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Thank you very much.
We had yesterday a joint session with the Defence and the Foreign Ministers of the 28 Member States and today we had the Council with Defence Ministers where we also hosted NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg again. I will come to our cooperation with NATO in a moment.
Let me start by saying that yesterday afternoon and this morning Ministers took another major step in our work to build the European Union of defence. We have agreed yesterday to first of all strengthen our civilian crisis management. Ministers adopted a civilian compact that contains over 20 political commitments to reinforce the European Union capacity to deploy civilian expertise.
We have many EU civilian missions, 10 at the moment, but over time we have had 22 civilian missions around the world. I visited many of them. They are extremely appreciated by our partners, because they help building capacities and strengthening institutions and working on preventing and managing crises all around the world. It is a unique instrument that only the European Union has in that way. And the decision to strengthen this first of all highlights that as we work on the military side we also work on the civilian side of security. And this would also allow to strengthen civilian military cooperation on the ground that is one of our - again - unique tools that are extremely appreciated and needed in the current security situation.
The Ministers also took another important decision exactly one year after we launched the Permanent Structured Cooperation [PESCO]: they have agreed on 17 new projects that were adopted today. So in total we now have 34 Permanent Structured Cooperation projects. This shows that as Member States work on the implementation of the first round of projects that they have adopted, they have also come up with other proposals and this will help the European Union Member States to develop new capabilities. This is extremely important, because as you know strengthening European Union Member States capabilities also means contributing to the burden-sharing of the Trans-Atlantic Alliance. And this is why, I believe, NATO's Secretary-General [ Jens Stoltenberg] today expressed full support to the work that we are doing in the field of security and defence. Because, as I said, if there is one way in which the European Union can contribute to Europeans taking more responsibility on defence, it is through more cooperation and more coordination among us.
Another important decision that was taken was the launch of the Coordinated and Annual Review on Defence as a standing exercise, starting with the first cycle of Coordinated Annual Review on Defence for the years 2019/2020. And that helps, in concrete terms, to coordinate national defence planning and identify opportunities for cooperation and joint investments among Member States. I know it sounds technical but it is extremely important when it comes to the actual work on the planning.
And then, the last element of the package, a very substantial one: the decision was taken to strengthen the Military Planning and Conduct Capability by 2020. It should be ready to also run a smaller-scale executive operation of about 2,500 soldiers alongside the responsibility it is exercising already for the military training missions of the European Union. In this way, the Military Planning and Conduct Capability that is here in Brussels will also be able to strengthen its cooperation with its civilian counterpart, the Civilian Planning and Conduct Capability and other EU actors.
So we are continuing in strengthening our work in a consistent manner with good results. And I want to underline once again these decisions are taken at unanimity. We are still 28 [Member States], we are moving forward. We are turning all these decisions into concrete steps.
And this will also be accompanied by parallel decisions on the future budget. For the next Multi-annual Financial Framework there is a very substantial financial proposal on the table to accompany this work that has been started with resources, I have also put on the table the proposal of creating a European Peace Facility to improve the way in which we can finance our military operations, our military assistance to our partners and to give more predictability to our work on defence. This is going to be discussed in the coming weeks and months as we discuss also the next MFF [Multi-Annual Financial Framework].
Two words on our cooperation with NATO: As I said, we probably would have not managed to do all of this in the European Union, if it was not for a strong support and the strong coordination with NATO. Some of the projects under PESCO - think of military mobility - also respond to NATO needs and priorities and it is not by chance that as we strengthened the EU defence work, we have also strengthened in an unprecedented way our cooperation with NATO. We are in particular working on military mobility, but also on hybrid threats and other issues. So it is overall, I think, a good story of a strengthened partnership. And the NATO Secretary-General [Jens Stoltenberg] today, I think, was very clear in showing his support to the work that we are doing and the way in which this is also strengthening the Alliance.
