Check against delivery!
Thank you all and let me start by thanking not only the [European Defence] Agency and the work that it has done but to recognise the work that has been done, including in the field of military mobility.
Let me start by thanking also the Bulgarian Presidency, because we have done a great job together in the field of defence, and I would also like to thank the previous presidencies that have shown a lot of determination and capacity to support the build-up of unity in the European Union, so that we get now to this point, where I believe we are really showing that we can achieve impressive results when we work together in the same direction, with a real sense of unity and a certain purpose.
And together, we are indeed turning the Europe of defence into reality. This is not just a strategy on paper, this is not words. The vision we underlined and we outlined in the Global Strategy is turning into collective action, and the practical results are starting to become very visible.
Let me stress this from the very beginning: this is a collective action, as well as it was a collective vision. And we could only do this together, and we are doing this together.
I am talking first and foremost about our Member States: the 25 that have joined our Permanent Structured Cooperation [PESCO], and the 28 that keep taking decisions by unanimity – at 28 – on all security and defence matters. I want to underline this, because sometimes there are some misperceptions or some different perspectives. In my daily work, in our daily work, we see full unity – not only of the 25 Member States that are part of the Permanent Structured Cooperation – but also, in an impressive manner, of all the 28 - still - Member States that are supporting this work.
And for the first time ever I would say, the European institutions are playing their part too, namely the European Commission, which is supporting this work financially – investing like never before in this field. I do not want to open the chapter of our budget and the Multiannual Financial Framework, but for the first time ever, there is a [budget] line there as well.
In addition, the European Defence Agency is obviously contributing with its expertise, with its structures: I know I have put a lot of pressure on the Agency, and I am proud of how efficient and professional it is proving to be. And let me thank once again everybody in the Agency for the excellent work you are doing.
We are working in constant, close coordination with all our friends and partners – starting with NATO. Here I would like to thank once again Jens Stoltenberg [Secretary General of NATO], Rose Gottemoeller [Deputy Secretary General of NATO], for their commitment to our partnership and I will be glad to join them, once again, tomorrow at the NATO defence ministerial meeting - this time in the new headquarters of NATO. It is I think a demonstration of the very close coordination we keep building.
We have always said, together, both us and our friends in NATO, that a stronger European Union makes NATO stronger, just as much as a strong NATO makes the European Union strong. And now we are showing this in practice, with real progress on the ground.
I believe there is no better example than military mobility on this. This is an issue that transcends borders by definition. Of course the primary responsibility lies with Member States, and with different ministries within each Member State. From this arises the complexity we have ahead of us.
Precisely for this reason, we have a duty to make sure that everyone's efforts are complementary, coordinated and moving forward in the same direction. And we are doing so, through the Permanent Structured Cooperation, through the European Defence Agency, and through our cooperation with NATO, including with the possibility of financial support from the European Commission.
Military mobility is the perfect test and starting point for our new phase of defence cooperation. But it is also a pressing need for our collective security, in these times of "predictable unpredictability".
Today, more than ever, rapid response has become an essential requirement for our security. Acting fast may be vital to prevent a crisis, to respond to a threat or to avoid an escalation. Getting our assets where they are needed, and doing so swiftly, is a necessity which we need to be able to ensure at all times.
But this is also about how efficient we are in our defence investments. It is not my job, it is not the European Union's responsibility or competence to tell our European Union Member States how much to invest on defence. This is for national governments, for national parliaments to decide - some of them have taken clear commitments as NATO allies.
But what we can do, as European Union, is to ensure that our Member States make the most out of every Euro they decide to invest on defence, and what we can do is to incentivise efficient defence spending.
Now coming back to military mobility, if we invest in the best military capabilities and in the most advanced defence systems, but they get stuck at the border for customs checks – then we clearly have an efficiency issue. Even the best assets are – I do not want to say useless, but close to if they cannot be deployed on time. And you know better than me how time is part of the equation in this work.
On a continental scale, if we cannot move our assets, we will need to buy more of them. Again, this is not an efficient way to invest our budgets. [Jens] Stoltenberg explained it very clearly: deterrence and defence do not just depend on the quantity of deployed forces. They also very much depend on the ability to move them quickly, if and when this is needed.
Today, the movement of military personnel and equipment is slowed down by a number of barriers. Some of them are physical, such as light bridges or small roads. Others are legal or bureaucratic. We all want to have more joint exercises and trainings at the European level for instance, but it may take several hours or days for our military personnel to go through the customs procedures – even for an exercise that lasts just a few hours.
It happens that a cargo requires no border controls, if it is carried with civilian trucks, but the same cargo can be delayed for hours if transported with a military truck. So, these are very concrete examples of why it is relevant and how much it is complicated to address these issues.
