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Brussels, 13 November 2017
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I will try to be very brief today. You have followed the news, you have created the news. You know that the main outcome and news of today is this: the letter that 23 Member States addressed and gave signed to me today, after one year and a couple of months of hard common work, to notify their common intention to start a Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). This is the first time that this provision of the Lisbon Treaty, the Treaty of the European Union, is used. So it is quite a historic day and this is the result of hard common work that was just unconceivable one year and a half ago, even six months ago, and that today is a reality.
This original notification on Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) to the Council and the High Representative, I would say, is the outcome of good teamwork that was done, high ambition on the common commitments that will now need to translate into concrete projects of cooperation, but also of an inclusive process, because the high number of Member States that have joined in this step certifies the fact that this is not, let's say, a restricted club, but it is open and inclusive. And not only we have 23 Member States but we can have other Member States that are currently not part of this notification joining in the coming weeks, keeping the same level of ambition and commitments.
I have to say, it was a bit of an emotional moment, which is not always the case when you work on European defence - that sometimes is tough and technical. In this case, we all remembered that one year and a few months ago we were together in Bratislava, discussing the implementation of the Global Strategy, discussing the use of all the instruments that the Treaty provides us, as a way to referring to Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) as well. At that time, scepticism was the major feeling in the room and today we are here.
It is not only with honour and a little bit of emotion, but also with a lot of sense of responsibility that I received today the result of this common work, and now in the coming weeks we will work together with the Member States that notified their intention to start a Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) to make it possible for them to take a decision - a Council decision - to formally launch PESCO and have concrete projects, out of the 50 presented, prioritised, so that it can start.
It is an example of how the European Union can serve Member States' priorities, can be efficient and effective and how our integration is serving our citizens priorities - in this case, the need to have a more integrated security and defence approach. Because we know that what we can do together, we can do better than alone, country by country. And I wish that the same sense of coming together - being pragmatic and effective - that we have shown in the field of defence can be of inspiration also for other fields where the European Union is needed by our European citizens.
We have also shared these steps with the NATO Secretary General [Jens Stoltenberg]. As always, we have invited him to join our Defence Ministers' meeting, as I was joining the NATO Defence Ministers just a few days ago. He welcomed these steps and we discussed all the actions for cooperation that the European Union and NATO have developed in this last year.
Let me say that the fact that we have never, never developed such a strong European Union security and defence cooperation and, at the same time, we have never developed such a strong cooperation between the European Union and NATO is the living proof of the fact that two things can go hand-in-hand and actually do. And [Jens] Stoltenberg and myself will present a second report on the 42 common actions we have taken this year, in December, to our respective Councils and we will suggest to them further areas of cooperation for the coming year.
I would like to say it very clearly: this is a historic achievement for the European defence, but it is not only a day for celebration. It is the beginning of a journey on which we will embark together. This is the beginning of a new story, and not the closing of a page. This will open the way for the European defence, the European Union of defence and security. We made it and this will continue to constitute the basis for a strong EU-NATO cooperation in the months and years ahead.
In the Council, we have also touched upon other two issues: the preparations for the EU-African Union Summit later this month in Abidjan that covers, by the way, also some of the security issues on which we work under the defence and security umbrella. And, on the other side, our work on Strategic Communication where I asked the Ministers to support my request to increase the human and financial resources we can dedicate especially to the three Strategic Communication Task Forces I have established in the course of the last two years - one dedicated to the East, one to the Western Balkans and one to the Arab-speaking world. And I received political support by the Ministers on this. Now we will check if the Finance Ministers will follow the indications of the Foreign Ministers in the coming weeks.
I will stop here and have some time to reply to your questions.
Q. Could you tell us what are in your view the main reasons why what was unimaginable six months ago is now the beginning of a new reality?
I believe that sometimes in the European Union - but this happens also at national level or in other international setups - people tend to believe that the conditions that have always been there for good or for bad are there to stay forever. And this is the most powerful element that prevents change to happen. I believe that last year, in the last six months of the year, the second semester of the year, we managed to open the doors for possible change. It was a time where everything - for good or for bad - seemed possible. It was between results of the UK referendum and the election of [the President of the United States, Donald] Trump.
So the world was changing in different manners. And the bet that we have made, back then, was to say 'let's see' if in front of a complicated security situation, a world that is changing in all different directions, we can try and dismantle the ghosts of the past, the assumption that the European Union of defence and security is a taboo since 60 years could be broken and if we were in the conditions to use the instruments we have, as the European citizens and our partners need us to use them at full.
