An official website of the European Union. See all European Institutions
Check against delivery!
Thank you. Thank you very much, Gustav [Lindstrom, Director of the EU Institute for Security Studies, EUISS]. Let me also thank you and – let me say - our entire team for the excellent work that we have done over these last five years, also for organising this year again the annual conference, as you said my last one. I still have some three and a half weeks in this office.
When I was preparing this keynote speech I was thinking back to all the work we have done together in these five years. I remembered my first [EUISS] annual conference, a bit less than five years ago, and at that moment, we had just started working on the idea of a Global Strategy.
At the conference at that time we discussed how to make our foreign policy, first and foremost, more strategic in times that we defined as very un-strategic. In those very days the European public debate was in full crisis-mode - with the Ukraine crisis, the rise of Daesh in Syria and the refugee crisis up on the agenda.
And we all knew that we had to address those crises as a matter of urgency and that we had to do it as the European Union – not only as single countries and Member States dealing with single problems in different places of the Union and the neighbourhood. But I believe that we also understood that we could not afford to simply jump from one crisis to another. I think that we realised at that time that we had to think beyond the emergencies, and focus on how to avoid the next crisis; how to build resilience so that we could prevent a crisis instead of managing it when it was already too late.
And I have to say that the work we have done together on the Global Strategy was essential in changing our collective mind-set. And it was really a collective work that we have done with many in this room and beyond.
In five years we have managed to build, I believe, a more coherent European foreign policy on migration addressing the emergencies. A personal anecdote as we are seeing the hearings in these days: I remember very well that when I said during my hearing at the European Parliament that migration would be part of my priorities, there was a little bit of a confusion, because migration was not supposed to be related to the external action of the European Union, as if migrants came from nowhere.
I am proud of the work we have done together, including with the EEAS [European External Action Service], the Commission and the Member States, joining forces and developing a more coherent, or at least an existing external policy to tackle and address in a sustainable and humane manner the phenomenon of migration.
Addressing the emergencies, be they coming from the Eastern Mediterranean or the Central Mediterranean or the Western Mediterranean, but also and mainly looking at the root causes, and investing for the long run. We have always tried to link the emergency work with thinking strategically, for instance working on institution building and reconciliation in Iraq, investing in resilience and infrastructure in Ukraine, or with the Brussels conferences on the future of Syria.
Migration is just one example, but in different actions and fields also related to emergency crises, we have tried to not only address the crises, but also to develop steps that could help us address the issue 5, or 10 or 15 years from then. And most importantly, I believe that the Global Strategy has really helped us look beyond the crisis hotspots, and to invest in long term partnerships, invest in those places where we can make a big difference just being there, as friends.
A lesson I have learned in these years is to dedicate time and energy not only to resolving problems, which is something that we obviously need to do, it is probably the first chapter of the job description. But to solve some of the problems, by first of all acting as one, that is clear – and I think Member States have realised this now much more than before -, but sometimes, for some crises, for some problems, even the European Union alone cannot really make the difference. There are some other ingredients to the cocktail that you need to have in place. And you do not always have them in place.
I think that in these years we have also learned – and the Global Strategy has guided us as a compass on this route – that together with addressing crises and hotspots and trying to create the best possible conditions for doing so, there is something you can do alone, even if the conditions are not right, and that is investing consistently with those partners and friends that are there for you. And sometimes we have not been there for them – taking them a bit for granted, because they are far away or unproblematic.
I believe that investing in these friendships, investing in these easy partnerships and like-minded relationships has been one of the flagships of our work in these last five years and the Global Strategy has guided us in this direction. And this has been true for our partnerships and friendships that we have developed all around the world.
I think of Central Asia, I think of Latin America, I think of the Eastern Partnership or South East Asia and I could continue with a long list – we have learnt to invest in friendships and to nourish our global network of partners, something that has been vital, especially in times of criticism to multilateralism. Because this has made us, the European Union, an indispensable point of reference all across the world. And probably, if we had not invested in these partnerships and friendships in times that were not crisis times, this work would have been more difficult afterwards.
The reason why we have been in difficult times somehow a point of reference for many, is that, in un-strategic times, the world needs reliable global powers. The European Union has been in difficult times, on most of the issues, that reliable global power that is big enough able to create a sort of umbrella for others to come and feel less lonely in a difficult world.
The world needed and needs us to stay engaged, in good times and in bad times, on easy issues and on issues that seem to be impossible to solve.
