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First of all, let me say how glad I am to be here, this is really home for me.
It is great to see so many friends around the room either from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly or from different other experiences, the Foreign Affairs Council or national parliaments. But to me it is somehow emotional, because you mentioned 2014 and exactly five years ago, these days I was in this very same room, following the news - with some of you actually - about me becoming a Minister the following day and I was here with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly at the time. For me this is really not only coming home, but really coming back to where I started.
I was saying that not only I enjoyed being a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, but I still say to everybody I meet that being part of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly has been the best part of my life. Professionally it has been the greatest experience ever, because you do interesting things, you travel to amazing places that you do not necessarily and easily get to otherwise. You have the luxury of the time to interact with people, to read, to study, to ask questions and to listen to answers, and to build together with colleagues not only good professional outcomes, but also a friendly atmosphere and also you have fun. That mix, that combination, was something really unique. Even if I was the Head of the Italian delegation - and I want to recognise here my friends from the Italian Parliament – for I think only seven or eight months, it has stayed in my mind as the best ever time of my life. Thank you for giving me that.
Coming to business, I am particular glad to be here because this is my last chance to address the NATO Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Brussels, as I finish my mandate on 1 November this year. These have been years where we, in the European Union, have done two parallel and complementary things that I believe can be interesting for you. On the one side, in the last two years, we have built the basis for the defence of the European Union that was a dream of the founding fathers and mothers since the very beginning, since the Rome Treaties. Attempt after attempt, it always failed, because defence has always been perceived inside the European Union as a matter of national prerogative.
In these last two years, we have indeed used all the instruments and all the tools that we had and that were foreseen in the Treaties of the European Union to build the basis for the European Union defence in a consensual manner. Some say, this happens now, because of Brexit. Not at all, because still – and this is news that I am telling you – all the decisions we have taken on the European Union defence are still taken by unanimity by the 28 [Member States], so it has nothing to do with that. It has to do with the fact, I believe, that we have started, as Europeans, to realise that we have to take more responsibility in the field of defence and that we can invest in defence inside the European Union as well and we have a responsibility to do that.
At the same time, as we have built that, in parallel we have strengthened EU-NATO cooperation as it has never been done before. To me these two pillars are extremely important to highlight together – probably because I am coming from here, so you could not expect anything different from me than that: strengthening the European Union defence goes together with strengthening the EU-NATO partnership and cooperation.
I have to say that it has been thanks to the leadership and the wisdom and the vision of the Secretary General [of NATO], who is also a very good friend, Jens Stoltenberg, who has always believed and invested in this strong EU-NATO partnership all over his mandate. I was glad to be with him on stage on Friday at the Munich Security Conference, addressing - not by chance I believe - in the same session the European security and EU-NATO partnership. Because partnership between the European Union and NATO has really grown to a level that was never there before in our history – finally so, I would say. I think this is irreversible.
I was and am very glad that we have established this practice that I always invite [Jens] Stoltenberg – and for the Secretary General [of NATO] whoever he or she will be afterward, I believe it will continue to be the case – to the Defence Ministers meetings of the European Union and I am always invited to the Foreign Ministers meetings and Defence Ministers meetings of NATO. This constant exchange makes it so that we meet regularly with our Ministers more or less every month and this is extremely helpful for keeping a sort of familiarity that helps us to avoid misunderstanding and to understand each other better.
I will say a few words about what we have done on the European Union defence and then I will be happy to answer your questions.
First of all, I believe and I hope I have said enough to delete from your minds any doubt, any suspicion about the fact that building or investing in the European Union defence might duplicate or might weaken the Alliance. It is rather the contrary. Investing in the European Union defence is also a way of strengthening the Alliance and investing in NATO. We have the same values, the same members – most of our Member States are NATO Allies and 95%, I believe, of the EU citizens are living in NATO countries. We face the same threats and the same challenges and we simply cannot afford - given the nature of the challenges we are facing - going in different directions or diverging.
This is why even when and if we talk about starting to develop a strategic autonomy for the European Union, we always refer to that in a cooperative manner. You know the European Union. We might think about autonomy, but that is built on the basis of cooperation with our partners and the first partner in security is NATO. It is not the only one, because we also work a lot with the UN, in particular in the field of peace and security, in particular in Africa. But here again we have a different nature of organisations - NATO is a military alliance, the European Union is not and will never become a military alliance - but it has and we can have some security and defence tools that we can develop and use also at the service of the Alliance.
You know well that the Member States, the Allies, have one set of forces, which means that if the European Union helps and incentivises, for instance, better investments in the field of capabilities of EU Member States, this is also at the benefit of NATO. NATO has been among the first ones to identify capability gaps and needs to overcome deficits on the European side. I think it is absolutely natural for us to invest in keeping the soft power approach that Europe has always had, but investing also in some of the hard power instruments that we can have. By the way, NATO is recognised, as you might know, as the pillar of our security architecture, of our collective defence in particular, in the European Union Treaties. The European Union Treaties clearly indicate that collective defence is for NATO to provide.
There is no misunderstanding, there is no doubt and I want to convey this very clearly to you as well. Strengthening and building the European defence does not mean trying to substitute or weaken NATO. On the contrary, it means contributing more on a European perspective to the strengthening of the Alliance, starting to take our part of the burden, our part of the responsibility.