I think it was what one of my famous compatriots used to express as the "optimism of goodwill" ["l'ottimismo della volontà"] that managed to break the established - perceived - taboos. We told to each other and I suggested to the Ministers and to the Prime Ministers that this was possible and this was proven to be possible at the end of the way.
Some Member States were leading the preparatory work together with us, in a very determined manner, and I would like to thank France, Germany, Italy and Spain for the leading role they have had, but also and especially because they have listened carefully to the need to open these proposals and suggestions to other Member States and make sure this was and is an inclusive process that looks at the added value of potentially all Member States into more ambitious capability developments, operational engagements, and work on the economy of scale of the European defence.
It has been a true teamwork and this is why I said I hope that this can be an inspiration for other sectors of European integration. Sometimes in the European Union we do not believe in the capacities we have, while we do have capacities. And if you don't believe in yourself, you don't use your capacities and your tools at the best. So we managed to jump over the perception that this was impossible and we proved it to be possible.
Now, I know very well this is a big achievement, a historic achievement. It is somehow taking the dream of our founding fathers and mothers of the 1950s and making it true, but we know very well that this is only the beginning. Now we have to turn this political and institutional decision into concrete projects and make of this the difference for security and defence, not only inside Europe, but also in the world.
Q. Is there anything the EU can usefully do to contribute to calm in the situation in Lebanon? And have you received any information that causes you, as some other ministers said, to question whether Mr [Saad] Hariri [Prime Minister of Lebanon] is completely free to go wherever he wants? And just briefly the French Foreign Minister [Jean Yves Le Drian] said today Paris supports putting sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile tests. Would you oppose that?
First of all, let me say that we did not discuss today nor last week, nor do I foresee any discussion in the future about further sanctions from the European Union side on Iran. This is not part of our current discussions. And, as you know, we have lifted all our nuclear-related sanctions on Iran in compliance with our own commitments with the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]. Ballistic missiles are not in the scope of the JCPOA; and it is extremely important that we keep that outside of the JCPOA. This is a discussion and a proposal that was never raised at our table in these recent months and I don't foresee this to happen in the near future.
On Lebanon, indeed it was not part of the agenda today, but obviously I raised this this morning with the Foreign Ministers, sharing around the table with broad support, I would say unanimous support, first of all the call for ensuring that unity and stability of the country are preserved.
I spoke with the Foreign Minister [Gebran] Bassil over the phone a couple of days ago; I will meet him tomorrow morning here in Brussels. Our head of the European Union Delegation in Riyadh has met Prime Minister [of Lebanon, Saad] Hariri for the second time in these four days just a few hours ago. So contacts are ongoing. And the substance of these contacts - that we shared with the Foreign Ministers today - are the following: the European Union’s support for Lebanon and Lebanon's institutions is continuing and very strong; our partnership, our friendship is special and very strong, including a personal connection, a personal support we have for Prime Minister Hariri and we praise his leadership.
Our close cooperation has always been very strong. And we have highlighted - and I think it is right to do so in this moment - the impressive steps that under his leadership the unity government has made in these last 11 months if I'm not wrong: a new budget; a new electoral law; advanced stage for adoption of capital investment plan; a positive base for preparation of parliamentary elections early next year. All things that seemed to be impossible only one year and half ago. So we have appreciated the level of unity of political forces that has led Lebanon to have functioning institutions, delivering some results for their people.
We believe it is important at this stage to ensure that all political parties in Lebanon maintain the focus on working together, to build on these domestic achievements, to deliver for the Lebanese people and work together to avoid any escalation in the country. The stability and the progress inside the country are to be preserved and are the priority for us. Our support is there and will continue to be there in this respect.
We expect no external interference in this national agenda. And we believe it is essential to avoid importing into Lebanon regional conflicts, regional dynamics, regional tensions that have to stay out of the country. In this respect, again, as I said I will discuss further with Foreign Minister Bassil tomorrow here in Brussels. And I am looking forward to having contacts with Prime Minister Hariri in the days to come if conditions are there.
Q. Do you believe that there is external intervention right now in the affairs of Lebanon?
I see and we all see the risk for this happening. Lebanese political forces are the first ones to know by experience that the country is exposed, by its nature, by the nature of the composition of the population and the political forces, to either external influence or internal forces taking part to external conflicts. And this is why Lebanon has a disassociation policy that is important. So Lebanese forces and Lebanese people I would say are the first ones that have experienced over history - recent and past history - the danger of having the country dragged into regional conflicts and regional tensions and regional dynamics.
