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First of all, thank you Ank [Bijleveld, Minister of Defence of the Netherlands], thank you Stef (Blok, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands), and thanks to all of you for convening us all in this beautiful place [Ridderzaal, The Hague]. I have hardly seen anything more beautiful than this. I think it is really a privilege and an honor, and beauty also plays a part in making the world a little bit more pleasant. So, thank you for this contribution.
But let me thank the Netherlands and Rwanda for hosting us today, in a delicate moment for the United Nations and for UN peacekeeping.
I also would like to start by personally thanking the Netherlands because it has been one of our EU Member States, member of the [UN] Security Council and playing the role as a member of the Security Council in a truly European way, helping us as a European Union advancing on, not only coordinating European Union Member States’ positions in the UN, but also building alliances with our friends in the United Nations and helping to support the UN agenda in the most effective way.
So, really from the bottom of my heart, thank you for doing that in an excellent manner during your presence in the [UN] Security Council and continuing to do that as a member of the European Union and of the UN family, that believes in both the European Union and the UN system.
The European Union is and will continue to be the most reliable and the most dedicated partner and supporter of the UN system. I want to start with this very simple, very straightforward but not irrelevant statement, as we start our conversation tonight.
Because in Europe, we believe in multilateralism. At the end of the day, the European Union was born as the most visionary plan of multilateralism. After the Second World War, we decided to invest in cooperation rather than confrontation and at the end of the day, we have realised the most advanced political Union in the world.
In the European Union, we believe that multilateralism is the only way to solve and address the many and complex problems the world is facing today. This is why it is so important to be here together as partners - European Union and the UN.
Today, some think that multilateralism and peacekeeping might be old fashioned, that it belongs to history and probably in particular, that it belongs to the 1990's. But multilateralism and peacekeeping are probably more needed now than back in the 1990's.
At least, this is what I believe if I look around me: think of the conflicts in the East of Ukraine, in Syria, in Yemen. The path towards peace is difficult and long, but at some point, all of these countries may need a peacekeeping mission to be set up in a multilateral framework that would be the United Nations and - we were discussing this before with Ank [Bijleveld] and Stef [Blok] before – the European Union would most probably have to play a key role in helping the United Nations to set up and define the right framework for that.
We all know that peacekeeping is not enough for peace. Whenever and wherever UN peacekeepers are involved all around the world to prevent violence, there is also work going on in parallel to rebuild institutions, to train local security forces, to restart the economy, and the list is long.
UN peacekeepers are not alone. In preparing for this evening, I was looking at the numbers and 11 of our 17 European missions and operations share the same theatre with UN missions, and in some cases we even share camps. So, we are together on the ground. And looking at the differences that are there, from country to country, from theatre to theatre, we see that in some cases it is the European Union helping and supporting the UN missions, in other cases it is rather the other way around. But in all cases, we are natural partners.
In the Central African Republic, for instance, the United Nations have asked to us Europeans to help not only from the military side of the security sector reform but also to work on the civilian side with the local Ministry of Interior and the gendarmerie. For this reason, we have now adapted the mandate of the EU training mission in the country [EUTM RCA], answering the call that was coming from the UN.
In Mali, instead it is the UN mission MINUSMA that gives practical support to our European training missions [EUCAP Sahel Mali; EUTM Mali] whenever we need to reach certain parts of the country. We are also working together – the European Union and the United Nations – for something that is particularly dear to me: helping the Joint Force to be set up by the G5 Sahel, so that they can take full control of the situation in a very difficult area to dismantle terrorist groups and criminal organisations that are trafficking arms, drugs and people. For us Europeans, it is an investment in our own security and it has been out of European Union-United Nations determination and support that the G5 Sahel Joint Force has started to work in a difficult environment. We will continue to push together for this to receive more funding and more support.
In a complex world like ours, we need to join forces between global and local actors; we need peacekeepers and civilian trainers; we need doctors as well as diplomats; we need the military and the civilian side to come together. This is the European way to peace and security, and this is also the United Nations’ way – this is why it is so natural for us to be natural partners around the world. I cannot find any partner in the world that is more natural to us Europeans than the United Nations. We are complementary, we are different, but we work exactly towards the same goals. Just to name a few: peace, security, sustainable development, human rights. Again, the list could be long, but our DNA is somehow the same.
It is only natural for us Europeans to continue investing in the UN system consistently and even when others decide to disengage, we will be there to fill in the gap, even if it is sometimes difficult from a budgetary perspective.
We are going to continue to invest in UN peacekeeping in particular. It is consistent with our values, and it is also, we believe, in our collective interest.
Our Member States - European Union Member States - taken together, contribute to one-third of the UN peacekeeping budget and we are proud of that. That is more than any other global power is doing.
When António Guterres [Secretary-General of the UN] asked everyone to renew their commitment to UN peacekeeping, all our Member States joined the Action for Peacekeeping initiative, together with the European Union as a whole. This means that we have collectively committed to providing financial support, troops and assets, as well as our strong political backing to UN peacekeeping. And this will continue.
