Human Rights & Democracy

European Defence Agency: Remarks by the High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the annual virtual conference

Brussels, 04/12/2020 - 16:52, UNIQUE ID: 201204_15

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Good morning everybody,

Thank you Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Colleagues on the defence field,

It is my real pleasure to address you today at what is my first European Defence Agency Annual Conference. We are gathering some 800 participants from all over Europe and beyond, with representatives from the armed forces, governments, European institutions, industry, academia, civil society and media. This is the widest reach ever for this annual rendez-vous, which for me is very important and it will be stressed in the next meetings and in the next years.

[This conference] has to be the gathering point where we talk about European Defence. We have to join our forces in order to sustain European Defence. It is not just the topic of the day. It is our common task for the years to come and we have to pay much more attention to it, me the first. We are reminded of this need and of this reality by events every day.

We are nearing the end of 2020. We look back on a special and challenging year, where completely unforeseen events have happened, marked by a global pandemic with big, unprecedented impact on our societies and our economies but also on our security.

We see an increasingly volatile security environment with renewed tensions in our immediate neighbourhood. They were there before the virus, but they have been exacerbated by the virus. The developments in the Eastern Mediterranean or the most recent conflict in Nagorno Karabakh demonstrate the growing instability and unpredictability that affect our environment. Adding to this, we see a weakening of multilateralism, increasing nationalism, growing rivalries between global powers, climate change and risks associated with the use of disruptive technologies, cyber-attacks and terrorism.

Just two weeks ago, Ministers of Defence discussed the first ever threat analysis done at EU level, on the basis of the contributions of 27 Member States’ civilian and military intelligence services. This analysis confirms that we are facing right now – but we will continue to be facing in the future - the most challenging combination of risks and threats since the end of the Cold War. This period has not been very much peaceful, but now it is worsening.

One message coming out of this analysis – it will take quite a long time to finish it - is loud and clear: strengthening the European Union’s security and defence policy is not some luxury that the EU have, that you can live without it. No, it is a necessity. The challenges we face can only be addressed by providing a collective European answer. I know that not everybody in Europe has the same understanding of how much this collective answer is needed, but globally I think the answer is very much needed if we want to survive in this new world.

This means that we have to enhance our ability to act autonomously when necessary. To work autonomously brings some controversies among us. In other words, we need to develop our strategic autonomy. Yes, let me repeat it: strategic autonomy. We have to discuss about what does it mean, and how to do it, but we cannot renounce to use these terms. For that, we must increase our operational effectiveness, our civilian and military capabilities and overall our will to use them, because we have them.

Our citizens look to the European Union for protection. A vast majority of citizens regularly ask for a more united Europe in defence matters. They have it clear: they want to increase the Europe of Defence. The Europe that defends their interests and values in a collective manner. They understand that there are economies of scale. They understand that together we could do better and cheaper.

At the same time, enhancing our strategic autonomy goes hand in glove with the strengthening of our relations with partners. We never insist enough that to be autonomous does not mean to be independent or to isolate in your own world. Being autonomous is a way of better strengthening relations with partners.

Reinforcing the transatlantic bond and cooperation with NATO come first to mind. Every time I say “strategic autonomy” there is someone saying “what about NATO?”. Well, strengthening, reinforcing our cooperation with NATO comes first to my mind, but also further cooperation with other international organisations, such as the UN and with third countries. I am keen to start engaging with the incoming US administration and I very much hope that, with Joe Biden, we will have a partner in – as we have already started saying - ‘making multilateralism great again’.

But this does not mean that we can stop with our security and defence agenda. We still have a duty to take greater responsibility for our own security. That is why we have embarked on building this Strategic Compass, which - I hope - will be one of the most important outcomes of my years in term.

Our work on the Strategic Compass should be considered a key deliverable of my mandate. I have heard some questions over the past months as to why do we even need “yet another paper”. That is true that we do a lot of papers. It does not mean that Europe so far has acted without any kind of direction. This is a specific paper directed to the broad situation of security and the challenges we are facing. Overall, to create a common understanding of the threats that Europeans are facing. Because they still do not have it.

We do have a Global Strategy from 2016 and a number of sectoral strategies. We use the word strategy a lot: on cyber, hybrid or maritime security. Over the last years, we have also launched a number of new defence initiatives, such as the jewel of the crown, the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), which is in the Treaty, as the [European Defence] Agency. Both – PESCO and EDA - are at the highest institutional level of the European Union. And now, the European Defence Fund, which is an initiative of the Commission that has to complement our activities. And I am happy to know that just after me, my friend and colleague Thierry Breton [Commissioner for Internal Market] will intervene [to talk about] how we have to work hand in hand on reinforcing Europe’s industry defence capabilities.

What we intend to do now with the Strategic Compass is to give a clear direction to enhance coherence between all these initiatives and strategies, taking into account the rapid evolution of our security environment in the last years.

