European Union External Action

Remarks by High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini at the press conference following the informal meeting of the EU Defence Ministers

Bucharest, 31/01/2019 - 13:31, UNIQUE ID: 190131_8
Remarks

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Thank you.

First of all, let me say how pleased I am to be in Bucharest, with this wonderful hospitality, for this perfectly-organised meeting yesterday and today of the Defence and Foreign Ministers of the 28 Member States of the European Union.

I would like to personally, but also on behalf of all our colleagues, thank Gabriel [-Beniamin Leș, Defence Minister of Romania] for all this work that he and his team have done and, again, for the exceptional hospitality that we have enjoyed over these days. This has helped – I believe – to create a positive atmosphere for the Ministers to have substantial discussions. As you know, informal ministerial meetings are not for taking formal positions or decisions, but they are extremely important to discuss in an informal setting and advance on the common work that we are doing.

Last night we had an extremely important and positive exchange on women, peace and security. It is a field where the European Union and its Member States are working intensively for many years, and where we coordinate our actions closely together with our main partners and mainly with the United Nations and with NATO. And we were pleased and honoured to be joined yesterday evening by the NATO Secretary – General [Jens Stoltenberg] and by the UN Undersecretary-General [for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix].

This morning, Ministers discussed the way forward on European defence. You know that, since a few years ago, we have established a completely new pattern of cooperation on European defence. It is a point of particular pride for me, because this is a field where European cooperation has been stalling or postponed for decades and a couple of years ago we managed to advance on this historic issue.

The Ministers assessed today that the implementation of all the different decisions we have taken on European defence is progressing well. We have decided to consolidate the existing EU defence initiatives, starting from the Permanent Structured Cooperation [PESCO] – we have now more than 30 projects ongoing – and others, for instance the European Defence Fund, in a coordinated manner and with a lot of energy and to focus on consolidating them and delivering results. I will present the report to the Council on this by the summer.

The Ministers discussed also the need to integrate the new European Union tools on defence into their National Defence Planning Systems. This is extremely important to make full use of all the potential of these instruments.

And finally our discussion confirmed the need for Europe to engage and invest more in a coordinated way on key technologies, including in the area of artificial intelligence. This is an issue that is extremely important for the entire world and for Europe as well. And we have started the conversation today  and I have the intention of putting the issue of the European work on artificial intelligence on the agenda of one of the upcoming formal meetings of the Foreign Ministers.

Last but not least, I raised again the issue with the Defence Ministers of one of our military operations – Operation [EUNAVFOR MED] Sophia – that, in order to continue its key work in the Mediterranean, needs to be supported by consensual agreement among Member States. I invited the Ministers to work in this direction in the coming weeks - because everybody values the work of the operation enormously; everybody has re-stated today the fundamental need to preserve the operation and its work that has brought down the number of arrivals of irregular migrants to the coasts of the European Union by more than 80 per cent, has arrested traffickers and smugglers and disposed of more than 500 boats used by them. And so I invited Ministers to work on finalising an agreement among them in the coming weeks in order to keep this fundamental operation of the European Union at sea.

 

Thank you.

 

Q&A

 

Q. How do you see the ambitions set out in the Aachen Treaty [Treaty on Franco-German Cooperation and Integration, signed on 22 January between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Republic of France]? What are the implications of this Treaty for the complementarity between the EU and NATO and for a multi-speed Europe in the area of defence cooperation?

A multi-speed Europe in the field of defence is foreseen by the Treaties [Treaty of European Union and Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union] and this is why we established the Permanent Structured Corporation [PESCO]. So, there is no contradiction at all in wanting to have closer, more effective and also faster cooperation among some of the Member States and keeping the European unity under the Lisbon Treaties.

 

This is exactly why we decided to launch the Permanent Structured Cooperation a couple of years ago, and I continue to hear - but most importantly to see - an extremely European approach both from the German and the French side - but also the other countries that, for instance, were at the core of the initiative of the Permanent Structured Cooperation back then.