These five years should have taught us something. The global mood can change very quickly. So, it is essential for us to always keep in mind what our interests and values truly are, in times of crisis, in times of difficulties. Even as a person, as a family, you sit down and ask yourself what is really important for me, what do I need to really work on beyond the current circumstances.
I think that this has been important for the European Union because this has helped us focusing on the fact that the European foreign policy and security policy is something – and this should be obvious, but it has not always been obvious - that we are responsible for, that we shape. We have that responsibility and freedom of defining the priorities, working consistently and coherently to define where we stand in the world, especially in times when all global powers are redefining their approach to global politics.
In the first part of these five years, I believe we contributed to a very positive phase for multilateralism. Now it seems far away but if you remember 2015, 2016, there was a moment when it seemed that a more cooperative global order was truly possible. Think of the nuclear deal with Iran, but also the somehow revitalisation of the Middle East Quartet, and of course, the Paris Agreement on climate and the Sustainable Development Goals. There was a wave of multilateral agreements that was giving us hope for better times to come.
All this was then followed by a very clear action or reaction against the very idea of multilateral global governance. As the tide turned, I believe we, the European Union, but also Europeans in general have kept our compass. We worked first and foremost to preserve what has been achieved with so much work. But we have also somehow managed to swim against the tide and somehow create multilateralism in a very unlikely situation.
As a few examples, we have set up an unprecedented trilateral cooperation with the United Nations and the African Union – of which I am particularly proud. We have, through that mechanism, for instance evacuated over 50.000 people from detention centres in Libya. I had very good meetings just last week in New York with our interlocutors and partners in the African Union, the African Union Commission President Moussa Faki Mahamat, the Heads of the UNHCR [UN High Commissioner for Refugees] and IOM [International Organisation for Migration], respectively Filippo Grandi and [António] Vitorino, to see the results of this work and also to relaunch the work that we could do together not only in Libya, but also for instance in the Sahel, or in other areas that represent crisis routes on the migration phenomenon.
We have created another example, the International Contact Group for Venezuela, in a moment when – let me recall it very clearly – conflict seemed inevitable and coming up as a matter of days, if not weeks. The option of conflict is not yet off the table and most importantly, democracy is not yet restored there, but we have opened through that multilateral diplomatic action, an avenue for talks and diplomacy to try and achieve the result of early presidential elections in a democratic and peaceful manner in Venezuela. We have always worked to open the space for dialogue, to find the right multilateral format, to identify who needs to be sitting around the table, sometimes creating the table, using our convening power to try and create forms of multilateral cooperation and governance even when dialogue and cooperation seemed completely impossible.
One of the quotes that has always been with me in these five years is by Nelson Mandela: "It always seems impossible, until it is done". It stays with me and gives hope in difficult times and we are living difficult times. It describes perfectly well some of the steps and work that we have done in these years.
For instance to me, it perfectly describes the work we have done on the Europe of defence. You might remember very well the scepticism – that could be a euphemism – with which our plans on defence five years ago were received: “It will never happen – forget it. You can lose your time. Member States are not with you. It has not happened so far and it has never been done before so it will not happen today”.
This is something we sometimes hear very often. And here we are. I think that five years after 2014, we have the biggest leap forward in the European integration on defence in decades. After the Global Strategy, we have made more progress on European defence than in the previous 60 years. This is also a sentence we have repeated in the last three years, but we sometimes forget the positive work that we have managed to achieve.
This would have been impossible without the Global Strategy. Not because of the wording in the Strategy – I do not believe in the magic of wordings – but because of the collective work that was around the Strategy, because of how we got to the Strategy. It was a collective movement. Governments and academia came together to reflect about what we needed and how we could get there.
Last summer, as you know, we worked on a third report on the implementation of the Strategy. I asked my team to go through the text of the Strategy and through the text of the report, and see what was actually ticking all the boxes, paragraph by paragraph – I think they hated me for that, but it was a very academic work in this respect, seeing and comparing where we were compared with the text that was forged together three years ago. On some issues, and for sure on the defence, we realised that we had achieved even more than what we proposed in the Strategy, which is quite exceptional. Strategies are normally hardly implemented and it is quite exceptional to go beyond what was proposed in the Global Strategy.
The Global Strategy was the trigger. It was a tool to shape a new consensus. It defined a vision, and by doing so, it set off action that eventually snowballed. The Strategy has triggered an unprecedented set of new cooperative initiatives to make Europe stronger and safer. Obviously, there was the political need for that. But without the Global Strategy, this political need would probably not have found the right channel to achieve concrete results. It has created new opportunities first and foremost to invest together, research together, train together, and act together in the field of defence, but not only in the field of defence obviously.