More importantly, I think that the time has come for Europeans to converge more broadly on the definition of what kind of security actor and security provider we want to be and which are the sources of insecurity. When you say ‘defence’, immediately it comes to mind ‘defence from which threats?’ and when you say ‘security’, ‘security about which dangers?’. Which are the counterparts of the words security and defence? What does it mean for Europe to be a geopolitical power?

The Commission has expressed its will to be a geopolitical actor, but you cannot be geopolitical – in the broad sense of the word - if you do not have competences in such an important thing as defence or foreign policy. So, it is Europe as a whole, the ‘Team Europe’, all the institutions that have to be geopolitical. Meaning that we want to exist in the world facing the challenges and using the opportunities that the geopolitical landscape poses and offers to us and taking into account the outside consequences of our decisions or our inaction.

For me, this starts by developing a common strategic culture on security and defence. You cannot pretend to have a common security and defence policy if you do not have a common strategic culture, which means understanding the world in the same way. And it is not going to be easy because Member States come from different historical and cultural trajectories with deep roots in the past that have to be overcome in order to have a common understanding of the present and the future.

The Strategic Compass will give clear political guidance on how to increase our operational effectiveness, our resilience and our civilian and military capabilities. At the same time, it should be able to strengthen our work with partners. Once again, strengthen our work with partners. And I will repeat it once again, strengthen our work with partners. Autonomy does not mean autarchy or protectionism, or cavalier seul. It means to be stronger to participate in partnerships. These are the key elements that will allow Europe become an autonomous global actor and a valuable partner both alike.

This brings me to a key point about defence initiatives, which is implementation: foot on the ground. Defining our goals or shared ambitions is good and needed, but not enough. Necessary but insufficient. We also need to follow them through and deliver on them. With all the European Union defence initiatives launched over the last four years, since 2016, Member States have taken the necessary steps for the Union to become a stronger and more credible security provider.

As a result, we have an agreed set of EU Capability Development Priorities, which was revised in 2018. Under the Permanent Structured Cooperation, Member States have renewed their pledge to a set of binding commitments and to concrete collaborative projects. At present, 46 PESCO projects are ongoing, with 26 of them due to deliver concrete results by 2025 in areas such as military mobility, cyber defence, maritime surveillance or medical. But, to my understanding, these projects should be more oriented to practical implications [inaudible].

Finally, we have the European Defence Fund, with €7 billion to be invested over the next 7 years – less than expected, I agree - but I think that it will be enough to start investing over the next 7 years to support the competitiveness and excellence of our industry. The European Defence Fund is related to the industrial defence capabilities development. You cannot expect to be autonomous on anything if you do not have an industrial basis and, on defence, more than in any other thing.

The combination of these instruments has a unique potential to help us advance towards a stronger European defence. This is why Commissioner Thierry Breton and I are working closely together.

What is needed in the future - and there is no better place to state this than here, at the European Defence Agency. Look at the competences that the Treaty allocates to the European Defence Agency. Go to the Treaty and have a look at what the Treaty says about what the European Defence Agency has to be and has to be doing. Sometimes Member States approve a Treaty, use a wording and then there is a certain tendency to forget about it. We cannot forget about it, you are on duty. You, dear Executive Chief, dear all of you who are working here, under my regency by the way. You do not have to forget about what the Treaty expects from us. I suppose you know it, but please reread it every morning. Why did the Treaty create the European Defence Agency and what were the people who signed the Treaty expecting us to do. It is more or less concrete progress and greater convergence among Member States in defence investment, planning and cooperation. This are not just rhetoric words, everything that has to be done on the development of our defence capabilities collectively has to be impulsed and developed. You are the big driver of this cooperation efforts in a field in which there are strong national identities and interests.

This is also the main message that comes out of the first-ever comprehensive defence review conducted at EU level, the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD). Another acronym, we have a lot of them. People do not understand very well what we are doing, because there are a lot of acronyms. We understand what they mean, we live comfortably in this jungle of acronyms. But let us try to make this understandable.

This CARD report shows us not only what we are lacking in terms of capabilities, but also how fragmented our efforts currently are. We are lacking capabilities and we are very much fragmented on the ones that we have.

Allow me to give you a couple of examples. In Europe, we currently operate 1,700 fighter aircraft of 16 different types. We also have 16 different types of main battleships: 130 corvettes, frigates and destroyers of more than 30 different types. The United States - which has much stronger navy capabilities - only has four different types. It is clear that there are big differences on maintenance, design and cost when you have such a fragmented landscape of the tools you are using.

It is not about going towards a one-size-fits-all [approach] – let us be clear, I am not saying that we must have just one type. I know that one-size-fits-all approach or aiming at one single type of equipment for the whole of Europe will not work and it is not at all our purpose. But we cannot afford anymore the current level of duplication and uncoordinated efforts, because we pay a heavy price in terms of reduced interoperability and losing potential savings in terms of economies of scale of tens of billions of euros.