 

I continue to see and to hear the intention to invest in a European framework and, I have to tell you, I have never been nervous about the risks of countries going alone or bilaterally or in small groups in this field, because I believe that in this particular field - and maybe also in others, but this is not of my competence from an institutional perspective - the more Member States manage to cooperate and integrate their work - be it on capabilities, be it on the industrial projects, be it at an operational level - in the European framework, as they are doing already, the better it is for Europe.

 

Q. Sur l'Opération Sophia, vous avez dit qu'il y a eu un engagement des principaux pays à continuer cette opération. Est-ce qu'il y a eu des engagements précis? Ensuite, on parle d'une possibilité de majorité qualifiée dans certains secteurs de la défense; certains Etats ne sont pas pour. Comment comptez-vous orienter le débat pour faciliter plus d'efficacité dans certaines décisions?

L'Opération Sophia a été et est encore une des opérations [qui connait] le plus de succès de l'Union européenne. J'ai vu aujourd'hui encore que tous les Ministres autour de la table ont insisté sur cela; pas seulement sur la nécessité de la maintenir en place, mais aussi sur la nécessité de la renforcer dans certains secteurs et domaines d'opérations, notamment les résultats que l'on a déjà obtenus avec la formation des garde-côtes libyens.

 

Un total de 325 personnes ont déjà été formées par l'Opération Sophia et j'ai eu la claire impression - et c'est plus qu'une impression - que tous les Ministres autour de la table, tous, ont souligné le fait que face à cela, face au travail que l'Opération Sophia fait pour contrer le travail des trafiquants, pour démanteler leurs réseaux, pour diminuer le nombre d'arrivées illégales, pour former les interlocuteurs libyens avec une forte attention portée sur les droits de l'homme que nous faisons ensemble avec les agences des Nations Unies et les ONG internationales, pour la mise en œuvre des résolutions du Conseil de Sécurité des Nations Unies qui concerne le trafic d'armes, les Ministres ont reconfirmé leur intention de maintenir l'Opération Sophia, et même de renforcer certains domaines d'action de l'Opération.

 

Il y a un aspect qui nécessite une solution, celui de ce que nous faisons dans le cas d'une nécessité de sauvetage en mer - ce qui n'est pas le mandat de l'Opération mais qui peut arriver à n'importe quel navire présent en mer. Pour mettre les choses en perspective, je voudrais souligner que depuis juillet dernier, il n'y a eu que 106 personnes qui ont été sauvées par l'Opération Sophia en Méditerranée.

 

Cela représente moins de 10% des gens qui ont été sauvés en mer et c'est aussi le résultat du fait qu'il y a moins de traversées, moins de voyages. Tout cela pour dire que c'est un élément qui nécessite un engagement des Etats-membres pour trouver une solution: que faisons-nous de ces personnes une fois qu'elles ont été sauvées? Mais ce n'est ni le mandat ni l'élément principal d'action de l'Opération [Sophia].

 

C'est un élément qui nécessite une solution mais c'est un élément tout à fait limité dans sa portée cette dernière année, parce que le flux a diminué de plus de 80%. C'est une situation très différente de celle de 2015 ou 2014 quand nous avons mis en œuvre l'Opération Sophia, c'est une situation qui - comme je l'ai dit - concerne maintenant très peu de personnes. J'ai donc invité les Etats-membres à travailler ensemble pour trouver un consensus sur quoi faire pour résoudre cet aspect marginal mais important et nécessaire, pour faire face à la nécessité de rester [présent] en Méditerranée et augmenter les activités de l'Opération Sophia sur son mandat.

 

Q. Strengthening the strategic partnership with NATO is one of the objectives that the Romanian Presidency of the Council has declared for its mandate. I would like to refer to key aspects such as military mobility. Will you establish measures in this direction after today's meeting?

I can be very brief: the work we have started in the European Union in strong and close cooperation with NATO at all levels - from the political to the technical one has started already last year. It is ongoing with very concrete steps that have been taken all along the year. Today it was not a specific topic on the agenda of the discussion of the Ministers but many of them referred to the positive steps that have been already taken.

 

NATO Secretary-General [Jens Stoltenberg] also recognised that very clearly yesterday as one of the positive, very concrete and very clear fields where only the European Union's engagement can solve a problem that to NATO is essential. I think it is really a flagship initiative.