But preserving the current system, we believe, is not enough. There have been mistakes and inefficiencies and we must make sure that they will not happen again and that they are addressed. We also have a duty to adapt to new challenges to global peace, and to crises that are more complex and more violent than ever before and that are different from the traditional kind of crises we have faced in the past. This is true for the UN system, but also for every one of us.
So we have started with change here at home, inside the European Union, in the way we deal with peace and security. Since we adopted our Global Strategy two and a half years ago, European defence has changed more than ever before in the 60 years of history of our Union. Here again, I would like to thank the Netherlands for the key role they have played and continue to play in this change of the European defence system.
We have brought European cooperation on defence to a whole new level – to become more responsive and more effective. We have not just created a new structure or a new tool – this has happened in the past before – but we have systematically changed the way we work, so that we can invest together as Europeans, we can train together as Europeans, we can research together as Europeans in the field of defence, and we can act fast and more effectively together as Europeans.
We have decided, for instance, to set up a new and unified command centre for our training missions. Then, we created a new form of cooperation among our Member States, the so-called Permanent Structured Cooperation [PESCO], that has always been there but was never activated so far – we have done it, also thanks to the determination of Member States like the Netherlands. In this way, we believe we can fill in the gaps of the capabilities that are needed by our Member States and invest in the better use of their resources. And – to be noted – there is one single set of forces at the disposal of our Member States, which means that if we Europeans invest better and more effectively in our own capabilities, then the Member States can decide to deploy, to use these capabilities in the UN context, in NATO or in other places. So, it means that this can also be useful at the service of the UN system.
At the end of last year, we also approved with our Member States a compact for our civilian missions. This is important because the European Union has a certain unique mix of tools that is quite relevant on the ground with the new kind of conflicts and crises we are facing. Nobody knows better than the UN how this is developing. The security situation and security demands are going in a completely different pattern that do not require only a military response but always a mix of instruments and tools.
We have decided, for instance, to be able to deploy a full-scale civilian mission in just one month, to act quickly. I know that for the UN system this is a dream, but I think we can do it as the European Union. And we will set up a new European Centre of Excellence for Civilian Crisis Management.
Finally, I have proposed to establish a European Peace Facility to better finance our missions but also to better finance the training and equipment of our partners and to support peacekeeping operations by partner organisations. This, again, can be beneficial for the UN peacekeeping financing from our side.
We are investing in Europe's strategic autonomy - I know this is a controversial word sometimes. This is to take full responsibility as a global security provider. We see the state of the world today and we understand that Europe has to do its part.
Our work on European defence is creating new possibilities for cooperation with our partners, starting with the United Nations. For us Europeans, there is no contradiction at all between strategic autonomy and cooperation with our partners. Rather the opposite: we have chosen the path of what I would call the cooperative autonomy. We have the autonomy to take more responsibility when it comes to security and defence, but we always want to do it with our partners, starting with the United Nations.
For this reason, during the last UN General Assembly week in New York, we agreed to reinforce our partnership with the United Nations on peace operations and crisis management with a new set of common actions for the next three years.
We will work more closely on the ground, for instance on security sector reform, on trainings and on capacity-building, and on the participation of women at all levels, and I know that this is something that is also a dear point for the Netherlands and to all our Member States.
We have agreed to put a special focus on our partnership with the African Union - and I want to mention this specifically - something we will discuss in Addis Ababa next month at the African Union Summit, where we will have another trilateral meeting between the European Union, the African Union, and the United Nations. I think that this triangular cooperation is somehow setting a new standard for the future kind of cooperation we can establish with regional and international organisations. For me, this is really bringing real change on the ground.
Today, we need the United Nations more than ever before. This is the message that comes from the European Union. We need a system where decisions are taken collectively, responsibilities are shared and where everybody contributes to collective action.
UN peacekeeping operations are not the answer to all security problems around the world, and luckily so, but they are, for us, an indispensable tool to solve many of the crises of our times.
I know that criticism towards the UN system is sometimes à la mode but let me say, knowing and working for a complex system as the European Union for more than four years: complexity sometimes helps to understand complexity and to interact with complex crises.
The European Union itself is complex, as the UN system is complex. But this does not mean that you cannot invest in reforming. This does not mean that you cannot invest in collective responsibility and action. I often say in response to criticism towards the European Union, that the European Union is not a building in Brussels, it is what we make of it. It is a collective effort, it is a community. And as a community, the European Union is what we - each and every European citizen - make of it.
Let me say that I believe the same is true for the United Nations. The UN is not a building in New York. They are the community of all nations, joining forces for global peace, rights and security. The United Nations for us continue to be our best hope for a more peaceful, cooperative, and just world. The United Nations are what we make of them, together. We have responsibility to make it work.
This is why you can count on the European Union to continue to be the strongest supporter of the UN and of multilateralism.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I166462