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Thank you Jorge [Domecq, Chief Executive of the European Defence Agency], dear friends!
Once again the annual Conference of the European Defence Agency is a place to talk about innovation, to network, to work, but also to look at the trends that are shaping our world and our security environment.
This is my last Conference as Head of the [European Defence] Agency - we still have a long year to go - but I would like to start with a big, big thank to you, Jorge [Domecq], and with you, to all the great professionals that have worked with us in this four years, that will continue to work with us in the year ahead and further on.
It has been and it is an honour to lead the Agency and to witness the contribution we have made to our security and defence policy. If you look around today, you will see people in uniform, civilians, civil servants from the European institutions, from Member States, as well as representatives of the European defence industry and of the civil society.
Let me say, I understand that there have been a bit of problems related to security outside of this room. I hope things go well, because our aim is to talk, is to have a dialogue, is to cooperate with everybody, also those that might have different views from ours. I really hope that the security concerns that the Belgian police might have do not impede anyone to express their opinions and ask to have a dialogue that I am sure is and can always be constructive with everybody in civil society.
This is invaluable: talking, cooperating across the board, because this is the only way to define policies that take into account the immense complexity of our world and of the challenges we face.
This is clear when looking at artificial intelligence and autonomous weapon systems. We have engaged in a close dialogue - as you said, Jorge [Domecq] - working with tech companies, with researchers and innovators, with the defence industry. I have been truly impressed by the desire, the eagerness to engage and to work together to get this right, to make sure that artificial intelligence continues to change our lives, but for the better, and that it does not turn into a security risk.
I think everyone in this room understands this is not a debate about some distant future or about science fiction. Artificial intelligence is already part of our lives. It is in the smartphones we all carry with us right now and you are using to tweet. Its applications are expanding at incredible speed, scientists are now testing it in healthcare to diagnose cancer with greater precision for instance, and it is also contributing to our security already today, for instance in building stronger defence systems against cyber-attacks.
Yet, we also know that artificial intelligence poses new security challenges, question marks, and it is now starting to be weaponised. We are entering a world where drones could independently search for a target and kill without human intervention. Artificial intelligence could take decisions on life and death, with no direct control from a human being.
The warning about the dangers ahead is coming from the very people who were working on artificial intelligence – researchers, pioneers, business people as well - who do not want to see their own discoveries exploited for malicious goals.
After World War II it was a group of nuclear scientists who started the campaign to ban nuclear weapons. People like [Albert] Einstein wanted nuclear energy to benefit humanity, but they knew that it could also be the end of humankind. I believe there was no contradiction, already back then, in asking for more research on the peaceful applications of nuclear energy and for strict rules against nuclear proliferation.
In these months, I have seen, I have recognised the same spirit in all the artificial intelligence experts we have worked with. You will find the same approach in the Communication Artificial Intelligence [for Europe] that we, as the European Commission, will put forward next week.
Because we believe that the European Union has a very special role to play, maybe to fill in a gap in this moment, as a promoter of new global rules to protect our citizens' security, and at the same time, as a force for innovation and progress at the service of human beings.
First of all, we are working to build consensus on what should and should not be allowed in the field of autonomous weapons. We would like scientists and researchers to be free to do their job, knowing that their discoveries will not be used to harm. Together, I believe, we can define the boundaries, the framework of artificial intelligence applications, so that within those limits, within those boundaries, scientists are free to explore the immense positive potential of artificial intelligence.
Our position on this has always been very clear. All weapon systems should comply with international law, and humans must always remain in control of the use of lethal force. Work is ongoing, also at the United Nations, to define a first set of guiding principles on autonomous weapons and this work needs close cooperation between governments, the industry and civil society.
Also for this reason, I have created the Global Tech Panel, a group of experts from tech companies, both big and small and from think tanks. They are the ones with the expertise to understand, first and foremost, the challenges related to the use of artificial intelligence in the defence sector. But they need us to bring their contribution into the global conversation and most of all, to shape meaningful rules that will contribute to our collective security.
The public and private sector need one another like never before, and in this field more than ever. The world of security and defence is not the same as twenty or even ten years ago. You know that better than me. Until the beginning of this century, technological innovation was very often driven by the defence sector.
Today, we have new civilian technologies that have strong military implications and a direct impact on our security environment. This is also the case for artificial intelligence. Supporting innovation is not just important for our economies, it is also essential today for our security. This is also true with artificial intelligence; almost 50% of global private investments in artificial intelligence start-ups is today happening in China.
We, Europeans, simply cannot afford wasting time, and we cannot afford to be less innovative than other world powers. It is a matter of economic growth and this is self-evident. But let me stress this: it is also a matter of security.
Our European defence industries and research laboratories are among the best in the world and yet – sorry, I will give you another not encouraging data - investment from European national governments in research and technology in the field of defence continues to decrease. We, as the European Union do not, cannot, do not want to say national institutions how much they should spend on defence or on research that is related to defence. This is a matter for national decision.
But what we do and what we are already doing, is to incentivise our Member States to join forces, not to tell them how much to spend, but to invite them to spend better, spending together, creating new economies of scale to the benefit of our industry and of our collective security and I believe also of the budgets.
This is the logic behind all the work we have been doing on security and research with the European Defence Agency, with the European Commission, and with Member States, in a quite unique, coordinated and inter-institutional work of which I am very proud.
We have a new Capability Development Plan to identify our common needs and among these common needs, we have stated clearly that we must invest in the field of artificial intelligence, robotics and automated systems.
In these two years we have created, as you know, a number of new tools to invest together in the capabilities that we need the most. We have set up, as you know now perfectly well, for the first time ever in European history a Permanent Structured Cooperation [PESCO] on defence, and Member States are now joining forces on innovative projects, to research, and to develop the high-end capabilities that they need.
We have run a first trial of a Coordinated Annual Review of national defence budgets to identify new areas for cooperation among Member States, and for the first time ever as European Commission, we have set up the European Defence Fund to support joint research and development in the field of defence.
Let me say here today that the [European Defence] Agency has provided an essential contribution in crafting these initiatives, all along the way and even most importantly, to ensure the coherence and to help them turning into concrete action.
The Europe of defence today, I believe, is taking shape. In the years ahead, the role of the European Defence Agency will be even more important than today. It can be the hub where governments and the industry meet, a place for coordination among national defence policies, following the guiding light of innovation and of our collective security.
In all my conversations with tech leaders, but also with interlocutors around the world, I have always sensed a great demand for Europe, for the European Union, to play a role. A demand for a power with a size to impact on global trends, including on global trends about innovation and security, a principled power, one that cares about human rights and about the ethical questions that arise from the use of new technologies. A power that knows that military means are sometimes necessary, but alone are never sufficient. And a multilateral power, one that is willing to engage with its global partners in a cooperative manner to shape better rules for our collective peace and security.
Europe today is the kind of power the world needs and demands. In these years, I believe, we managed to become a more credible global security provider and a more reliable power in the defence of multilateralism. This is also thanks to the work that the [European Defence] Agency has done. To continue on this path, Europe needs all of us; it needs the defence community and the defence industry; it needs researchers and tech leaders; and most of all it needs cooperation among all of us.
Let me conclude by saying that I see the need, the urgency and also the pleasure, to continue to work very closely together - all of us - today and in the months to come. I thank you very much and I wish you a very good conference.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I164304