Brussels, 18 May 2017
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We had a very intense meeting with Ministers of Defence today with important decisions taken that I imagine you have already seen.
First of all, the Ministers unanimously adopted Council conclusions. In these days, in these weeks, in these months actually, we hear a lot about the European Union being divided, unable to take decisions – today we have taken very substantial set of decisions on security and defence at 28, at a speed I would say that was quite remarkable, just after a few months, we decided to move on the fields where decisions were taken today and I will tell you more in a moment.
Today, the European Union affirmed very strongly and together that it is committed to strengthen security and defence work, as European Union, enhancing our ability to act as a security provider worldwide, our global strategic role as our partners in the world and our citizens expect, and our capacity to act autonomously when and where necessary and with partners wherever it is possible.
The Council welcomed the progress we made in implementing our Global Strategy in the area of security and defence and decided to continue, at the same pace and with the same determination and unity, concrete work, also in view of the European Council in June.
We took decisions in a number of areas, very concrete ones. First of all, improving our crisis management structures. The Council is determined to see the effective establishment as a short-term objective of the Military Planning and Conduct Capability, referred to as MPCC. So, a Military Planning and Conduct Capability within the European Union Military Staff here in Brussels that will assume responsibilities at the strategic level for the operational planning and conduct of the European Union’s non-executive military missions that includes the three EU Training Missions deployed in Central African Republic, Mali and Somalia.
This structure will work in a very close and a coordinated manner with the Civilian Planning and Conduct Capability to bring together our civilian and military work. This is key to create coherence and synergy of the work we do on the ground in third countries.
Second decisions we took, that of deepening partnership with third countries or organisations, obviously deepening partnership with international organisations, starting from the UN. We were together with the UN Secretary General [António Guterres] just last week celebrating together the Europe’s Day in New York, he was yesterday in Strasbourg with us, recognising the strong global role of the European Union, the key global role of the European Union when it comes also to peace and security.
Also with NATO. We had today the NATO Secretary General [Jens Stoltenberg] with us, I will tell you more about that in a minute; but also with the African Union, the League of Arab States, the OSCE, ASEAN and other partners. We also decided to strengthen our cooperation with our neighbours when it comes to training and capacity-building, building resilience in third countries – this is an investment in our own security.
We also decided to strengthen cooperation with partner countries in key areas that were so far not so much explored like strategic communication, cyber security, maritime security, border security, and the fight against organised crime and arms trafficking among others.
We took also very major steps, I would say, on two other elements. One is the decision to strengthen the EU’s rapid response instruments, including the EU Battlegroups. We have them for 10 years, they were never deployed; this is mainly due to difficulties in the financial mechanism. The Council decided to overcome these difficulties and look in the coming months at the review of the Athena mechanism for the Battlegroups, ensuring rapid financing by reviewing the necessary arrangements, in view of having an effective deployment of the battlegroups.
Last but not least of our decisions on the security and defence of the European Union, is the deepening of the European defence cooperation. Here, the Council has decided on an agreed structure for developing an inclusive Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) in the course of 2017, based on inputs provided by Member States. A Permanent Structured Cooperation that should be open to all Member States that are willing to make the necessary binding commitments. Obviously any capability that might be developed through the Permanent Structured Cooperation will remain owned and operated by Member States; Member States have one set of forces that can then be used either in EU, in UN or in NATO frameworks.
The Council has agreed this ambitious but also very pragmatic way of moving forward; so the governance of PESCO was agreed – I do not know if you want me to go into the details now, you find it in the Council conclusions – and it would essentially consist of two layers: at the Council level, all Member States are present, to ensure transparency and coordination, and PESCO participating Member States are entitled to vote and then at the level of projects and initiatives, where only those Member States contributing to each specific project or initiative will be represented. So we have an inclusive but also modular approach.
Obviously this does not mean that we launch the Permanent Structured Cooperation now, but this means that Member States agreed on the governance that needed to be developed. Because as you know Permanent Structured Cooperation was mentioned in the Treaties but never explored – we worked, in these last couple of months, to agree on a framework of governance, now Member States agreed to work on concrete projects that can be identified.