Last but not least, we had with the Ministers an update on our missions and operations around the world. We focused in particular on three priorities. One is the work we are doing in the Sahel. We are regionalising our presence in the Sahel, making sure that we support the G5 Sahel and bilaterally all the countries of the region - from Mali to Niger, to the others - to invest in our own security by strengthening their capacities to tackle terrorism, on one side, and organised crime on the other. This is an investment in our own security. We also focused on our work in the Balkans that remain a priority for us, and also on Operation [EUNAVFOR MED] Sophia.
You know that the [mandate of the] Operation needs to be renewed by the end of the year. There are discussions ongoing; it was very frank discussions. I am confident that Member States will use the few still remaining weeks to find a consensus on the way forward. I can tell you very clearly that there was full unanimity around the table on the need to continue Operation Sophia, for it to be fully operational, because it is bringing good results: it is diminishing the number of arrivals, it is arresting smugglers, it is neutralising vessels, it is training the Libyan coastguards and most importantly, it is also implementing UN Security Council resolutions on the arms embargo [against Libya]. So it is contributing to the security of Europeans, to the security of the Mediterranean Sea in an unprecedented way.
It is also a clear demonstration of the fact that the European Union is a security and defence player in an area that is a priority for us and for the security of our citizens, and where we have clearly the predominant role, because if you look at the Mediterranean Sea, it is the European Union at sea and not others.
I clearly said to the [Defence] Ministers that they either find an interim solution on the issue of disembarkation within the next couple of weeks, or we will need to dismantle the Operation and the Operation will come to an end. Everybody said that this is an option that needs to be avoided in all ways. I would now expect Ministers to instruct their ambassadors in the PSC [Political and Security Committee] to work on an interim solution for this particular aspect of the Operation, so that the Operation can continue.
In the absence of that unanimous and consensual decision, the Operation will come to an end and this would mean no presence at sea from the European Union in the Mediterranean, no training of the Libyan coastguards, no dismantling of the networks of smugglers, no arrests of smugglers by the European Union, no authorisation of vessels, no arms embargo implementation and so on and so forth. But again, Ministers seemed committed to work seriously on that and so I expect them to deliver now.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I163715
Q. On Operation Sophia. You just talked about the discussions, I think there was also an interim solution on the table, a compromise. Can you maybe tell us a bit more about the compromise and what is the point Ministers cannot agree on at the moment?
I proposed at two different occasions some ideas for a compromise proposal, once in August and one last week. I would not go into the details of that, nor would I comment on what Member State cannot accept one part or the other. What I can say is this: everybody agrees that the Operation has to continue and that losing that Operation would be a major loss for European security, for reducing the number of arrivals in Europe - because also thanks to Operation Sophia the arrivals through that route went down by 85% - and it is also something that contributes to the European Union defence credibility.
We have established in record time a military operation with almost all Member States participating, in a complicated environment, with good relations with all the relevant authorities, also with an excellent pilot project with Europol [and the European Border and Coastguard Agency] on exchange of criminal information. It is somehow a model of the European defence in action. Everybody agrees that this has to be kept in place; everybody agrees that the point on disembarkation which is a minor part of a military operation would need to be resolved in the broader context of the Dublin discussions.
In the absence of that broader decision, I wish that could come in the coming two weeks but I do not see this happening. In the absence of that, Ministers have two choices: to close the operation or to find an interim solution that only relates to the disembarkation of people that are rescued by Operation Sophia and does not create any precedent for the following-up of the conversation and the decision making on Dublin reform. Any broader solution on the Dublin reform would immediately also apply to the Sophia rules, once Member States get there. But in the meantime, we have to find an interim solution to give clarity to the Operation commander on what to do in case there are some search and rescue activities.
I want to be clear on one point. Operation Sophia is also saving people at sea - this is the duty of everybody who is at sea - but it is not a search and rescue operation. It is a military operation that has the task to dismantle criminal networks. As a result of that, the overall number of people that have been rescued by Operation Sophia over time represents only 9% of all the people that have been saved in the Mediterranean Sea. This means - because I want to translate things into concrete numbers - in the last 11 months, an average of 180 people per month, divide them by 28 and it is six people per Member State per month. Would you dismantle a military operation in the Mediterranean Sea that is doing what [Operation] Sophia is doing for that number of people?
