European Union External Action

Video conference of Defence Ministers: Remarks by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the press conference

Brussels, 16/06/2020 - 17:22, UNIQUE ID: 200616_36

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Good morning. Today, we held the third informal videoconference of Defence Ministers in three months. This is itself an expression of the importance of our work on security and defence in spite of the pandemic. It also shows our unity and our solidarity in the European Union in this time of crisis.

Today, we resumed our normal work. We had a very substantial discussion on our broad security and defence agenda. Firstly, we had a good exchange on how to strengthen our operational engagement. As you are aware, in face of the [COVID-19] pandemic, we had to withdraw some personnel and pause certain activities, in particular in our EU training missions.

Now, it is time to organise the redeployment of military personnel of training missions and the gradual resumption of our activities. This will be done step by step, as conditions allow it, taking into account the situation in each country.

We also looked at other structural issues, such as the need to enhance the strength of our military missions and operations – what we call force generation. I updated Ministers about [EUNAVFOR MED] Operation Irini, in particular as the United Nations renewed the arms embargo on Libya for another year.

Since it was launched, Operation Irini has hailed ships on more than 130 occasions – [more than] 100 in relation with the arms embargo, 29 in relation with the oil embargo. The operation collects information involving actors on both sides of this conflict and is already delivering results. For sure, it could be doing more and better, but it is already delivering what it was set up for. During today’s Council, I called on Member States to provide all necessary assets and intelligence in order to strengthen the operation. Let us see where we will be in a few weeks.

We also discussed the importance of setting up an effective European Peace Facility before the end of the year. The EU is already engaged in training military forces through our Common Security and Defence Policy [missions] and supporting partners through the African Peace Facility. This new instrument would enable us not only to continue doing [that] – and better – but also to take us to the next line: we could not only train, but also potentially equip our partners in a more effective manner.

Secondly, Ministers discussed on how to take forward our defence cooperation initiatives. Probably the most important [initiative] is the Permanent Structured Cooperation. We have 47 ongoing PESCO projects. This year, we are taking stock on what is working well and where we need to put extra efforts to make sure that we deliver concrete results. This is what the PESCO Strategic Review is about.

We had also with us Commissioner [for Internal Market, Thierry] Breton, who has also updated the Ministers on the results of the first call for proposals under the European Defence Industrial Development Programme. Just yesterday, the Commission announced the selection of 16 pan-European defence industrial projects for a total of €205 million and 9 of these projects are PESCO projects. That is a clear demonstration of the coherence among EU defence initiatives.

Finally, we agreed to launch the development of a Strategic Compass to translate our Level of Ambition on security and defence agreed in 2016 into more concrete policy orientations. This will also contribute to develop a common European security and defence culture.

The key issues underpinning all our efforts are the financial means and structures necessary to implement all these initiatives. Nothing can be done without resources. The ongoing negotiations of the Multiannual Financial Framework are crucial for the success of our defence initiatives: the European Defence Fund, Military Mobility as well as the off-budget European Peace Facility. We need these instruments [to be] adequately funded not only for the credibility of our common action, but also because they can contribute to the overall economic recovery.



Q. You said that you asked the Ministers to provide the necessary assets for Operation Irini. Can you tell us what kind of assets are still missing?

Well, we need naval and air assets. Today Italy has announced the incorporation of the Commander ship, which will join the Greek warship that was acting.

We continue asking for more resources, because - if you want a comparison -, Operation Sophia had five naval assets and several planes. Today we only have two navy assets and three planes.

We need more and I hope that the call for the Member States will be heard.


Q. On the strategic compass, why is it starting with yet again another threat assessment? The European Union and NATO have threat assessments going on for years, most of the Member States of the European Union know what the main threats are, the EEAS regularly does threat assessments, why do we need to start this with another threat assessment? Shouldn’t the whole strategic compass start with capability developments and the concrete issues that are needed rather than the theoretical framework?

Les ministres ont considéré qu’il est nécessaire de faire une évaluation des menaces dans la situation actuelle qui, si vous le permettez, est différente de celle qu’il y a quelques années.

The strategic compass has already been presented as way of starting by evaluating the threats in order to build a common culture of threats and then to look for the ways and means to face these threats. This is the way the strategic compass was conceived, it is nothing new. It is a first stage - it has to be finished by the end of the year – to identify and evaluate the threats.


Q. À propos de l’opération Irini, est-ce que vous avez discuté avec Malte du problème de financement de l’opération? Est-ce que vous avez avancé sur ce sujet ?

Non, ce sujet n’a pas été sur la table, Malte n’a pas posé de nouvelles questions à propos de ça.


Q. I know it is more a question for NATO, but I was wondering whether today Ministers discussed the fact that President Trump confirmed that he wants to pull out thousands of troops from Germany. What is your view about it? Is this announcement a concern for Europe security?

We have not talked about it today. President Trump takes decisions and we try to take our decisions in respect to the development of the European defence policy.

