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Yesterday already, with the Defence Ministers and the Foreign Ministers [of the European Union], we adopted a very important package on the European Union's defence work. It has been exactly two years since we launched this work to strengthen European defence and just one year ago, we launched the Permanent Structured Cooperation.
We have also taken the decision to strengthen our Military Planning and Conduct Capability here in Brussels that in the next couple of years will be able, not only to be responsible for all our training missions, but also to run some bigger operations - up to 2,500 men and women in uniform - that will be conducted from the Brussels Headquarters. It is a major step forward.
The decision was also taken on the civilian side to strengthen our work. As you know, the European Union has currently ten civilian missions around the world. They are very much appreciated by our partners. We are working hand in hand with our partners on the ground, but also with the United Nations, for instance. The decision was taken to strengthen this part of our work, with a very substantial Civilian Compact.
All of this work is going hand in hand with the cooperation with NATO that is strengthening. I will be pleased to welcome again [NATO] Secretary-General [Jens] Stoltenberg this morning, who will be with us, to work together to face the challenges and the threats we are facing together in our region – from hybrid threats to cyber security – but also military mobility which is something that the European Union is doing in cooperation with NATO, and many other projects we have together.
The important message we are passing today is that the European Union work on defence is continuing, is getting stronger, getting more credibility – Member States are investing in it – and at the same time, our cooperation with NATO is as strong as ever.
Q. Is [EUNAVFOR MED] Operation Sophia doomed?
We will also talk today about all our missions and operations. I hear still from all the Member States that they want to keep Operation Sophia in place. As you know, we have completed our Strategic Review, so Operation Sophia is ready to continue, also after the 31 December .
There is one issue that Member States have not agreed upon so far, which is the issue of the disembarkation of the people that are rescued at sea. I want to stress the fact that this is a minor element of the overall work that Operation Sophia is doing – from the training of the Libyan coastguards, to the work to implement the arms embargo. It is a very relevant work we are doing. This is one small element, obviously important for every single person we save, but a small element in the military plan.
I am confident that Member States will find a practical solution to continue the Operation [Sophia] on this issue. I have put several proposals on the table on this particular aspect. Member States are discussing and we still have some time to find a way out of that particular problem.
Q. Will you discuss the INF [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty] with Secretary-General [Jens] Stoltenberg today? How concerned are you by Russian threats to retaliate if the US does go ahead to pull out?
I would expect that among the different security challenges we are facing, this will also be an issue we will discuss with Secretary-General [Stoltenberg]. I discussed this with him a couple of days ago when we met on Friday exactly to prepare this meeting.
I am extremely worried because we have always been convinced that agreements, first of all, are important; secondly, need to be respected and implemented at full; and thirdly, if there are issues and problems in their implementation, we believe the right way to go is to insist on the full implementation rather than withdraw.
We still hope that there is a space for strengthening its implementation rather than dismantling it.
Q. US were insisting to Russia for several years about this, and they say this was ignored?
We believe that, at the same time, the agreements should stay in place and should be implemented.
I understand that one of the problems of the agreement is that it has a mechanism for verification but it has no mechanism for enforcing the full implementation of the agreement.
But again, this is less for the European Union, but very important for Europe, because if we go towards the dismantling of this agreement, Europe’s security risks to be put at risk, and we definitely do not want to see European territory to go back to be a battlefield for other powers, as it has been the case for so long in the past.
We do not want to go back to that kind of tensions, to that kind of situation, and we still hope there is a space for saving the agreement and implementing it.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I163992