Thank you Jorge [Domecq, The Chief Executive of the European Defence Agency], thank you all, first of all for being here. I was told entering the room that we are at the record attendance level. This, I think, is already telling of the moment we are living in. First of all, let me also say that it is really a pleasure for me to be with you, again, at the Annual Conference, which has become a key meeting, a key rendez-vous for the European defence community.
And I remember very well our last meeting last year: we were gathering in Brussels in another location, only a few days after the terrorist attacks in Paris. And one year ago, we all agreed in that same meeting, and in meetings in those days, that our reaction had to be rational and strategic and consistent. And in the last year, which has been a very intense year, we have all worked hard to set up our Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy, and to provide very concrete ideas to improve Europe’s security and the security of our citizens.
This year, we meet at a crucial juncture for our work towards a stronger Europe of defence. When I presented the Global Strategy, at the end of June – interesting timing as well - I said that we would have started immediately to turn the vision into action. And in a matter of days, just next Monday, I will present to the Council, Foreign and Defence Ministers together, the Implementation Plan on security and defence. And then Tuesday, the work will continue with Defence Ministers in the European Defence Agency Steering Board, where we will discuss capabilities and concrete projects.
So no theoretical debates, but very concrete action. This is the focus of this month, of these weeks and also the expectation, not only of all of us in this room, but also of our citizens.
Let me say that next March will be an important moment. Next March we will celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. And by that date, a concrete implementation process will have to be up and running. The title of this conference asks whether we are living a revolution or an evolution of European defence. Let me tell you very clearly: I believe the revolution we need is simply – it is not so simple sometimes - to make things work. Sometimes it is more difficult to make things work than to reflect on big scenarios and great revolutions. So we will not engage in another theoretical debate: what we are doing, what we are working on, is concrete deliverables. What we need, what our citizens need is not an endless hypothetical debate, be it on EU army or on changing our treaties, what we need to do it is to use the instruments, all the potential, all the tools we already have. If I could summarise the message it would be "no excuses, we just need to do it and to do it now".
You might very well know, some sixty years ago, the founding fathers and mothers of our European Union believed that a united Europe had to be built on two pillars: a European Economic Community, and a Defence Community. They knew that a true Union could not simply rely on the integration of the markets. They were right, and yet they failed. Sixty years later, I believe the original intuition has become even more relevant. Security matters. In today's world, I believe security matters even more than during the Cold War.
Europe and Europeans have the responsibility, and also the opportunity, especially in these days we see it very clearly, to find our own way to security, to shape the answers to very difficult questions in a world where there is very few things, if any, we can take for granted. This is scary and this is also challenging, but this is also opening a way for us not only to reflect but also to act and find real, effective answers to the big demand for security of our citizens, the European way.
So what can be the European way to security? First of all, the internal security of our Union is very much linked to events happening outside of our borders, and especially in our region.
Second, almost all our external policies have a security dimension. Our region is the most conflictual in the world. Our neighbourhood policies, our development policies, our humanitarian policies, I would even say our trade policies or economic policies, need security. And our partners outside of the Union ask us, expect from us, to be a global security provider, a reliable one, a reliable partner for security, a provider of security the European way, which we know, is somehow a unique mix of different tools.
Third, our world is much more complex, some might say messy, for sure more multi-centric than in the past. Several continent-sized powers coexist, each one with continent-sized defence budgets and research programmes. None of our Member States, none of them, not even the biggest ones, is big enough in today's world. I will repeat here what I repeat every time I speak publicly: in the European Union we can have two kinds of Member States, the small ones and those that have not yet realised they are small. This is the world we are living in. And we better wake up to this new reality of our world.
So we need to act as a Union. This is something new in our world. It has been a dream, our European Union, it has been an opportunity, it has been a plus, sometimes it has been a luxury, today it is a necessity. Europe's responsibility today in the world is even greater than in the past, and in our region in particular. In our world, peace needs a cooperative effort. And here is the European way. Europe's potential role, as a provider of regional and global cooperation, for peace and security, has never been this crucial. Because the European experience of building security through cooperation is unique in the world. And it is something that the world is looking for. It is also the most difficult way to security but also the most stable way. I would say it is the sustainable way to security.
So we must succeed today where our founding fathers and mothers did not succeed. And let me tell you: I am absolutely convinced that we can succeed where they could not. One obvious reason is that we do not start from scratch. The Lisbon Treaty is already in place, and it offers very powerful tools we have not exploited yet. Using the Treaty’s full potential is a matter of political will. And only a matter of political will. This seems easy, but sometimes we know political will is one of the most difficult things to build. But it is only in our hands, it is only a decision–making issue. We do not have concrete obstacles ahead of us. We have a matter of political will.
I am convinced, the potential of the Lisbon Treaty has not been fully used, also because the European Union was mainly focused, just after the Treaties, on our economic and financial crisis. Today we are facing a security crisis. We can go and look to what we have already; to use the instruments we have, because we need it. And I am sure this will open the way for the political will to be finally there.
