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Thank you. Thank you all for still being here. It has been a long day and tomorrow we start again with the Defence Ministers. Let me start with the decision we have just taken on Security and Defence.
You might remember it was exactly one year ago today that France invoked for the first time in the European Union's history Article 42.7 of the [European] Treaties: solidarity after the attacks in Paris. And we all responded that day with solidarity, but also with a commitment we took one year ago to have a serious, deep work to strengthen our common European Union Security and Defence.
Exactly one year later, and only four months after I presented the Global Strategy to the European Council at the end of June, today, the Council, we all agreed on the European Union's plan on Security and Defence. And that is thanks to an excellent work that our teams have done both here in Brussels and in all the 28 Member States and I would like to pay tribute to their really incredible work.
As I said, in these times we often hear about crises or divisions in the European Union. Today we decided all together, all 28 Member States, on a plan on the European Union's Security and Defence. Obviously the European way, so with all our tools together, not only the hard power, not only the military ones but also in an integrated approach with all our policies. This is what makes the European Union special: not a military alliance but a player that has in its toolbox also the soft power, the civilian capacity and this is why it is so much needed in these times of tensions in the world that the European Union manages to work on Security and Defence in a more effective way.
So it is a plan that is ambitious, concrete and pragmatic. I think you have seen it because we have released it a couple of hours ago. It is very substantial, very long as well, prepared in a record time with the full involvement of all Member States in these three months of work.
It is moving from the shared vision we prepared with the Global Strategy at the end of June to common actions that we prepared in these last three months from September – actually we worked on that also during the summer break, not just from September onwards - with very concrete elements for this. I would use here the words that a Minister used in the room, mentioning the fact that this is a "qualitative leap" - “un saut qualitatif" - in the European Union's security and defence. Obviously we will start implementation as of tomorrow and I will go in detail on that.
But before that let me say clearly that it is a plan for the European Union's Security and Defence, which is an integral part of a package that is much broader than that. On one side it is an integral part of the full implementation work on the entire Global Strategy, whichinvolves other sectors, far beyond security and defence: from building resilience to the integrated approach to conflicts and crises or public diplomacy, and many others.
We will talk about that in another occasion for sure, but this is an integral part of the entire work we are going to implement on our global role as the European Union. But this plan we adopted today is also an integral part of a broader defence and security package together with two other very important steps we are going to take in the coming weeks: one is the European Defence Action Plan that the Commission is preparing and that we will discuss together with the Defence Ministers tomorrow morning with [Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs ] Elżbieta Bieńkowska and that will be ready for adoption at the end of the month, which will look more at the incentives for capabilities and the industrial part of our work. And the third pillar of this defence package or security package of our European Union in these months is the implementation of the EU – NATO Joint Declaration we signed in Warsaw and on which I have been working and our staff have been working together with [NATO Secretary General] Jens Stoltenberg and NATO to prepare a set of concrete options for implementation, which we will present to our Councils options in December for approval; so a joint set of proposals for implementation.
The three will constitute an integrated, coherent work to strengthen our work on security and defence, in full complementarity with NATO. I think we stressed it several times, let me stress it once more: strengthening the European Union's defence and security is also a way of strengthening NATO and vice-versa.
So, going to content, because I understand very well that the Conclusions and the implementation plan itself are very long, so I can try to provide a sort of guiding reading to the long documents to facilitate it, and then, again, you will have time to go through to it and I will try to answer some questions. First the implementation plan we agreed today defines a joint level of ambition for the European Union, identifying three core tasks of the European Union: 1) responding to external conflicts and crisis; 2) working with partners in building their security and defence capacities; and 3) protecting the Union and its citizens. The Council then in the Conclusions tasks me to follow up with concrete actions to fulfil the new level of ambition on which we will start to work immediately and I will come back to that in a moment.
Let me say clearly what the implementation plan is not about, and then I can focus on what it is about. It is not about a European army. I often say that even NATO does not have a NATOarmy. It is Member States, it's allies that put together one set of forces that every single Member State, every single ally has and can use either for NATO or for the European Union or for the UN or for other purposes. So it is not about a European army. It is not about creating a new European Union SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe)-style headquarters. It is not about doing the European Union territorial defence. For this NATO is there; for those that are Allies and others have their own national defence competences. And it is not – as I said – about competition and or duplication with NATO.
So what is it about? Because the fact that it is not about all these things does not mean that it is not about anything. On the contrary, the substance of it is first of all about providing the European Union with the capabilities, the structures, the tools and the financial resources that are needed to fulfil the level of ambition we identified. So far work has been the result – as I said – of a broad consultation, a broad ownership of the Member States, and this will be needed also in the next steps that are key. Next steps include: developing the required defence capabilities for the future, according to the level of ambition we identified; deepening defence cooperation through the European Defence Agency and considering the setting up of a coordinated annual review on defence; improving the development of civilian capabilities, including on rapid response and training; improving structures for planning, conduct and situational awareness including by addressing, as a short-term objective, the gap we have on the operational planning and conduct of non-executive military missions, and I will come with proposals to take concrete steps to implement this very soon.