This is a current and an always existing threat to the country, both from the inside out and from the outside in. This is why as the European Union, as friends of Lebanon who care about the stability and the security of the country more than anything else and also of the region, we appeal, first of all, as I said to the political forces to focus on Lebanon and on what they can deliver to their citizens; and Prime Minister Hariri to return to his country and the unity government’s domestic achievements to be consolidated.
Q. If PESCO works it will create capabilities, instruments. But aren't you worried that at the end of the day there might be no use for those capabilities and instruments, because there is no unity or political will to for example rapidly deploy troops in case of emergency? Where do you take your optimism from?
I have many worries, but not this one. In these three years in office exactly, more or less, I have experienced one thing: the political unity of the European Union in foreign and security policy is much stronger than it is perceived, both internally and externally. We have never, not with the Foreign Ministers, not with the Defence Ministers, experienced a problem when it comes to unanimity in decision-making. On top of that, PESCO will not be working by unanimity at 28, as obvious and by definition, it is a Permanent Structured Cooperation that would be established by qualified majority voting.
When Member States engage in developing capabilities, working together on research, development of industrial projects, but also on acquisition, operational commitments together, it is clear that this political will gets even stronger. As I said, in these three years of experience, I have never seen a problem of lack of common will. But I have often seen a problem of political will, not matched by consequent decisions when it came to pledging conferences or force generation conferences or exercises, to have the adequate resources both financial, human resources or military resources to fulfil our level of ambition. So, I am not worried about the lack of political cohesion. On the contrary, I think that this will give us the right instruments, to do what I see we are already ready to do together.
Q. During the debate today about the strategic communication, I think that Spanish [Foreign] Minister [Alfonso Dastis] has talked about the possibility that Russia or someone in Russia is trying to use Catalonia problem in order to destabilise the European Union. I wonder if you as the EEAS also have this information that someone in Russia or maybe the Russian government is trying to use this particular crisis in order to exacerbate the problems in the European Union?
I will not comment on that. We had a discussion on strategic communication in general, covered several elements and different areas of our work. I will not comment on this specific case.
Q. Regarding the Strategic Communications on the Western Balkans, what is your opinion about the Russian influence in that part, in that region? And what is the StratComm [EEAS Strategic Communications Division] doing concretely to combat these influences?
The very small Strategic Communication Task Force I have set up this summer only, so few months ago, on the Western Balkans has just started its work. It is too early to assess the results of the work. But let me say that I visited the region very often and there is not one single week that I don't meet either a Prime Minister, or a President, or Foreign Minister or a Europe Minister of the region. This is probably one of the files on which we are working the most. And this is in itself part of our strategic communication because you can have the best technical team doing strategic communication, if you don't have the right policy, there is not much you can communicate about.
On the Western Balkans, we do have a strong European Union stand and a strong European Union policy that is the basis for our effective communication. So, we can improve the communication, I think the policy has already improved a lot when we are clear in saying the future of the entire region is in the European Union. We want and we need the Western Balkans to cooperate as a region, and to have this clear sense of direction towards the European Union. And mentioning the different six partners, the different steps and stages - each of them has its own specificity, but we have the clear and joint sense of direction of the region.
I am not worried about the influence or the presence of any of the other partners that countries in the region can have, because I have seen it myself and repeatedly, even during the course of last year, where many countries faced complicated political electoral cycles, to call it this way, when the European Union is there - and it is there with all its power, with all its presence coherently - there is no other partner that has a stronger influence than the European Union in the region, because the region is Europe.
You look at the borders, there is no external border of any of the Western Balkans six. Their borders are all borders with European Union. We are one, we are a family. We are geographically and historically bound together. This is why when the European Union is consistent and coherent, and when our partners in the region are also consistent and coherent, no other influence or presence can be stronger than that.
Q. On Strategic Communication: what is the team, the volume of the team and the budget that you think would be fit to counter and increase things, especially propaganda coming from Russia, but also the need to do more work in countering radical messages from ISIS and trying to keep peace between the youth? On Venezuela: after we've created the legal framework for sanctioning individuals, responsible people for violations of human rights and others, how long do you think or how fast do you think the EU will move into concrete sanctions and the EEAS will wait for Member States to present a concrete list of names or in other cases sometimes the EEAS per se works itself on the lists? So how do you see that developing?