That is what the European people without being specialists on defence have in mind when they answer, spontaneously, ‘oh, yes, I would like the European Union to be more engaged on defence’. They have an intuitive understanding that it will be better to have more compacted defence capabilities and a less fragmented offer of each one having its own whole set of instruments on the field of defence.

We have to spend more, maybe, but for sure we have to spend better, and the best way to spend better is to spend together.

The picture is not rosier on the operational side, where Member States’ commitment to the CSDP in real terms of personnel and expenditure barely represents 7% of their total operational commitments in all frameworks. Our Member States are the providers of military capabilities – here in Brussels we do not have [such capabilities]. Their contribution to CSDP in real terms, personal expenditure is less than 7% of their total operational commitments. It is clear this leaves ample room for improvement.

I would like to talk about the need of more cooperation and the role of the European Defence Agency. I have been talking about the European Defence Agency, how it is described in the Treaty. What Europe needs is a more coherent and integrated defence landscape. We need more capable, deployable, interoperable and sustainable military capabilities and forces. Capable, deployable, interoperable and sustainable military capabilities and forces.

We need a drastic change of mind-set from those making the key defence decisions in the Member States. Yes defence remains a competence of Member States, but if we want to build on common capabilities, in order in the future, as to the Treaty also said to look maybe to a European Defence. Now we have a European Defence Policy, we need a change in the mind-set of those that make the key defence decisions in the Member States. Cooperation is not always the easiest way, but it is the best that we have and at the end it is the only way to achieve results.

This is why the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD) identifies more than 100 opportunities for Member States to cooperate. To cooperate on what, to cooperate among who, to cooperate where. Let us put time and space coordinates on the word cooperation. There are more than 100 opportunities that have been identified where Member States could and should cooperate. The CARD recommends six focus areas where cooperation could be kick-started, and they are not the less important for an army: battle tank, patrol ships, space defence or military mobility, nothing less than that. There are clear opportunities to do better together.

Cooperation must be the default option in Europe. Here at the European Defence Agency we should – I say ‘we’ because I feel very much [involved] as the Head of the Agency. We should use the next months to provide further details on cooperation opportunities with the Member States. Progress will be monitored closely by Ministers of Defence next spring.

We have to push for joint planning, development and procurement and the Pooling and Sharing of capabilities to improve the output of military spending, saving money – saving, studies say, quite an important amount of taxpayers money – and increasing interoperability and operational effectiveness. It will also promote a stronger, more competitive and more innovative European defence industry. I am strongly convinced that the future of the European defence will start from the European defence industry.

Let us start [to build] the house by the foundations to arrive at a better operability, and integration and effectiveness of our armies, to have a better, more innovative European defence industry. Let me give you one concrete example. Right now, there are three brand new tanker aircraft stationed here close to me in Eindhoven as part of the Multinational Multirole Tanker Transport Unit, which were delivered this year and they are parked in Eindhoven. This is an initiative born here at the European Defence Agency and a project built on the principles and goals I have just tried to set out. This programme stands as a good example of how European countries can cooperate, pooling and sharing resources, to address long-standing European shortfalls, in this case strategic transport and air-to-air refuelling [capacity]. Some years ago we had a big shuffle on European refuelling capacities. Does it make sense that all European Member States army have their own refuelling capacities not to be used every day? No, pooling and sharing is a much better answer. This is also a prime example of European defence cooperation in close coordination with NATO. We need more of this.

This is the raison d’être of the European Defence Agency. This is why the Treaty has created the Agency. And this is why I am particularly grateful that I have had the opportunity today to speak to you in my role as Head of the Agency. I will try to make sure it is not the last of my duties, I will try to make sure it is not something that keeps me busy a couple of days a year, for example in events like this, on the contrary I will try to work quickly towards the agenda [inaudible].

I am often told that defence lifecycles are long and that we need strategic patience. You know I am an aeronautical engineer by training, it was a long time ago but I know more or less how it works. The defence lifecycles are long and we need to be, if not patient, at least to understand that time is needed. This is true, but it should not be taken as an excuse.

Let me be blunt: I do not think we have the luxury to take time. I do not think we can say ‘Oh, it takes long so if it takes so long it does not matter if we start tomorrow.’ No, we have to start today. Precisely because it takes so long there is no time to lose. Some of the most important leaders on the digital world when he wanted to do something and his staff told him ‘Oh it is going to take very long.’ Well that is a better reason to start tomorrow. We do not have the luxury to take time. We need to think big, to be perseverant and action-oriented.

We, Europeans, need to take responsibility for our own future. These are not just words of propaganda. This is a need and the time to do is right now. Please go to the Treaty, have a look at what the Treaty says about the European Defence Agency, it will be the best guide for your work and the best way of building a network of shared cooperation with other parts of the institutions, in the Commission, and with the Member States, to deliver more and better.

Thank you very much, I look forward to read and know the output of this conference. I am sure it will be of much help for me to continue developing the European Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Stay safe.

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