Q: Volevo chiederle due cose: la prima è se è nell'interesse dell'Italia continuare ad avere questa posizione cioè, di fatto, minacciare la chiusura dell'operazione Sophia se non ci sarà una sorta di soluzione ad interim sulla redistribuzione dei migranti, oppure se l'interesse dell'Italia, quello vero, è proseguire con quest'operazione. E da questo punto di vista voglio chiedere se il problema sono i 27, o se è uno?
Innanzitutto, è chiaramente nell'interesse dell'Italia proseguire l'operazione Sophia. La Ministra [italiana della Difesa, Elisabetta] Trenta è stata chiarissima su questo, sia pubblicamente che durante la riunione e sempre nel corso di questi mesi. L'Italia ha sempre espresso una posizione di fortissimo sostegno all'operazione, perché è il primo paese a vederne i benefici.
Come ho già detto, grazie all'operazione Sophia, grazie alla presenza nel Mediterraneo delle navi e degli aerei dell'Unione europea, il flusso di migranti in arrivo in Italia e sulle coste italiane è diminuito dell'85 per cento rispetto all'anno scorso. Quindi l'Italia è il primo paese a beneficiare dell'operazione Sophia. Non a caso è un'operazione a comando italiano con quartier generale a Roma, fortemente voluta dall'Italia e di cui l'Italia è probabilmente il principale sostenitore.
Ma è tutta l'Unione europea a beneficiare dell'operazione e tutti gli Stati membri sono consapevoli che ciò che beneficia l'Italia in quest' aspetto, beneficia anche il resto d'Europa. Ed è per questo che tutti gli Stati membri hanno espresso una forte volontà di mantenere l'operazione in piedi. E quasi tutti gli Stati membri partecipano all'operazione in un modo o nell'altro - con navi e con aerei, con personale nel quartier generale o nei diversi assetti impiegati in mare o in aria.
Non c'è un problema in uno Stato membro o in 27 o in quattro o in altri. Esiste un problema di ricerca di un compromesso. L'Italia ha le sue ragioni per chiedere che la gestione di chi arriva su coste italiane sia una gestione non unicamente italiana - è un punto che l'Italia ha sempre sollevato ed è un punto che viene riconosciuto da una maggioranza di Stati membri, non una totalità di Stati membri.
L'Italia ha anche l'interesse a contribuire a costruire soluzioni che siano sostenibili, accettabili, e - mi dispiace fare questo riferimento che può sembrare tecnico, ma non lo è - che siano, da un punto di vista operativo, militare, sostenibili e che abbiano senso. Se una nave è in una certa area di operazione, qualsiasi militare capisce che non è razionale toglierla dall'area di operazione, portarla molto lontano da quell'area di operazione per poi dover rientrare.
Ma esistono soluzioni che possano rispondere da una parte al bisogno giustamente espresso dell'Italia di una maggiore solidarietà nell'accoglienza - perché chi arriva in Italia, arriva in Europa - e dall'altra, che rispondano alle necessità di alcuni Stati membri di vedere queste forme di solidarietà applicate in modo da non pregiudicare la discussione che stanno avendo i ministri dell'Interno - che non riguarda i ministeri della difesa, non è una nostra responsabilità, sulla riforma di Dublino - e dall'altra, quella di avere una cooperazione militare che abbia un'operatività dal punto di vista militare, razionale e sostenibile. D'altra parte, l'Italia ha sia il quartier generale che il comando, quindi è la prima ad avere interesse a che l'operazione possa continuare a operare nel modo più razionale e più efficiente possibile. Io sono convinta dopo lo scambio che ho visto oggi, che uno spazio per trovare questa soluzione c'è, se tutti si rendono conto di ciò che rischiamo di perdere se non c'è uno sforzo di compromesso in questi prossimi giorni.