Then the EEAS [European External Action Service] and the European Defence Agency will provide support for the implementation of this work, of PESCO, and will be coordinating with the Commission that will be associated to ensure coherence with the European Defence Fund that can support Permanent Structured Cooperation projects. The Council agreed to take this work forward to reach an agreement to launch the Permanent Structured Cooperation as soon as possible and revert to the matter preferably already in June.
As you see, this was a very substantial work that was done by Member States with unanimity in these last months. We also agreed on the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence and the Commission also briefed Ministers on the work on the European Defence Action Plan and European Defence Fund.
We also had with the NATO Secretary General [Jens Stoltenberg] an exchange on the implementation of the 42 different measures that we decided to do jointly, European Union and NATO. Beyond the concrete projects that go from cyber security to maritime cooperation, from military aviation to exercises or defence capabilities, hybrid threats, we have moved now into a completely different kind of cooperation where cooperation is the norm and not the exception between the European Union and NATO and this is definitely what is needed in these times of threats.
I would like to finish by saying one last thing. Actually, a decision that was taken earlier this week but was not really communicated by me, so I take this opportunity to do this. On Monday we took a decision to create a network of security and defence experts in the G5 Sahel countries based on the existing CSDP missions we have there – so in Mali and Niger – and the deployment of experts who are going to be located in our delegations in the Sahel. I will be in Mali at the beginning of next month and this is going to be part of our work with our friends and partners in the Sahel to increase security and defence cooperation with them.
We also had a joint working lunch Defence/Interior Ministers that just finished -probably the Maltese Presidency will brief you on this – but it was the first time this format met and it was a good opportunity to focus on counterterrorism cooperation and on how to use our external instruments to improve our internal security on counterterrorism and again, I think the Maltese Minister will brief you later today on this.
Q. I would like to know if during the lunch with the Interior Ministers, either the Austrian or German Minister or some of them raised the issue of an EU mission at the Southern border with Libya, something new from what we already have?
The lunch was focused on counterterrorism and we discussed ways in which we can improve the coordination between our external work and the internal work. So, no specific mission or operation was mentioned. Actually, the operation that is more focusing on this is Operation Sophia because of the anti-smuggling activities that it is carrying on. There was no formal proposal for an establishment of a new mission or operation of the European Union; but I would like to remind us all that the European Union has EUBAM Libya that is already working especially on the capacity building of the Libyan authorities on managing the borders – starting from the Southern borders of Libya – and we have missions and operations at the Southern side of the Libyan border, in Mali and Niger. We have three different operations and missions there that we are – as I mentioned, decided on Monday – strengthening and coordinating because that is exactly the work we are doing already with our presence on the ground in the desert part, south of Libya. We are present on the ground to help the local authorities to manage the territory, control the flows, both in terms of smuggling and trafficking of people, of arms and all kinds of criminal activities as well.
Q. With MPCC, does the decision today mean – basically going through the FAC this afternoon – that those missions in Africa now come under the MPCC as of today or do the Heads of State or Government have to improve it in June, just the timing on that? A similar question for the Athena funding for the Battlegroups: is that going to need the sign of the Heads of State or Government or is that something that will run its own course?
The decision on the Military Planning and Conduct Capability [MPCC] does not require any further political decision, so the political decision is finalised. I understand that we still have a few, I would say not more than a couple of days of work on the legal texts to have the operation officially in place. But it is like when you take a decision and then you go to the official gazette – it takes a little bit of time but is a technical work to be done. So, definitely no need, not only for the Heads of States and government, but no need for the ministers to go back to this. The agreement is there, the political decision is there, and also the wording issue that you might remember from Monday was still a little bit open, I understand is finalised. So it is now only a matter of days. This means that the decision will be operational if not in the coming hours, again, as I said in the coming days. It is a matter of technically finalising it.
