member States are members of the NATO alliance, not all the members of NATO are part of Europe. And we have possibilities to strengthen also the work of NATO.
I give you two examples. One is in the field of hybrid threats: there are competencies and tools that the European Union has and that NATO, being a purely military alliance, does not have. We cover a wide range of issues. Think of Africa, think of security in Africa. The European Union is more present there than NATO when it comes to training of security forces, when it comes to the delicate link between development and security. We are better equipped to act in areas where there is not a purely military action that is needed, but we can also develop more our military capabilities to act to reinforce our strategic autonomy.
The second example is on the money. There is always the issue of why Europeans spend less than our friends across the Atlantic. The real problem of Europe is not how much we spend, it is the fact that we spend in a fragmented manner. If Member States want to spend in a coordinated manner, investing together, researching together, producing together - this can be done through the European Union.
The Permanent Structured Cooperation supported by the European Defence Fund that we have proposed will enable Member States to use the economy of scale of Europe and in this manner, fulfil the gap of output that we have in this moment across the Atlantic. So, strengthening the European defence that we will do today, exactly today, is going to be a way to help NATO and the alliance also to be more relying on the European forces.
Q. Today you are also talking about the Iran deal. But at the moment, Iranian Shia militias have controlled many areas in the Middle East especially in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Lebanon. Are you concerned about that?
Today we are not discussing about the Iran deal. It is not on the agenda, but I will obviously use the Foreign Affairs Council to update the Ministers about my recent contacts, first of all with Foreign Minister [of Iran, Mohammad Javad] Zarif a few days ago in Samarkand but also my visit in Washington, mainly in the Congress.
But beyond that, let me mention one thing that today, I think, is on top of our minds and hearts as you mention the area: the earthquake that hit the border between Iraq and Iran yesterday night. Let me express all my solidarity to the families of the victims both in Iraq, in Iran and in the region, and to the authorities. Because we know very well that whenever there is an earthquake of such magnitude, it is difficult to cope. So, also to express the readiness of the European Union to support in all ways that can be considered useful.
Thank you, I will meet you afterwards.