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Q: Do you have any specific expectations for the Western Balkans Summit taking place next week?
This is not only related to defence, but you know well how much I share the Bulgarian Presidency's focus on the Western Balkans, so I am happy to take this question.
I believe the summit will be, first of all, a very important event, coming so many years after the last one in Thessaloniki. It is first and foremost a political sign that the European Union and its partners in the Western Balkans share the same, not only geographical space but also political objective - the same destiny I would say. And I believe it is also a sign of respective and reciprocal commitment of working together. It is not going to be an enlargement Summit, but still, I believe, that the fact that the entire region is Europe, and has a European perspective is going to be one of the underlying elements of the Summit.
I think it is going to be very important. We saw it when managing the refugee crisis. We see it when managing security threats - from radicalisation to the return of foreign fighters. We see it on economic development. We see it on infrastructure. We see on everything how connected the Western Balkans are among themselves and with the rest of Europe.
And I believe it's not just in the interest of the Western Balkan countries but of all of the European Union to make this work with them credible, and having a credible European perspective for the region is - I believe - an essential part of our own interest. So, I think it is going to be a very important summit and also very successful Summit.
Q: A PESCO question: France has come forward with a proposal for an expeditionary force. I wondered if you would like to see the proposal somehow merged with PESCO and if that was discussed at all today?
We did not discuss this during the meeting. I had a bilateral meeting with the French minister [Florence Parly] this morning, as we often meet bilaterally and we discussed ways in which the two frameworks can be coordinated and be in sync. So that work will continue at our level, and at working level. And I can guarantee you that the French approach is fully in line and fully in the picture of the common work we are doing on PESCO under the Union umbrella.
Q: Is there no danger with this French project that something like the European Battlegroups become essentially redundant if this new intervention force is created? And also, there is talk of Britain and Denmark being involved, and they are obviously not in PESCO, so I was wondering is there also danger that this becomes a sort of something of a rival to PESCO?
I think I have already answered this. There is full coordination, there is full coherence and the PESCO projects are already up and running. The other one is an idea that is being developed, and the French authorities have always passed on to us, and to me personally, their objective to make this project that is under development fully coherent with the PESCO and with the European Union work on defence that is already there and is already happening. You should probably also ask the question to the French, but what I see is the intention from the French side to make the future initiative they have in mind perfectly coherent with the work we are doing under PESCO, that has also been something the French Minister [Florence Parly] and President [Emmanuel Macron] and Foreign Minister [Yves Le Drian] have been working coherently on for a long time. And if PESCO has started, it is also thanks to the French work. It would be completely contradictory not to work in the same direction and I think there is no risk of that happening.
Q: What is your expectation on the second wave of projects for PESCO. And do you expect the number of projects to be increased? And also, there is this issue of third country participation to be resolved. When do you expect this to happen? And on military mobility - are there still any issues you see with non-NATO Member States, neutral countries like Austria?
The work on military mobility is proceeding very well. And as I said, I believe that by June - mid-June more or less - we will be able to share with you the state of advancement and the state-of-play of the first steps of the implementation of the work we are doing there.
I don't see particular problems neither with non-NATO Member States nor with NATO or with NATO allies that are not European Union Member States. On PESCO projects: Some Member States already today have started to flag ideas or new projects that would be presented as PESCO projects towards the end of the year.
I believe it is too early today to share these ideas publicly but I have heard interesting ideas for new projects. So, there will be additional projects on top of the 17, but it is too early to say how many and exactly in which fields, but again, I have heard already some ideas on the table today that look very interesting.
And for what concerns the participation of third countries, indeed we have discussed about that. I would expect that after we take decisions, legal acts, in June hopefully, on the governance of PESCO, then Member States could focus more in detail on the specific arrangements for the participation - extraordinary participation - of third countries to PESCO projects. My expectation would be that that decision could be taken by the end of the year. But our discussion was very productive, very positive and constructive already today on this.
Q: On the future of defence European headquarters after Brexit, there is a Spanish and Italian initiative about Operation Atlanta. How do you see the two candidacies and the future role that Rota will play after Brexit?
I take it as a very good signal of willingness to contribute so actively to a very important Operation [EUNAVFOR Atalanta] we have, because we have to see the fact that acts of piracy off the coast of the Horn of Africa have diminished significantly thanks to the Operation, and we have to keep that same level of attention to avoid that piracy comes back in a significant manner in the area. So, it is strategically important for us to continue to have Operation Atalanta working, and working at full speed.
What I mentioned to the Ministers this morning is the need for them to find consensus. It is a decision that they will need to take - it is not taken yet - by unanimity, I hope by the end of May, beginning of June, in order to be able to start a smooth transfer of the headquarters. It is not for me to enter into what location could be better. What I invited the Ministers to do is to share in full transparency with all their colleagues all the elements, all the arguments, all the pros and cons of the different options, so that Member States can take a decision, first of all consensually, unanimously.
And secondly, actually first, based on what is the best for the Operation itself. I asked the Ministers, decide as if it was your national military operation that you have to decide upon. Because what we have to guarantee is a smooth, effective, operational set up. And I am very much confident that this will happen and that a solution will be found. Again, it is in the hands of Member States. I think they will start discussions at Ambassadors' level next week in Brussels. But the atmosphere was very positive today around the table.
Link to the video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I154809