When it comes to the Battlegroups – heads of state and government can always give political guidance on everything we discuss – the work is mainly to be done in the relevant working groups we have on finding the ways to have a review of the financing mechanisms. So I would not expect heads of state and government to focus on that, it is highly technical. But the political guidance that the ministers gave today was clearly that of working towards more common costs – meaning sharing the costs of deploying the battlegroups, in this manner overcoming one of the major difficulties we have faced over the ten years to deploy them. Because in many occasions we have had the need to deploy a rapid reaction force, mainly in the situations when we have had to bridge, for instance, a UN peacekeeping operation that takes several months to be deployed, and then you need a rapid reaction force to come in, in the meantime the UN puts together its own peacekeeping operation for instance. So, the political decision to remove the political and financial obstacles, mainly financial obstacles, for the deployment of the Battlegroup was taken. Obviously, this does not change this afternoon. This takes a bit of work to be done – I would expect some months because it is complicated, technical and still probably political work to be done.
But what changes today, for sure, is that we have a formally agreed framework for the governance of Permanent Structured Cooperation [PESCO]. If you ask me what is probably the most relevant political outcome of this meeting, it is that in a few months’ time 28 member states have managed to define and agree a common framework for launching Permanent Structured Cooperation, understanding that the launching of the Permanent Structured Cooperation will be linked, obviously, to a political decision that could come from heads of state and government for instance, in June or December, and the launching of concrete projects that member states will bring forward – projects on which single member states, groups of members states, will be having a Permanent Structured Cooperation in the EU framework.
Q. Precisely on PESCO, by chance, were any priorities or projects floated during discussions beyond the EDA’s four flagship projects? And if not, could you envision some appropriate ones and give those examples?
The wonderful thing of journalists is that whenever you give them the news they immediately look at the following news – once at a time. No, Member States – some ministers, some Member States, started to reflect also together to some ideas but it is definitely not for me now to mention any of those. But I am quite confident that this could come quite quickly. Because once we have set up the common framework for the governance of the system, I know very well that many Member States have a clear interest in specific projects and now we will help them to shape them in a way that fits to this Permanent Structured Cooperation framework.
Q. Wie Sie schon wissen, morgen werden Präsidentschaftswahlen im Iran stattfinden. Wie beobachtet EU diese Präsidentschaftswahl und ist es besser für die Beziehung EU und Iran wenn Reformer oder Radikal-Hardliner gewählt werden? Wie sehen Sie diesen Prozess? Meine zweite Frage, wenn ich fragen darf, ist Terrorbekämpfung. Haben Sie heute irgendetwas entschieden was Irak und Kurdistan anbelangt? [As you know there will be Presidential elections taking place in Iran tomorrow. How does the EU observe this and will it be better for relations between the EU and Iran if a reformer or a political hardliner is elected. How do you see this process? My second question, if I may, is on the fight against terrorism. Have there been any decision today on Iraq or Kurdistan?]
On the second part of the question, no, there was no formal decision on this today.
On the elections in Iran, we obviously follow with a lot of attention and respect the last hours before the elections and I would never comment on possible results. What I can say is that we have worked with the Iranian authorities in these years in an intense manner on many different files. And in some cases we have some common ground and good cooperation, for instance on the implementation of the nuclear agreement we have worked well together with the Iranian authorities. And I can be very satisfied with the fact that for five times the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] has certified that Iran has fully complied with its commitments and the international community has responded to this commitment by lifting the sanctions, and from the European side with a large commitment, profound commitment, to bring investments and start different fields of cooperation. I led myself a visit with six or seven Commissioners to open sectorial dialogues and fields of cooperation, with different colleagues from culture to energy to different aspects. We have opened different fields of cooperation with the Iranian authorities, there are other fields where we do not see eye to eye but I have to say the channels have always been open, the exchanges have always been constructive and there is I would say a certain level of exchanges and understanding. So I would not comment on potential results, but it is an election that we look at very closely. Also because Iran is an important player in the region, not only in the Middle East but also in Asia – think of Afghanistan. So, definitely it is going to be an important election and I can only wish all the Iranian citizens a good exercise of their voting rights.