Q. Un point sur [Opération] Sophia. Il y a déjà un manque de certains moyens parce que les Etats hésitent à s'engager, c'est-à-dire qu'au 1er janvier, même s'il y a une solution, ça risque d'être difficile pour Sophia? Ensuite, je voulais aborder la Facilité européenne de paix puisqu'apparemment, tous les Etats ne sont pas très favorables à votre proposition. Si je peux résumer c'est "give me the money et on manage le reste". C'est-à-dire qu'ils ne veulent pas de la gestion par selon votre proposition par les services européens. Comment pensez-vous qu'on puisse arriver à un compromis rapidement dans les quelques mois?
En effet, ce que je vois est l'intérêt très fort de la part de tous les Etats membres pour la proposition que j'ai faite pour la Facilité européenne de paix. Mais il y a de la part de certains Etats membres des questions ou des nécessités de clarification sur certains points qui ne coïncident pas; certains se demandent plutôt si un des aspects de la proposition peut être amélioré, certains sur d'autres aspects.
Ce que je vois c'est que tout le monde est d'accord sur le fait que, depuis que nous avons construit ces deux dernières années un mécanisme, sur l'Europe de la défense qui n'était pas fait avant, maintenant nous avons besoin d'un instrument financier qui correspond aux ambitions que nous avons mis en place. Autrement, et chaque ministre de la Défense le comprend très bien, si nous avons des ambitions sur le niveau opérationnel et militaire mais que nous n'avons pas l'instrument financier pour répondre et mettre en place ce niveau d'ambition, cela reste une idée mais ne devient pas réalité.
Au moment où beaucoup d'Etats membres discutent de la défense européenne, c'est naturel d'avoir un investissement au niveau européen, des ressources qui sont déjà des ressources utilisées au niveau européen, parce que comme vous le savez très bien, à chaque fois que nous avons une opération ou une mission mise en place, la gestion des ressources correspondantes est faite ensemble au niveau européen.
Ces questions d'être plus efficace, il faut avoir des mécanismes de prévision des ressources financières que l'Union européenne peut mettre à disposition des initiatives qui sont prises. La décision reste dans les mains des Etats membres mais il faut savoir qu'une fois la décision politique prise, les ressources sont là et peuvent être utilisées rapidement. C'est une question d'efficacité.
Q. There were some problems gathering all the necessary defence planning information, research and other data for the CARD [Coordinated Annual Review on Defence] and you circulated a report precisely on that. Could you tell us exactly or give us some examples of what needs to be rectified in order to make the real CARD next year effective?
I am afraid that I am not in a position of giving you some examples now, because I do not have them with me. But as there has been a substantial work done in particular by the European Defence Agency and we have discussed that at length with the Ministers this morning at the EDA Steering Board, the Agency colleagues should be able to help. If there is an interest in going deeper into this issue, a technical briefing to provide an insight on all of this, including on how to make the CARD effective next year, is possible. But as a starting point, I would say that everybody expressed full satisfaction on the existing process. It is proving to be useful; obviously, it is the first try. For sure we have lessons learned that we will include in the work next year.
Q. On PESCO and the question of third-country participation. Can you tell us what progress, if any, was made? What conversations did you had with the Ministers on this subject yesterday?
This is, I would say, a remaining part of the work to be done by the Member States participating in PESCO, on the finalisation of the establishment of PESCO. I have seen that the work on the projects has gone much faster than this, which somehow is also good because it shows that the accent is put on output and operational aspects. But yesterday we all stressed, and I personally stressed, the need to come to an agreement among the Member States that participate in PESCO on the conditions for exceptional third-country participation in PESCO projects. Several rounds of discussions have taken place already. We all indicated that there is a political will to find consensus on this by the European Council in December – hopefully.