Our public opinions and our governments understand today the urgency of a strong Europe of security and defence, much more than in the past. So I see a clear window of opportunity right now to achieve concrete results.
Let me give you a very concrete example. Jorge [Domecq, The Chief Executive of the European Defence Agency] was mentioning the debate about strategic autonomy. Discussions on Europe’s “strategic autonomy” have been going on for decades – you teach me. Today, I see that finally we have moved away from a never ending purely ideological debate. Because today I believe it is clear to all, I hope it is clear to all, that in practise there is no contradiction between more strategic autonomy and our commitment to our long-term partners. NATO remains, this is clear here in Europe, NATO remains the cornerstone of our collective defence, just like it has been for almost seventy years. Both in Europe, for us, and across the Atlantic, for our American friends. No doubt about this here.
But strategic autonomy means first and foremost the ability to be a reliable partner, to care about our own security, to care about the security of our region, for which we are called to take more responsibility in our own interest – not because somebody else asked - and to take our fair share of responsibility, doing it the European way, with this unique mix of hard and soft power, using all our tools. First of all, let me say the capacity to understand local, regional dynamics. And also to prevent mistakes that sometimes can fuel rather than put an end to conflicts. We have the responsibility, and the opportunity, to use the European way to security in our region for our own interest and for the interest of the rest of the world.
So today we are running three parallel processes at the same time. First, the implementation of the Global Strategy, with the Implementation Plan on security and defence, second the European Defence Action Plan, and the follow-up to the Joint EU-NATO Declaration that we signed in Warsaw last July. And these three processes together reinforce and complement each other. A strong NATO makes Europe safe. And as my friend Jens Stoltenberg always mentions, a stronger European Union can only make NATO stronger.
With the Joint Declaration between the European Union and NATO we have committed to more cooperation in fields where we complement each other – because we are different, we have different tools, different capacities, for instance, on maritime security, on cyber or an hybrid threats. And we will present very concrete set of options, together - NATO and the European Union, myself and Jens, to our respective Councils in just a month from now. And already the fact that we have developed this set of concrete options for implementation of our Joint Declaration is telling about the fact that our teams, our staffs, our people and ourselves, are working together as one.
This is needed to strengthen the European security and to strengthen NATO's capacity to respond to the challenges of today. Because the European Union has tools that NATO does not have. Because we are of a different nature, the European Union is not a military alliance, we have instruments that NATO does not have, NATO has instruments that we do not have. We do not need to have all the same, but we can work together to cover a full range of different threats. And to prevent conflicts and crises better.
But for our cooperation to be sustainable, we need to make sure our capabilities are up to the task – and here I come to the "noyau dur". Europe has to be very careful, I believe, very careful, and I do not need to preach to the converted, that the investment gap is not translated into an ever wider technology gap. Because a technology gap would then lead to an interoperability gap. And if left unchecked, this could translate into a political gap which would clearly not be in our interest. And I would add, this would also have economic implications for our continent.
So I have always believed, always, today, yesterday, the day before yesterday, that a healthy relationship with the United States needs a strong Europe of defence. Because it should be clear to everyone – and I believe it is starting to be clear to everyone – that we can only succeed in providing security to our citizens if we work together as a true Union, with the full potential of a super power, in the field of security and defence. Also because we are facing increasing competition in the global market – and you know that very well. Rising powers that used to be our customers are now investing, innovating, building up their own defence industries. And the rest of the world has recognized that science and technology are central to national economies. For instance, they have invested in technologies that make cyber systems more resistant, and that will be a crucial asset in years ahead.
So what I am talking about here is not at all engaging in a race for armaments, and I would like our friends outside the room to understand that. But there can be no strategic autonomy, and no role for Europe as a global security provider – the European way, I would say the smart way - without a strong, smart, innovative European industrial base. This is essential for us to understand. This will not change the nature of our understanding of security, but this will change the power of our action on security.
So this is a key focus in the actions we are undertaking. Elzbieta Bienkowska will tell you more this afternoon about the work the Commission is doing, we are doing together, together also with the European Defence Agency. I always have an identity crisis when I have to mention the work the different institutions are doing because I am doing it on all sides, Commission, Defence Agency, Council. We are steering the work in a manner that makes us work as a team, I think in a very fruitful manner. And I would like here to recognise the work that all our skilful teams here are doing on all sides of the streets and the square, in a way that is really encouraging for our European Union’s understanding.
I was saying Elzbieta will tell you more this afternoon about the work we are doing together, and also together with the Agency, on the Defence Action Plan and the Preparatory Action on defence-related research. But let me just say that this can be a real game-changer, I would say the real game-changer for our industry. The starting point is one of our most successful experiences, our Horizon2020 research programme; by the way, one of the programmes that our partners in our region are more interested in joining and that is normally the proof of the fact that it works, that it is attractive. But Horizon2020 only covers civilian and dual-use technologies. A continent-wide joint research programme on defence would be a natural extension of Horizon2020. And we have an immense potential there in terms of joint research programmes on defence, economies of scale, and a more predictable time-frame for investments.