Q. When PESCO is fully up and running, what are we talking about in terms of the scope of this? Are we talking about projects worth billions of Euros, tens of billions of Euros, to really fix the gaps in European defence over time in your vision of this? Or, can you give us some scope of, some sense of where you want this to end up? And, a second question. You always stress the importance of the work that the United States and the European Union do together. Are you worried about the degree of volatility and chaos in Washington right now?
If you ask two questions, first, you know that I am only going to answer only one, second, you do not manage to ask a question without asking if I am worried about something. I have plenty of reasons to be worried about many different things. First of all, on PESCO my objective is to accompany the Member States in finding their ways to establish a Permanent Structured Cooperation, because this is one of the instruments of cooperation in the field of defence that we have in the European Union and we have seen that not using it makes us lose a part of our resources. Here we can talk really about the costs of ‚non-Europe’ in the field of defence. So it is about spending better because we can start spending together – that is it. Then it is in the hands of the Member States – that is why I am stressing – to identify the projects they want to start with, with a Permanent Structured Cooperation. This is a process that will happen in the coming weeks – I hope weeks and not months. But in any case, given the pace of the progress we have made and really the substantial work the member states have done I would expect that this can go relatively fast. I count on the good cooperation between the end of the Maltese Presidency and the beginning of the Estonian Presidency to have this work done by the end of the year. But again, I cannot give you my sense of the dimension of the projects because now we are entering into the phase where Member States have to put projects on the table and say this is what is interesting for us to do together through the Permanent Structured Cooperation. The role I have through the European Defence Agency I chair and the European External Action Service I lead is to accompany the member states in the definition of these projects, but the input comes from the capitals. So, we will see it in the coming weeks.
I believe the Permanent Structured Cooperation can fill in the gap, for sure, when it comes to the output of our capability investments. I always say this – I apologise I repeat it once again – if you look across the Atlantic, the Europeans spend 50% of what our American friends spend on defence and the output of our investments is 15%. So we have an output gap that we need to fix – and Permanent Structured Cooperation, which means common projects among member states supported by the European Union, can fill this gap of the output. Having said that, if we put together the defence budgets of all the EU 28 member states – and even if you put together the budgets of defence of 27 member states, minus one – still it is the second largest budget on defence in the world, which means that we have a huge potential if we act together, spending together – and this is what PESCO is about.
Q. It is a repetitive question I asked at the technical briefing the other day, but I think it is still valid. When the uncertainties over the Battlegroups financial mechanism are eliminated on foot of the decision today, when could it be imagined that Battlegroups could be deployed by the EU in the event that Europe deemed there was a requirement? Is this something that could be imagined, this capacity could be imagined within a year, within six months?
Yes. Obviously I would not create a crisis just to deploy a Battlegroup, but in case needed… But don’t get me wrong – the financial obstacles to the rapid deployment of a Battlegroup, to the deployability of a Battlegroup are not solved today. Today the decision that was taken was the political decision to overcome these obstacles. Then the technical work has to follow and we know very well that in the way we can find still some obstacles to overcome, but I would expect that this can be done within this year. I am an optimist.
Q. The UK is leaving, so it is my assumption that you do not want the UK to completely cut loss from some of the structures that are being discussed at the moment. If that is the case, what is your message to your peers in the UK to convince them to concede some element of collective defence decision within the EU therefore beyond NATO?
This is something we will discuss at a later stage. We are not discussing today our future security of defence cooperation of what will be a third country. We do that later on. Before we have to negotiate as [Michel] Barnier [Chief Negotiator for the Preparation and Conduct of the Negotiations with the United Kingdom] has repeatedly said and as the other 27 Heads of State and Government have clearly indicated: first we negotiate the exit and then we negotiate the future status of our partnership. This includes security and defence. So far the UK is a Member State, is a full Member State, decisions in the Council I chair are taken by unanimity as it was the case today. I expect the United Kingdom to continue to play its constructive role as a full member as long as it is a full member. And this is exactly the message that I am hearing from the representatives of the UK government sitting at the table of the Council also today and in these days. This is a matter of being part of the family as long as you are part of the family. The relations we will have, the partnership we will have, the cooperation we will have when the UK will become a third country, we will discuss at a later stage.