The Member States expressed readiness and willingness to continue to engage to find the best balance between keeping the possibility open for third countries to participate in PESCO projects, whenever this brings an added value - and this is in the interests of the fiscal projects themselves - without losing, obviously, the specificity of what is a Permanent Structured Cooperation which means something more restricted than the work on European defence. The two things can go hand-in-hand.
What is important for me is to underline - this is something we also discussed with [Jens] Stoltenberg this morning, is that we are doing this in full transparency in particular with the NATO allies that are not EU Member States. Obviously, the decision is for the Member States and we protect this working environment. But every step we take, there is full transparency, there is full coordination and I think that the reality of the good work we are doing in this field, is definitely stronger than some of the doubts that might be raised in terms of narrative. There is a substantial, extremely positive work that is ongoing, including on this file. I am confident that by the European Council in December, Member States will find an agreement on that.
Q. Despite repeated reassurances by the EU side in terms of this desire to build up an EU military force, there is still suspicion in the UK and in the United States that this is going to be some kind of EU army that will actually rival NATO. We had Gavin Williamson, the UK Defence Secretary, quoted today saying that it would be an absolutely crazy idea and we have obviously had Donald Trump saying that he found President Macron's comments about his desire for EU military insulting. Can you try and clarify that what the EU is actually proposing is not something that is going to rival NATO, but is something that will complement it and that all the money the EU countries are going to be spending on their military, will be money that can be counted in the 2% NATO defence spending and this 2500 strong force you just mentioned would be something I presume that NATO could deploy?
You said it perfectly well. What we are doing on the European Union defence - by the way with the participation of the UK still, because all decisions we are taking are still at unanimity at 28, so the UK is fully participating in this decision-making process, fully backing it and fully shaping it, it will be different as of March but so far that is it –, all the work the European Union is doing on security and defence is complementary to NATO and is strengthening the capacity of EU Member States that are also NATO allies, with the burden-sharing inside NATO.
The European Union is providing the European Union Member States with incentives to invest better and in a more effective way in their own capabilities. Member States have one set of forces; they own it and they can use it for EU purposes, missions and operations, for NATO operations, for UN peacekeeping missions, for bilateral or multilateral use, but it is Member States that are responsible and are in charge of their military forces. The work that the European Union is doing to strengthen the European defence is also serving the purpose of the better burden-sharing within the Alliance.
The NATO Secretary-General is aware of that and this is why from the very beginning - two years ago - he has been supporting this work, because he sees that there is an issue of fragmentation on the European side when it comes to capabilities, and the way to bridge this gap is through European Union defence work. We are doing this hand-in-hand with NATO; there is no duplication, there is complementarity. By the way, I was mentioning at the beginning that the work we have decided to do to strengthen our civilian work, the complementarity between the European Union and NATO also lies in the tools we have. The European Union has a unique mix of tools that NATO does not have, being a military alliance - a "hard power" kind of organisation.
The European Union is not and will not turn into a military alliance, we are a political union. We also have some hard power. We deploy it, in full coordination and in full complementarity with the work that not only NATO but also the United Nations are doing, in most of the cases. There is no competition and there is no idea to substitute anyone. We are not building a European army here; nobody is doing a European army. We are investing to make sure that European Union Member States have the capabilities to provide more to their own defence and to be more credible, more reliable, more active security providers in our region and in the world. This is needed, because I can give you the [Operation] Sophia example: in the Mediterranean, it is the European Union present at sea with a military operation. Is this in contradiction with NATO? No, we are coordinating action in the Mediterranean Sea, but there is a division of labour.
There is also what we call a strategic autonomy, meaning that there might be priorities that for us are priority number one and for NATO maybe are not priority number one. NATO allies and Member States of the European Union are mostly the same countries. It would be crazy for them to enter into a contradiction between the two organisations they are members of. Coherence is inherent and is in the DNA of our relationship. I see no risk of duplication. What I see is a risk of fragmentation and lack of efficiency and this is what we are working on. I hope it was clear.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I163716