It was not at all in the agenda today to evaluate decisions of President Trump. As you said, it is an issue of NATO and, as far as I know, the Secretary General of NATO [Jens Stoltenberg] has not yet evaluated the consequences of this decision.

We have been focusing our efforts on trying to develop our defence capacities in the framework of the European defence.


Q. Did you discuss the possibility of NATO’s participation in Operation Irini? What is the Commission’s opinion on that? Did any Member State put on the table the Turkish illegal activities in the Eastern Mediterranean today?

There has never been a question of NATO’s participation in Operation Irini. It is a matter of cooperation with NATO.

The European Union and NATO work closely to achieve common objectives. The security and stability of Europe and its neighbourhood is one of these common objectives.

Operation Sophia and NATO’s Sea Guardian operation had an arrangement, which allowed for mutual support and exchange of information between the two operations.

Now, Operation Sophia is no longer there. Now we are discussing how to establish a new arrangement of cooperation – not participation – cooperation between Operation Irini and NATO, once again in our shared interest.

This is part of an ongoing process, a logical process for two organisations that share the same security objectives. I hope that this cooperation agreement can be set up on the next days. But I want to stress the difference between cooperation, the way it was with Operation Sophia, and participation.

About the second question, in today’s Council we have just been focusing on the issues I have explained you.


Q En Turquie l’opinion publique a l’impression que l’opération Irini se concentre beaucoup plus sur un côté, notamment les activités du [Premier Ministre Fayez] el-Sarraj, et un peu moins à l’égard du soutien militaire à l’égard du Maréchal Khalifa Haftar. Pouvez-vous confirmer que l’opération Irini est une opération qui est extrêmement neutre dans le cadre des résolutions du conseil de sécurité des Nations Unies ? Il y a eu une opération récemment à l’égard d’un navire battant pavillon tanzanien, le Cirkin, nous avons eu assez difficilement des informations via la cellule d’information de EUNAVFOR Irini. Envisagez-vous de renforcer les moyens de communication pour assurer la transparence sur ce qu’Irini fait ou n’arrive pas à faire?

Evidemment l’opération Irini n’est pas une opération contre quiconque ou qui concentre ses taches sur la possibilité que ce soit un pays donné qui viole l’embargo sur les armes décrété par les Nations Unies. Pas question. Nous sommes absolument neutres du point de vue de l’usage de nos capacités.

Comme je vous dis, nous avons fait plus de 130 hailings, c’est à dire demandes de renseignements et informations sur des bateaux. Evidemment pas tous ces bateaux n’appartenaient pas à la Turquie. Nous avons aussi surveillé à travers de nos capacités aériennes et nous avons détecté le transfert d’avions militaires qui sont aujourd’hui dans des bases aériennes près de Benghazi qui ne sont pas du tout des forces aériennes turques, mais d’autres pays. Tout cela a été rapporté aux Nations Unies.

Nous agissons dans le cadre du protocole de ces opérations. Premièrement les renseignements arrivent au centre de commandement, ils sont à leur tour passés aux Nations Unies car ce sont finalement les Nations Unies qui ont décrété l’embargo et ce sont les organes des Nations Unies qui doivent recevoir les informations pour savoir de quelle manière agir. Dans la mesure du possible nous donnons des renseignements quand nous pensons que ces renseignements ne remettent pas en question les conditions d’une mission qui finalement est une mission qui emploie des moyens militaires.

Par rapport à l’incident auquel vous avez fait référence, oui, nous l’avons déjà expliqué mais je n’ai pas de problème à le répéter maintenant. La semaine dernière, nous avons détecté par moyen satellitaire un bateau suspect avec un drapeau tanzanien escorté par des bateaux militaires turcs. À cette occasion, l’escorte militaire a déclaré que ce cargo était un cargo chartered c’est à dire sous la protection ou travaillant pour la Turquie, qui amenait du matériel médical en Libye. Evidemment dans ces conditions, le bateau de l’Opération Irini a fait ce qu’il devait faire, c’est-à-dire renseigner de ces circonstances-là. Nous avons contacté les autorités turques et les autorités tanzaniennes pour confirmer cette information.


Q. You mentioned the 130 ships hailed by the Operation Irini. Do you have any count on the ships that finally made it to the shore of Libya and how is it that after all those checks still military weapons made it to one side or the other of the conflict? How can you prevent such a situation in the future?

The mission has Rules of Engagement and it is devoted to get information according to these rules.

Chaque fois que l’on voit un bateau suspect nous demandons des renseignements sur le bateau. Si le bateau répond et l’information qu’il donne nous parait satisfaisante nous ne pouvons pas faire autre chose. We cannot do anything else. It is only in the cases in which the ship is not answering that we can take another kind of activities, we can do something more.

In the case of the Tanzanian ship, it was the Turkish military vessels who were escorting that answered. The Tanzanian ship was not answering, but the Turkish military escort answered. When there is an answer and we do not find any specific reason according to the Law of the Sea, we cannot do anything more than to transmit this information to the United Nations. It is the United Nations who gathers this information in order to control the implementation of the arms embargo.


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