To develop the technologies of the future – and the future goes fast - we need to start investing right now. But a big part of our work can deliver concrete results in a much shorter time-frame. So it will be now up to our Member States, to us all together, as Jorge was mentioning, to define the starting point, our level of ambition, and I would expect that we will be able to do this on Monday, so we are running fast. This means we will define the concrete challenges we consider essential for us to face together, and, one minute after, the instruments we need to do so. At that moment we are ready, we will have to be ready, all together, to proceed at full speed, which for me means running and running fast.
I can share with you an anecdote: we presented the Global Strategy at the end of June, there was a lot of discussion about that because it was a couple of days after the UK referendum. I was convinced it was the right moment, it would have been the right moment even with a different outcome of the UK referendum, but it is in moments of question marks and crises that you need to set the way and say what you want to do. But then the immediate reaction was "ok, now we will take some time and present or work on a white book, on papers" – I said no, it is a matter of months, we have to translate this into something real, happening, all of us, together. And I think, when we want, when we have unity, when we have a clear idea in mind, we can act fast and we can act together.
So, our proposals in the Security and Defence Implementation Plan include a series of issues that, I think, will make the difference, will make the evolution or the revolution in defence for Europe. First, they could include also - I mention just a few of them, it is not an exhaustive list - a better use of our rapid response forces, for instance with a flexible deployment of the Battlegroups. I am really convinced that this is an instrument especially for bridging the time that is needed for instance to set-up a UN peace-keeping force, this is an excellent instrument we have.
We are also considering how to better integrate our civilian and military operations – the real added value of the European Union, the fact that we have both sides, from the planning stage to the actual deployment – and also to improve coordination among our personnel here in Brussels and on the ground. Here again, let me clarify, it is not a huge headquarter SHAPE style set-up we are thinking of, but I always remind everyone, you will know that very well in this room, we already have five headquarters running seventeen missions and operations. So it is not a matter of setting up big new things, it is a matter of having a rational approach, an effective approach to how we plan and conduct our missions and operations. So it is about streamlining, making things we have functioning better, changing where we have to change.
We cannot stand still, frozen, somehow, out of fear of ghosts that do not exist like duplication or, again, building structures, big infrastructures that are not really on our plans. But this cannot prevent us from making things work better where we see there is a space for improvement.
But the Implementation Plan is not simply about a more coordinated use of our assets. It can also help us find ways to invest more and invest better in our industry and in research. So we are exploring a large set of instruments, to make resources available. A “Coordinated Annual Review on Defence” could facilitate joint programmes among Member States, and a more cooperative way of developing our capabilities. We could also envisage some kind of financial solidarity for common defence projects, as well as a broader range of collective funding options.
And the European Defence Agency will have a key role in supporting and coordinating this work, acting as a pivot between Member States and the Commission. And I am fully determined, since I started almost exactly two years ago, to use not my two hats, but my three hats. Because people tend to forget that I am not only the Vice-President of the Commission or chairing the Council but also the Head of the Agency. And this is exactly the kind of exercise where the three hats prove to be useful – the Treaties were right in defining these roles. Some say my role is a mission impossible, I think it is perfectly possible and actually also very useful.
So this is why I have launched a review focused on the future of the Agency, together with Jorge, and we are working on concrete recommendations to be presented in the coming months, by next spring. This is a critical juncture, you have all noticed this, especially in these days. It is in our European history a critical juncture, it is also a critical juncture in the history of the world. And the sixtieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, I believe will be the opportunity for us to spell out what the present and the future of our Union is – not with empty celebrations but with very concrete step forwards.
By next March, I believe we could announce, in Rome hopefully, a major step forward towards a Defence and Security Union. I leave this to your days of work if this will be an evolution or a revolution. What interests me is that this is a change. That this is a step forward. It can be an evolution, it can be a revolution, but the important thing is that it moves. And that we manage in this window of crisis but also of opportunity that our Union is facing, with the security environment as we see it, outside and inside our Union, with the weaknesses, but also the need to react to the weaknesses we are facing, with concrete horizons for our Union. This is a unique moment for us to make the difference and succeed where sixty years ago, our founding mothers and fathers did not.
I believe this is a responsibility, first of all towards our citizens, who, everywhere across our Union, ask for security – look at the polls, first comes security, second comes economy and employment. This is new; we have a responsibility to respond to that. And we also have responsibility in this respect towards our region and towards the rest of the world. In the months and years ahead, actually I can say, in the hours we are living, there is, there will be, an increasing “demand of Europe” from our neighbours and from our partners worldwide. There is and there will be a growing request for a principled global security provider. For a super-power that believes in multilateralism and in cooperation. For a reliable, predictable, partner for peace, for growth and for democracy. And there will be, I believe, a rising call for a stronger European Union.
So it is up to us. In a changing global landscape, Europe will be more and more an “indispensable power”. This is the time, I believe, to take our responsibilities and to respond to that call, together, and we can do this only as a true Union.
Thank you very much and I wish you a very successful day on work.
Link to the video:
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