Member States had already started back in 2014 to cooperate on these issues within the framework of the European Defence Agency. But, as you know well, in these last few months, the work has reached unprecedented speed and intensity – with different actions involving different actors and institutions.
First of all, the European Defence Agency. Last autumn, an Ad Hoc Working Group was established within the Agency, to map existing initiatives and possible shortfalls, and to understand how to best address those shortfalls. Let me also add that experts from NATO were fully associated to the working group and I believe this was very important. This work led to a Roadmap, and last March, the Roadmap was turned into an Action Plan, with practical steps for better military mobility.
Today, we begin to see the first results. Last week, the first two concrete projects were established in the European Defence Agency. They tackle Cross-Border Movement Permission and Harmonising Military Requirements on Customs. The work to identify more requirements is progressing well, together with Member States and in consultation, always, with NATO. This work should be completed by the European Council at the end of June, and at technical level by the end of September.
And when this will be done, the European Commission is ready to take action and invest in the infrastructure that will need to be upgraded, along the trans-European transport network.
I have also proposed to take military mobility into account in our next EU budget - our Multiannual Financial Framework. Our proposal is to have an additional budget of €6.5 billion to ensure that transport infrastructures of strategic importance are suitable for military needs.
Let me also say that this is an exercise in which I am testing, on a daily basis, how important it is to have these three hats that the Lisbon Treaty gave me, because the ability and the capacity to mobilise, to coordinate and to make the work of the Council, the work of the Commission and the work of the [European Defence] Agency coherent, is crucial in this. Pulling all the different strings of this work and giving coherence to each of them is really proving to be extremely effective and necessary for doing this job.
I have mentioned the EDA and the Commission work, now I get to the Dutch-led project on military mobility within the framework of the Permanent Structured Cooperation.
24 Member States are part of this project, and the 25th has also joined as an observer – in other words, all countries that are part of the Permanent Structured Cooperation have demonstrated an interest in addressing the issue of military mobility. With this project our Member States – I would like to remind us all - are taking a legally binding commitment, to achieving an objective that matters for sure for the European Union, but – let me stress again – matters for NATO as well.
You have heard it from Rose [Gottemoeller] earlier today, but let me stress it once again: improved military mobility is good for the European Union and is good for NATO, I would say is necessary for Europe and for NATO alike.
And also, let us not forget that over 90% of the European Union's citizens live in countries that are also NATO allies. So, we are talking about largely coinciding constituencies.
It is not by chance that in December last year, we added military mobility to the set of new proposals for cooperation between the European Union and NATO. And last month, Jens [Stoltenberg] decided to share with us NATO’s parameters for transport infrastructure.
Because we are autonomous, each of us, but we are partners, and very good ones.
The European Union – I have said it many times - is not a military alliance and it will not become a military alliance. We cherish the unique “European way” to deal with peace and security that might include a military component, but it is never exclusively military.
We do not run the risk of duplications, the nature of the European Union and NATO is different. But we have the duty, the responsibility to increase our cooperation, to have more synergies and all the complementarities that we can put in place, as we have started to do in the last couple of years.
I believe this is, again, a duty we have, especially in these times that are particularly complex and challenging. We cannot afford ourselves to go in separate directions. We need to create synergies and complementarities every single time we can, and this is exactly what we are doing.
Let me conclude by saying that I believe that with the work we have done and we are still doing on defence, we Europeans have demonstrated that we can achieve great things, when we have the political will to work together. I often say that, most of you in the room might remember that well: just a couple of years ago, talking about this was simply considered to be completely unrealistic. People were saying: "Permanent Structured Cooperation will never start", "Any work on increasing the European defence will be facing obstacles from all sides and on all levels." We have done it, not only because of great technical work, but also and mainly because of a strong political will that our Member States and our institutions found somewhere inside themselves.
I believe that this is also a great example for Europeans to realise that we can do things together, even in fields where we normally assume we cannot, if we decide to do so. And we can do it in an effective manner.
We have made better use of tools we already had – think of the PESCO provision that was in the Treaties already and that we simply activated - and we created new ones. We have shown that we can truly address the European citizens' needs, our partners' expectations, when we join forces as a Union. Because Europe is, at the end of the day, what we decide to make of it.
Thanks to our work on defence, I believe the engine of the European integration has re-started. I believe, it would be good to re-start the engine in many other different fields, and I believe this is possible – but that is not the topic of today. And I believe that now that we have re-started the engine in the field of defence, of European integration, we have the responsibility to keep the car running, which is both in the interest of our citizens' and of our partners' security in this difficult, but also interesting, world.
I thank you very much for the attention and I wish you all a very fruitful and successful meeting. Thank you.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I156576