I jump immediately to the issue of the 2%. The decision on how much to invest on defence is not for the European Union to take. You represent national parliaments and you know better than anyone else - as I used to know when I was in the Italian parliament - that the decision on how much to spend on national budgets on defence is a power that national parliaments have and continue to have, and [are] obviously proposals of the governments.
It is not for the European Union to define how much of the national budgets of the Member States should be dedicated to defence. But, in these last two years, we have introduced a quality change because we have for the first time - as European institutions, as European Union - started to 1) dedicate European Union budget to incentivize investments in the defence field, helping our Member States to invest in defence – 2%, 1%, 3% [it is] their choice – but to invest better in a smartest way because the problem of Europe is fragmentation, [so] overcoming this limit of each [Member States] investing on its own and also incentivizing cooperative projects among Member States.
Now I want to tell you a couple of words about the two main elements of our work on the European defence and obviously I am more happy then to elaborate further if you want on EU-NATO cooperation but I guess you might know a bit more about that already.
The two main elements we have established on the European Union work on defence are on one side, the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) that was foreseen by the Lisbon Treaty already more than 10 years ago but never used before. By the way, it is also an interesting experiment to be used - I say this to the benefit of the colleagues that are sitting in national parliaments of EU Member States - also for other fields of decision-making in the European Union.
We now have 25 Member States participating in the Permanent Structured Cooperation, 34 projects that Member States run in this manner. We started with 17 and we doubled them at the end of last year and they cover many capabilities we collectively need, from drones to a European school of intelligence, from cybersecurity to aerospace, but they can not only cover capabilities, they can also cover training, they can cover deployments, and all different sectors from air to land, to cyber, to space. We have a wide range of fields that can be covered. As I said, it is about incentivising common investment so that our resources are used more efficiently. We can also facilitate interoperability of our forces.
Within the Permanent Structured Cooperation, as I was saying, we have 25 participating Member States. They have also entered into 20 binding commitments among them, there is also one about how much to spend - it is a voluntary choice - but they entered into this commitment themselves. It covers increasing defence budgets but also making forces available for joint operations. This spring we will be assessing for the first time the fulfilment by each participating Member States, by each of the 25 of the commitments they have made, based on their national implementation plans.
I know that there is a particular interest especially in this room on the participation of third countries to PESCO projects. I want to say here that I am particularly glad that I have constantly the opportunity to brief Defence Ministers and Foreign Ministers of our NATO allies, in particular for the opportunity that this gives us to make sure that transparency is there when it comes to our relations in particular to the non-EU Member States that our NATO allies. Because we want to do this in full transparency and keeping this cooperative angle with our NATO friends that are not EU Member States.
Now the decision on the rules, on the methods under which the third states will participate in PESCO projects – that, by the way, will also concern the UK once it will be out of the European Union at a certain moment – the general conditions will encompass political, substantive and legal aspects, in line with the requirements of the EU treaties, reflecting the nature and the goals of the Permanent Structured Cooperation. It means that this is first up to the individual countries that participate to a project to consider if and which partner to invite, so the countries that participate to a project define on the basis of the project itself, if there is an added value that is required through the participation of this country. Second, it will be up to the Council to determine through a legal act that this is indeed the case and then give the green light.
In practical terms, this means that a third state would need to, first of all – something basic but it is always needed to remind us – share the European Union values as they are described in our treaties; second, to provide substantive added value to an individual project that is run on the best course; and third, have a security of information agreements with European Union and depending on the specific case, also an administrative arrangements with the European Defence Agency for those projects that are being implemented with the Agency's support. Now the Member States are finalising the last decision, so I would expect this decision to be taken in the next couple of weeks - not longer than that.
Last but not least, the part on money. For the first time ever, as I mentioned, we have dedicated to the EU budget defence activities, not military activities but defence related activities. You might know that the EU budget cannot be spent on military activities but can be invested in support, for instance, of research development and capability development activities. We have established the European Defence Fund within the current financial framework. We have now eight research projects already financed.
On the capability front, the work covers all dimensions of modern warfare, land, air, sea, cyber and space, with the potential for a meaningful impact on the improvement of the capabilities we can develop in Europe. This will be the basis for launching, through calls for proposals and a selection process, concrete collaborative projects between different consortia of European defence industry and also potentially covering a number of PESCO projects. There is a potential link obviously between the PESCO projects and the European Defence Fund. The regulation establishing the European Defence Fund for the next seven years is now under discussion among the [European] institutions. I would expect it to be agreed within the coming weeks.
Here again the aim is to strengthen cooperation, strengthen the industrial and technological basis of the European defence and, in this way, address capability gaps which are also recognised by NATO.
Just to give you a sense of what we are doing, two last words: one concrete example is military mobility, something that NATO has identified as a major gap. If you have troops or anything you need to move across Europe, it might take longer than moving them from the United States to Europe and this is something that can be addressed only through an EU work, both on financing, also on regulation and an investment in the transport infrastructure. This is exactly what we are doing in coordination with NATO with a common assessment and with EU funds.
Last word I want to say to stay very concrete: the money. Overall we have proposed that the new EU defence related financial instruments for the next seven year European Union budget should reach €30 billion. If you consider that five years ago there was absolutely nothing, I think it is clear that this is a major step change. Again without militarising the [European] Union - it is not the plan - but contributing to an investment in our own way of doing security and defence in close cooperation with NATO.
Sorry I have been long but I thought it was important and good to give you an overview of where we stand after these four years and a half of work on the EU side on the European defence.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I167813