But let me tell you that what I see is on one side the clear intention from the United Kingdom to continue to be a partner of the European Union once they will be out, in the field of security and defence. We will have to discuss the modalities of this. I can tell you openly we have many countries that are not members of the European Union that contribute to our military and civilian operations and missions, but obviously if you are not a member state, you cannot determine the decisions to establish a mission or an operation, you cannot take part in the decision, but you can contribute to a mission or an operation that is established upon the decision of the Member States. So we will define together how the future relationship will be in this field, but this is not a field where one side has to perceive itself stronger than the other, on the contrary. I have said several times: the United Kingdom is an important foreign policy, security and defence player, but nothing compared to the other 27 together. There is no trade-off imaginable. The United Kingdom contributes to our civilian missions by 3% and military operations by 5% and that is mainly the headquarters in Northwood; and obviously the headquarters would not be in a non-Member State in the future, so there is not such significant contribution to our missions and operations from the UK to be put in the table.
Q. Lei ci ha fatto un resoconto di una riunione molto importante, con delle decisioni molto importanti e anche in prospettiva futura. Dalla lista dei partecipanti però si nota che i principali paesi, cioè la Germania, la Francia, l’Italia, la Spagna, non sono stati presenti a livello di ministro – e anche il Regno Unito – c’era il numero due, il numero tre o addirittura un ambasciatore. Da cosa nasce questo? Una serie di coincidenze sfortunate? Oppure c’è una scarsa attenzione da parte di alcuni paesi al lavoro che lei sta facendo e al contesto che si sta sviluppando che magari alcuni paesi cercano di sviluppare direttamente tra cancellerie a livello bilaterale o multilaterale bypassando Bruxelles?
No, assolutamente, anzi è vero il contrario: per una serie di ministri era oggettivamente impossibile essere qui. Ho parlato ieri sera con Sylvie Goulard, oggi il governo francese s’insedia, era fisicamente impossibile per il nuovo ministro francese essere qui presente. Il ministro della difesa britannico è impegnato in una campagna elettorale. Diversi hanno una campagna elettorale in corso. Per esempio, con il ministro tedesco, con Ursula [von der Leyen] ci siamo parlate solo due, tre giorni fa al telefono esattamente per preparare queste decisioni così come ho fatto con altri colleghi ed altre colleghe ministri della difesa questi giorni.
Credo che anzi sia il segnale opposto e cioè quello di una fiducia nel processo d’integrazione e della difesa europea che abbiamo costruito insieme in questi ultimi setto, otto mesi, con una frequenza d’incontri e contatti a livello europeo con i ministri della difesa che non ha precedenti nella storia dell’Unione europea. Ci siamo visti a Malta credo tre settimane fa soltanto con i ministri della difesa per preparare esattamente queste decisioni. E le decisioni che oggi abbiamo preso sono il frutto di un giorno e mezzo di duro lavoro a Malta con i ministri della difesa e di contatti bilaterali che ci sono stati e di contatti a tutti i livelli dai capi di stato maggiore che erano qui a Bruxelles e che io ho incontrato l’altro ieri mattina. C’è una quotidianità di scambi e di lavoro con i ministri e i ministeri della difesa di tutti e 28 gli Stati membri – per me tutti e 28 sono importanti, non ci sono paesi più importanti e paesi meno importanti – ma c’è una quantità del lavoro, una ownership del lavoro che abbiamo fatto che rende probabilmente meno drammatica la presenza o l’assenza di un ministro nel momento della presa di decisione, proprio perché la decisione è stata costruita insieme.