 

Concrete implementation is ongoing and close cooperation with NATO is ongoing. From the meeting today and yesterday night with [Jens] Stoltenberg, I would say, has come a strong recognition of the good work done so far and the strong push for continuing in this respect.

 

Q. What concrete steps are you working on to make artificial intelligence an asset for defence and not a threat for civilians? Regarding the arrest of several journalists from EFE in Caracas, do you already have a reaction to it? Do you think this can push more the Member States towards recognising [Juan Gerardo] Guaidó?

On Venezuela, we will discuss it with the Foreign Ministers in a few minutes and you will hear more from me later during the day. But let me say immediately now that there is full solidarity with your colleagues, and from the European Union side there is clearly the request of releasing any journalists that are detained or have been stopped without any reason. We firmly believe that all journalists should be able to exercise their duties, responsibilities and rights in the exercise of their work. You know that the European Union is and will always continue to be everywhere in the world, including obviously in Venezuela, starting from Venezuela today, to support freedom of media and the protection of journalists. There is a clear call from my side to release immediately your colleagues in Caracas.  

 

When it comes to artificial intelligence, it has been an initial debate with the Ministers today. The concrete steps we are preparing are to cover both elements, as you mentioned, of getting the potential of the artificial intelligence applied to the defence and security sector - especially in terms of development of capabilities that incorporate new technologies that can be extremely important on operations in theatre and also in terms of efficiency of investments when it comes to that - but also to address some of the concerns that I know very well are there when it comes to the ethical and legal framework within which artificial intelligence is applied in the field of defence and security.  

 

In these respects in particular - on both sides - we have started to work along two different paths: one is in coordination with the United Nations which have set up work that is ongoing to try to provide a global framework to the use of artificial intelligence in this respect. And also through the Global Tech Panel that we have established as European Union with experts from all over the world in different sectors – private and public – to brainstorm on a field that requires, first of all, a common understanding and a common reading. And then, some ideas that, we believe, might come from the European Union on how to provide clear rules and frameworks that would allow us all to develop the potential of artificial intelligence in defence, without running risks of the artificial intelligence to be – if you allow me a non-technical expression – “out of control” when it comes to human direction.

 

We are working in this respect and I will put forward the issue for formal discussion to the Ministers of Defence in one of the coming meetings before the end of the year for sure.

 

Q. Sur l'opération Sophia. Mme Mogherini, sauf le respect que je vous dois, j'ai l'impression que vous nous avez déjà dit que les Etats-membres essayent d'avoir une position commune. Est-ce que vous voyez des vraies avancées? Vous parliez de nouveaux domaines d'action, pourriez-vous nous donner quelques exemples de nouveaux domaines d'action pour l'Opération Sophia?

Je voudrais spécifier que je n'ai pas parlé de nouveaux domaines d'action. J'ai parlé de l'idée de renforcer certains domaines d'action, mais pas d'ajouter de nouveaux contextes.  

 

Vous ne vous trompez pas, j'ai déjà dit que l'Opération est considérée par les Etats-membres comme fondamentale, comme nécessaire, comme prioritaire, comme vitale - je pourrais continuer avec une liste très emphatique - et qu'il faut trouver un consensus entre les Etats-membres pour permettre à l'Opération de continuer. Ce n'est pas seulement un message que je vous ai déjà donné à vous les journalistes, mais c'est aussi un message que j'ai déjà donné aux Ministres de la Défense, aux Ministres des Affaires étrangères, aux Premiers Ministres et Chefs d'Etat et Gouvernements plusieurs fois depuis des mois.

 

C'est pour cela que j'ai réitéré ce message aujourd'hui, parce que les positions des Etats-membres auraient pu changer, donc j'ai voulu vérifier où en sont les Etats-membres par rapport à l'attachement - je dirais - qu'ils ont pour cette Opération et je peux vous dire que j'ai constaté aujourd'hui qu'il y a encore la constatation de la part de tous les Etats-membres que l'Opération est vitale, fondamentale et qu'elle doit rester en place. Donc j'ai réitéré aux Ministres que cela nécessite de leur part de trouver une solution commune et consensuelle.

 

Link to the Q&A: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I167204