This is not about big structures, as I said, not about big operation headquarters, but it is about streamlining and making our current headquarters work better and address the shortcomings. Every time that I am asked whether we want to establish an EU headquarters I remind my interlocutors that we already have five EU headquarters. So it is about having our structures work better. It also includes the way forward: strengthening rapid response and reinforcing the usability of the Battle Groups. Next year it will be ten years we have them; they were never used - maybe it is time to make use of the instruments we have. Enhancing our financial solidarity, flexibility and effectiveness when it comes to funding our activities in the field of security and defence; exploring the potential of an inclusive permanent structured cooperation with concrete commitments that Member States would be willing to make in strengthening the CSDP.
Here I will provide elements and options for Member States then to decide how far or where they want to go. This has to be – the Permanent Structured Cooperation – a Member-States-driven process but I will be more than ready to offer for further thinking options of an instrument that was never used, so we don’t have precedents and we don’t have case studies to offer. So we will develop this in a matter of weeks. And developing, last but least, a more strategic approach to our work with partner countries that share our values and contribute to the CSDP, including also the possibility to enhance their resilience, also in the context of hybrid threats.
Now on the way forward concretely in the coming days - and I say days because tomorrow as I said we have the Steering Board of the European Defence Agency and the Defence Ministers’ meeting in the Council, so we will start as of tomorrow swiftly taking forward the tasks that I received with the Council of today: 1) setting capability development priorities: the Conclusions we adopted today put a deadline for next spring, but the proposals will be ready in a matter of weeks; 2) coordinated annual review on defence by early next year; 3) permanent planning and conduct of CSDP missions and operations, again by early next year;4) explore the potential for permanent structured cooperation in a matter of weeks. Strategic orientations obviously will come also from the European Council in December where all this work will be presented and we will present further options - some of these that I mentioned now, maybe, already in the European Council. I will discuss obviously with President Tusk how we can move forward very fast together and then the first yearly report of the entire implementation of the Global Strategy by June next year.
So as you see, it is about keeping the speed quite high and at the same time preparing the ground for mature proposals and mature decisions, because any decision that the European Union takes in the field of security and defence has to be based on careful thinking, careful preparation, a lot of our work from our staff. But as I said several times this is not the time for strategic thinking only, it is also the time for quick delivery and we know that our citizens expect the European Union to deliver on security. And this is one field where I believe that we will be – we are already today – in the conditions of delivering concrete actions together, as I said, at 28, commonly as the European Union. Let me share the satisfaction of having this immense work on security and defence done and endorsed at 28 in such a short time after the summer.
The part on security and defence was done together by foreign and defence ministers. But we also had a full day of talks with the Foreign Ministers only today - we tackled mainly three issues: first we started with the situation in Turkey where we agreed to continue to have first of all a strong and united position at 28. The basis of this is the statement last week I did in the name of the 28 Member States expressing very serious concern on the developments there – and we see constantly news confirming our worries; clear messages, but also a very much open channels with the Turkish authorities, also with the Turkish opposition and with the civil society in Turkey. But the channels are open at all levels, including mine, obviously,to make sure that we communicate with each other. It does not necessarily mean that we understand each other all the time but it is very important that channels remain open between a candidate country and a partner and the European Union and its 28 Member States in an united manner. So today it was an occasion for the Ministers to exchange views in person. We were coordinating messages last week through either ambassadors or telephone calls, so this time it was the opportunity to exchange at length on the scenarios. There are no conclusions adopted. It was not foreseen because we just released the common position last week, but it was a useful exchange.
We also had a point on our preparations for the next Eastern Partnership Summit, which will be held in Brussels in November next year. We have started preparations on that, and let me say that especially in these times it is very important for all of us, and for me personally, to signal the very high priority that we give to the Eastern Partnership as such and to our relations to each and every one of the six countries of the Eastern Partnership. If you want I can elaborate on either single proposals or single countries, we discussed also at length about that: reaffirming our determination to continue to invest in our partnership, continuing to support our partners and their reform agendas.
Last but not least at all, we had an exchange on Syria and Libya - mainly on Syria. I updated the ministers on the regional outreach I have done following the last Foreign Affairs Council where we decided to start a work on post-conflict, on the future of Syria, not only in terms of economic reconstruction that could start only when a real political transition starts but also on the governance, the set-up and the end game of a political transition that we started, I started, already with Qatar, Iran and Saudi Arabia in the last weeks and I will continue this week with other interlocutors in the region and obviously with the Syrians.
Obviously on Syria the work continues also to try and push the humanitarian assistance, especially in the besieged areas, in particular Aleppo, that is channelled as you know through the UN system, so we are working very much with the UN to try and move things forward there. It is not an easy exercise in these times. And we also exchanged briefly on Libya, on recent developments and we will come back to that for sure in one of the next meetings. I stop here and wait for your questions.
Q. On the Battlegroups: what has to take place for you to use them and is there consensus on what kinds of scenarios the battlegroups would be used for? Are we talking about training missions or a broad array of crisis response?