I know that here you have discussed a lot on how our work on defence impacts on Europe's strategic autonomy. And even on the meaning of strategic autonomy – whether it is about taking greater responsibility, or emancipating ourselves somehow from other powers. The answer, to me, lies in the concept of cooperative autonomy. For us Europeans, I believe, strategic autonomy and cooperation with our partners – starting with NATO – are two sides of the same coin. Autonomy means that the European Union should be able to take full responsibility for our own security – something we have never managed to do in history.
And it means that we should be able to act whenever we can provide a unique added value in responding to a particular situation. Because we have a particular set of instruments and tools that others do not have.
I see the European Union as a global security provider, and I see a growing demand from our partners for a global engagement of the European Union on security and defence matters. Our mix of civilian and military tools is increasingly appreciated, needed and requested worldwide.
So a more responsible European Union needs to be militarily capable of acting autonomously should this be necessary. But “autonomously” does not mean “unilaterally”. All our military and civilian missions have either been requested by their host country or mandated by the United Nations. And in these years, we have made our military cooperation with our partners even closer.
Our work on cooperative autonomy has been running on two parallel tracks. On the one hand, we have strengthened our capabilities, but also our command structures and the financial instruments to support our actions. Both issues, the strengthening of the command structures and the financial instruments, were even more regarded with scepticism than the work on PESCO [Permanent Structured Cooperation] or other things, yet, here we are. I am very proud of that and I want to thank in particular the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg because without him, this would have never been possible.
At the same time, we have strengthened our partnerships like with NATO, like never before. And here again, those who were betting on that one thing was contradictory to the other were proven to be wrong. Our cooperation with NATO is today closer than ever. In eleven theatres around the world, our forces, European Union forces, are acting together with United Nations' peacekeepers, and this means that our partnership with NATO is obviously the compass when it comes to security and defence but it is not exclusive.
Our partnership with the United Nation system is, I would say, the other leg on which our partnership system works. In some cases we even share camps with the United Nations peacekeepers. I think I visited by now most of our missions and operations around the world and I witnessed myself the good cooperation we have on the ground. I would say even the vital – literally vital - cooperation we have on the ground.
For the first time ever, we took part in a military naval drill with ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations], which means our partnership does not only go on the global level of partnerships like with NATO or the UN but also on other regional organisations that are our key strategic partners. Our security cooperation with the African Union is also closer than ever, and we have helped establish transnational military forces in the Sahel and in the Lake Chad region.
This is to me cooperative autonomy. And this is the natural choice for the European Union: working to strengthen our capability, our capacity to work, but at the same time strengthening our partnerships so that our strength is put at disposal of working partnerships and in cooperation.
I have said that on many issues we have already achieved more than we proposed in the Global Strategy. Yet, we cannot declare "mission accomplished", far from that. What we have achieved on defence is, for instance, a huge leap forward, but at the same time, only a first step ahead, it opens the door, it opens the way and the rest needs to be built now.
Our collective potential on defence issues is still to be fulfilled and I am fully convinced that with the new leadership on the EU Institutions level, both with Ursula van der Leyen as President of the European Commission - that goes without saying - with my successor, Josep Borrell as well - Spain has been in these years one of the engines of what we have done on European defence -, and with Charles Michel heading the European Council. I am one hundred per cent sure this work is not in good hands but in perfect hands to be continued.
Just a month ago, we discussed with the Defence Ministers of the 28 Member States the idea of a coordinated maritime presence in areas of strategic interest for the European Union for instance. This is a track of work that could be developed in a very fruitful manner. The Permanent Structured Cooperation is a powerful tool, but it is up now to Member States to make the most out of it and to continue building on it. And the European Peace Facility, talking about money, will now have to turn into reality. Obviously, that goes without the overall discussion on the budget but that will be an important part of it.
Exploring our European potential, I believe, is only a matter of political will. Sometimes you will hear discussions about institutional changes, changes in the treaties, I do not enter into that. I think the work on defence that we managed to do, shows perfectly well that it is the political will that determines the result you can achieve and sometimes you have things in the treaties that you are not using and sometimes you discuss about changing the treaties to hide the political will to use what you already have. I think that even in the coming months and years, it will be a matter of political will to use all the potential of the European Union, to use all the potential that is already in the treaties.
I believe that on our side, in a humble but important manner, with the Global Strategy, with the work we have done during these five years, we have made our contribution to a stronger European Union on the foreign, security and defence field. I believe it is now time to move on building on solid foundations that we have today thanks to a collective work that also you contributed to build.
Thank you very much.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-178492