On the numbers that we would require in the Strategic Communication Task Forces, I am not the best person to answer that question. We have a division, a unit that is working every single day on our communication and I leave it to their assessment what kind of needs are there concretely. For the different Task Forces – while for our communication by the Task Force East we have started working two years ago, the work is quite established, we would need to expand on that.
And I proposed to have additional resources already - this is not the first time I do this. It was the Council rejecting that proposal when I did it, while the [European] Parliament was always supporting it. I hope that the Council, this time, will support my proposal and the European Parliament amendments to increase the budget for our Strategic Communication Task Forces, as a matter of consistency. But while the Task Force East is well established and works at full rhythm, the Western Balkans and the Arabic-speaking ones are just at the beginning and definitely need more resources – be it financial or seconded experts, especially people that have the right language skills to work on effective communication.
I would like to stress one point: it is not just about countering negative perceptions or fake news. It is also about communicating effectively our positive agenda. And, to me, this is even the most important part of the work we are doing, because, both inside the European Union and outside of the European Union, communicating effectively and correctly what the European Union is and does is in itself the most powerful instrument for Strategic Communication. So, we are focussing a lot on the positive agenda, the positive stories and the difference that the European Union external action is bringing to the citizens of the region of concern.
On Venezuela: you know that, first of all, the decision that was taken today is in the framework of our continuous diplomatic and political work, to try and facilitate an outcome to the crisis. In this framework, the Council has decided by unanimity to adopt restrictive measures. First of all, an arms embargo on related materials that might be used for internal repression and, as you mentioned, a legal framework for a travel ban and an asset freeze. This is only the legal framework for the moment, without names on it. These measures will be used, in a gradual manner, flexible, it can be expanded, but it can also be reversed.
And you asked about depending on what and with what timing - the matter is not the timing, it is not the calendar. The matter is the evolution of the situation in the country, and in particular, I would like to stress this: the holding of credible and meaningful negotiations. There are works ongoing, preparations of meetings. And, also in the coming days, we hope actually - and personally, I hope - that this decision stays as a legal framework only, because we have steps on the political negotiations that are positive enough that allow these measures not to go further.
I would like to stress an additional point, because this is very near to my heart, but also to all of our thoughts, which is that all the work we are trying to do is in support of the Venezuelan people. So no measure - I would like to stress this - is or will harm the Venezuelan population. Our intention is only to support the population of Venezuela. So, the step that has been decided today is a first step that can be reversed, if political conditions allow us to understand that there are credible and meaningful negotiations that start, and will be otherwise used in a gradual and flexible manner.
Q. On the EU-Africa Summit: can you just say a little bit more about the preparation and the priorities? Did you discuss about the blockade in Yemen, because about 7 million people are in danger and it looks like the international community is not giving attention about it. Did you discuss about it?
We have not discussed this today. But we have discussed it several other times. And, I am sure that in December, at the next Foreign Affairs Council, we will have a point on the agenda. I am not completely sure if it is going to be on Yemen specifically, but on the Middle East dynamics for sure. But, this is an issue on which our work is ongoing on a daily basis, discretely most of the times, but we're doing our best, not only from a humanitarian point of view, but also from a political point of view.
On the EU-African Union Summit, thank you very much for the question, because this has been actually a long part of our conversation today with the Ministers, with all Member States very much engaged in preparation for the Summit that will be the turning point of the African Union-European Union political relations. It is the first time the European Union has a summit with the African Union as such. This is in itself already a sign of how deep our political partnership has become.
I would like to say it very clearly: it will not be a migration summit. It's not the follow up of the Valetta Summit. It is a Summit on the partnership between the European Union and the African Union on many different fields, from peace and security, where we need to increase even more our cooperation; on global issues like climate change and environmental issues; to economy, investments, creation of jobs, education.
I met just last week 36 young people from Africa, Europe and diaspora to listen to their suggestions. They have been working for weeks now and they will continue to work in view of the Summit, to give us inputs that will translate into real policy decisions, on many different fields from education to culture, to peace and security, and other issues, with very concrete ideas that we will need to follow up. So, this time, it is really going beyond the traditional development aid approach. It is not a donor-recipient Summit. It is a Summit between political partners that share the same approach to global issues and multilateralism, and that have a common agenda to develop together.
That includes also some elements on migration. But, I would like to stress that, if Europe and Africa agree together on how they can help the world manage one of the most challenging phenomena in the world, which is the mass movement of people, including within Africa, then we also help the United Nations system to come up with a global compact on migration and on refugees. And, this is exactly the approach we will be taking.
Link to the video (remarks): https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I146451
Link to the video (Q&A): https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I146452