Lampedusa, 15 April 2016
Check against delivery!
Let me start by saying that I am honoured and proud to pay this first visit here. We were together in the headquarters in Rome few months ago. And we are here exactly one year after we saw the tragic loss of lives in this very same sea - it was on the 18 April last year.
In reaction to that tragedy, all the Heads of States and governments of the European Union gathered in Brussels and, after the minute of silence, also took some decisions. Those decisions were to respond in a European way, finally, including a response at sea, to dismantle the business model of the traffickers of people, migrants and refugees, with this naval operation.
That was the beginning of this story and let me say: this is one of the stories of the European Union we can be proud of. We managed to have the operation started in a record time of one month. We reached the full operation capacity two months afterwards and, since the beginning of October, we are in phase 2-A which means that we are operating in international waters with one clear priority in mind - and I would like to thank Rear Admiral Credendino and all our staff here of 24 nationalities -this is an important sign of the European unity we should be proud of again - : saving lives.
This was the imperative when we met in Brussels after the loss of 800 and more people in the Mediterranean sea and that was not the first time. Lampedusa has known several times tragedies like that one. But that was the first time when the European Union reacted as such. And when we mention saving lives we also come to the reason why we named this operation "Sophia": this comes out of the name of the baby who was born on one of our vessels, at sea. And this baby is today in good health and able to play rather than finding death at sea. We have saved close to 13 000 lives at sea in this six months of operations. We have arrested suspects, smugglers and traffickers, guaranteeing them to the Italian judicial authorities. We have neutralised more than one hundred vessels at sea.
Let me remind one thing that is important: that out of the 13 000 people we saved, 800 are children. This is to say that when, one year ago, we were feeling ashamed, I am not afraid of using this word, ashamed of a Europe that was not able to save lives, today we can be proud of a Europe that is able to save lives, including the lives of women and children. But the mandate of this mission is not purely saving lives; it is also, and mainly, protecting lives, which means fighting against the criminal organisations that are putting in danger the lives of people. And this is why the highlight has to be on the capacity we have developed to deter the trafficking of people.
I have mentioned the numbers, and we achieved that in only six months in high seas. I think this is far beyond the expectations we had when we started and again I would like to thank you Rear Admiral and all our military staff for the excellent work they have managed to do and quickly. Because we always say that Europe is slow, I think that here we have shown that we have not only the military capacity at the service of a clear political purpose, but also the capacity to act united and fast.
I will gather the ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence on Monday for a joint dinner at the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg [on Monday 18th April]. I will discuss with them different options we have to work on the way forward, for this operation but also the entire work that we are doing and that we can do even more, to manage the flow and to make sure that, again, lives are saved and traffickers are stopped. We will have a discussion on our overall strategy on migration and refugee crisis with the Foreign ministers, but we will also have a discussion on the way forward to the different security assets we have, especially connected to the Sahel and Libya. I would like to stress that the discussion we will have on Libya will be not only focused on the security side but also, probably first of all, on the humanitarian aspect, on the aspect of institutions building, supporting the municipalities, border management control and first, and foremost, I would like to stress, humanitarian and security areas.
When it comes to Operation Sophia, we will discuss with the Ministers the possibility to move to phase 2-B which means doing the same but not in high seas but into the Libyan territorial waters in case the Libyan authorities will request so, will invite us to do so. We have had obviously talks about that already with [Libyan designated Prime Minister] al-Sarraj in the last weeks and months. I met him several times, even in the end of last year, knowing very well that it is up to the Libyan authorities to determine their priorities because the leadership and the ownership has to be a Libyan one. But obviously we are ready to discuss with the Ministers what is needed to be ready in the case, in a moment when an invitation comes to move to the territorial waters of Libya to work in partnership with the Libyans.
Partnership has been the key word and I would like to thank personally Rear Admiral Credendino for the wonderful work he has done in building partnerships around this operation because this operation works with partner countries, partner organisations, NGOs, international agencies working together also sharing their experiences on how to manage- from an humanitarian point of view - something that is difficult to manage, which means people that have gone through a very difficult journey.
So building partnership is the key here and offering capacity and potentially training. This is why I will suggest to the Ministers of the 28 Member States on Monday to work also on the option of including in our mandate the training of the Libyan coast guards if the Libyan authorities might find it useful. Because this is exactly in line with the spirit that animates us: a transfer of capacities that would allow and empower the Libyan counterpart and the Libyan authorities to control and to manage the flows at land and by sea by themselves and not requiring our intervention.
Obviously we have other options on the table including a potential expansion of the area operations, as we see that there could be the need or an interest to operate further East. I do not want to anticipate decisions, as we will not take formal decision on Monday but discussions and orientations, but it was very important for me to have this visit here, talks with our people here. They are operating every single day and night to get the real sense of what is useful, what is helpful, what can be done, what cannot be done, what is needed to do, the different things so that I can also share the next steps in full with the Ministers directly .
This is an operation, as I said, that has proved to be extremely successful. We need to continue focus on the Central Mediterranean route. We had this always very clear in mind over the last months. This is even more relevant today as the summer season comes closer and for the obvious reason that Africa is a continent that is facing so much of inequalities, poverties and conflicts and crisis that it is only natural that people tend to move. This is a global phenomenon. We see this it in Africa, inside Africa, inside Asia, we have seen it inside Europe in the past, we have seen it also from Europe towards other parts of the world in the past. So the work we do on the Central Mediterranean route, being the route leading from Africa to Europe, is strategically important for a long period of time. And this is also why we have developed a strong partnership with our African friends on the countries of origin, the countries of transit and the work we do on the southern borders of Libya, in the Sahel, together also with some Member States, regionalising our security approach to the Sahel, in order to empower our partners in the G5 Sahel that I am meeting regularly, to manage their own territories which is one of the most difficult ones to manage, almost as difficult as the sea I would say. I stop here and see if you have questions.
Link to the video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I119673