Anzi io in questo momento vedo una grandissima volontà degli Stati membri di accelerare sulla difesa europea. Credo che sia uno dei dossier sui quali, se non il dossier sul quale, gli Stati membri stanno investendo di più per il rilancio dell’Unione compreso per il rilancio dell’Unione a 27. Personalmente, ho detto più volte, spero che questo non sia l’unico dei dossier sui quali il rilancio dell’Unione avviene, ma sicuramente, essendo la titolare del dossier, ho un interesse a farlo andare avanti in modo costruttivo, pratico, con dei risultati concreti come quelli che abbiamo qui oggi e politicamente unanime. E credo che questo sia il risultato che abbiamo raggiunto oggi che continueremo a costruire nei prossimi mesi, cioè un lavoro su cui i singoli Stati membri si sentono confident, con un alto livello di fiducia sul fatto che non ci sono strappi, non ci sono approcci ideologici, cioè un approccio molto pragmatico ed infatti nell’arco di sei-sette mesi abbiamo fatto dei passi che nell’arco dei decenni precedenti non erano nemmeno concepibili. Senza drammi.
Q. J’aimerais tout d’abord avoir un éclaircissement sur la décision concernant la MPCC [Military Planning and Conduct Capability] pour bien comprendre. In English, they agreed to have a decision for the future but they do not have a decision today; but they agreed that they could decide without ministerial decision, dans un point A, c’est bien cela? Ou est-ce que la MPCC est active à partir de demain? Le deuxième point ensuite si vous permettez, j’aurais aimé que vous nous éclaircissiez sur ce problème de découverte d’armes en Méditerranée – j’emploie le mot découverte et pas saisie – pour savoir ce qui se passe parce qu’apparemment il y a plusieurs bateaux arborant des drapeaux divers ayant été vus avec des armes où l’opération européenne soit n’a rien dit soit a été obligé de les renvoyer quelque part.
I will read the text of the Council Conclusions that were agreed that I think are pretty clear: “The Council looks forward to the effective establishment, as a short term objective, of the Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC) within the EU Military Staff in Brussels”. This means that we still have to finalise the legal act that will make it operational from that moment, but we do not need any further political decision on this. It is now only a matter of finalising technically the legal acts, but the decision is done, finalised.
As you know very well, [EUNAVFOR MED] Operation Sophia was asked in particular by the UN Security Council resolution to add to its core mandate an additional mandate of helping implementing the arms embargo that was decided by the Security Council of the United Nations. So we added this additional task, we did not add too many vessels, additional vessels; so we are expanding the scope of the mandate of the operation, so I hope we will manage to expand significantly the force generation and the vessels that are going to fulfil this mandate because then we also need to be coherent and have adequate resources we give to our operations, to our men and women in uniform. Since then, Operation Sophia has stopped vessels, boats within its area of operation, anytime that there was a suspicion that these boats were carrying arms. There were inspections carried out, several. In one case, that was the famous Lufy case, there were some arms and we checked with the Government of National Accord, with the government in Tripoli, whether this vessel was operating under the responsibility of the government. That was the case and this is why the boat was not stopped and the arms not seized because the Government of National Accord indicated that this vessel was operating on behalf of the legitimate government that is recognised by the international community and also by us. In another case that happened just last week, if I am not wrong or the week before, that was not the case. A vessel was stopped; there was a large number of arms found. The legitimate Libyan government did not recognise that vessel as a vessel operating under their responsibility or mandate and the arms were seized, implementing in this way the arms embargo that the Security Council has decided. So there is a clear decision for us as it should be. If there is a clear indication by the legitimate Libyan government that a vessel is operating under its responsibility, we do not have the legal basis for seizing the arms. If, on the contrary, this is not the case, we do seize the arms and we implement the arms embargo and this is done perfectly in accordance with the mandate of the UN Security Council. I hope that clarifies it. And the numbers? We have hailed 497 boats, carried out 46 friendly approaches, this means that the captain of the ship voluntary accepts to receive any inspection team on board, and boarded suspected vessels on two occasions I referred to.
Link to the video (remarks): http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I138271
Link to the video (Q&A): http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I138272