A. First, there is a consensus on the kind of scenario, yes. I normally make reference to the example of bridging towards a UN peacekeeping force, that take time to be built up, while Battlegroups are by definition a rapid response instrument we have. There are obstacles. Well, the main obstacle is always political will, but this time if we manage to agree at 28 consensually on an Implementation Plan on Security and Defence, as dense and substantial as the one you have in front of you, I believe we have enough political will to use the instruments we have. Because we finally realised that we manage to deal with European security and the security of our citizens only if we stand together and work together in this respect. The economy of scale, somehow, is required. But there is also a financial element that needs to be tackled and this is exactly one of the things we will be looking at in the coming weeks.
Q: The meeting was probably also to talk about the outcome of the US Presidential elections. The President-elect has emphasised his sympathy for Russia's President Putin. So in this light, aren't you afraid that projects like Nord Stream 2 could be used more than ever by Russia to put through its energy exports political pressure on the Central and Eastern European Member States, and also Ukraine, since you emphasized the Eastern Partnership?
A. On this in particular let me say that the Council stated very clearly, last time we had Conclusions on energy in the Foreign Affairs Council, that for us it is strategically important to maintain the role of Ukraine as a transit country. That is a clear, common position. The last time the Council expressed itself on this issue it was extremely clear and unequivocal. We didn't discuss today at the Council the recent US elections. We had, as you might have heard, an informal dinner yesterday night, where we took into consideration possible implications for the EU's security and foreign policy and our common line on steps to be taken immediately: first of all, continuation, obviously, of our work with the current administration, which stays in power until January 20 ; but also to establish new contacts with the new administration and to start working with the next administration. So today that was not mentioned at all in any of our talks - I'd say, some of the issues we have discussed are obviously issues that we currently work with the US on, so especially Syria, Libya, but also on other issues, there has been a reference. But we discussed that yesterday night so it was not on the agenda today and it was not central to any of the discussions we had today.
Q. Similar question, but in a slightly different way: obviously this document was put together before the US elections. What difference does Donald Trump election and his scepticism about NATO make to the way Europe defends itself?
A. You rightly pointed out the fact that we started this process well before the US elections and we would obviously have discussed this document today whatever the results of the elections in the US would have been. This because it is now for some time that we realised at least at the European Union - I cannot speak for the Americans - that there is an added value that the European Union can bring to security and defence of Europeans and European Union citizens. Something very pragmatic, but also ambitious. I would say that we tried it several times, because it was clear in waves in history that there was and there is a specific role for the European Union to play in security and defence. It was tried in the 50s, and then we know how the story ended. Actually the Lisbon Treaty foresees instruments that were then never utilised. Probably because the financial and the economic crises moved our attention from security to economy. And so some of the instruments the Treaties foresee were never used, were never explored. Basically all of the things I mentioned here today can be done within the existing Treaties and are foreseen by the existing Treaties, so we are not discussing about changing the Treaties or opening new Treaties. We are talking about instruments we have, we have had for some time, but we have never utilised, we have never looked into that. I see that today what changes is that there is a growing awareness in European public opinion and consequently in the European leadership in the Member States, in Brussels, that security is a matter also for the European Union. It is not by chance that I had made references to the attacks in Paris one year ago. We realised we have work to do there. Part of this work is obviously interior-related, but there are things we can do outside of our borders, with our external instruments to improve the security of our citizens and working with our partners.
So we will do this and we will continue to do this in strong partnership with NATO. It is not for us to say what the future US administration will think or will do on its role in NATO. We are sure about our relations with NATO which is strong, has been strong and will continue to be strong. Actually, as I said we are even strengthening this: in a few weeks' time together with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg we will present to our Councils a set of proposals to strengthen our cooperation even further. We are working together more and more. He always says we have done more in terms of strengthening the EU-NATO partnership in this last year than in the previous seven-eight years all together, which is true. So we have clear ideas on where our European interests are and we continue on our way. I think this is the first time - but this is not new with these elections in the United States, it was also the case before - it is maybe the first time in decades that across the Atlantic a process that strengthens the European Union defence and security is not seen as competing with NATO, but as a way of strengthening NATO and the transatlantic alliance. And then obviously there is also the need of the Europeans to, again, take care of themselves. But we have clear priorities, we have clear policies, our investment is for strengthening the European Union's security and defence and to do it in complementarity and partnership with NATO.
Q. You just mentioned the Eastern Partnership and the discussions you had today. We want to know more about the cooperation with Georgia from your perspective. Our Prime Minister is going to visit Brussels at the end of this month and we are still waiting for the final decision on visa-free.
A. This was an issue that not only Ministers discussed, but that I raised to the Ministers in the very beginning – visa liberalisation both for Georgia and for Ukraine - with a clear sense around the table of the Foreign Ministers that this is a priority for the European Union to deliver on that, as Georgia has met the criteria and there is a determination to move forward on that. I am looking forward to the visit of the Prime Minister here. It was considered by all that the situation in Georgia is clearly extremely encouraging, extremely positive and that there is a need on the European Union's side to deliver on visa liberalisation.