Brussels, 06/05/2021 – 20:21
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Well, we had three different meetings today, maybe to celebrate that it was our first physical encounter since last August – soon it will be one year. We decided to hold three different meetings.
We started with the Steering Board of the European Defence Agency. It offered the Defence Ministers the possibility to review the state of play in the implementation of the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD) and to have a look at the recommendations of CARD, looking in particular at collaborative opportunities in capability development, research, and technology, which are the basis of the strategic autonomy in the field of defence.
And, certainly, we have a lot of work to do. We have a clear picture of this capability development based on research and technology, but we are very much aware that it takes 10 to 30 years to fully design, develop, and put in the field a usable major military system. This means that we need to make decisions and engage now. The discussion has been interesting, but there is a lot of work to do to go from the theoretical approach to the practical implementation.
Then, we went to our everyday business and, on that, the Sahel took an important place. I briefed Defence Ministers on my recent trip to the Sahel. As you already know, I visited Mauritania, Mali, and Chad. The programme of the travel was strongly altered and had to be adapted due to the fact that the President of Chad [Idriss Déby Itno] was killed. The region is facing one of the most important security and development crises of our generation. After I came back, more events happened with the killing of soldiers and civilians, I think that we have to increase our engagement in the region because the stability in the Sahel remains key for European security.
We went on to discuss Russia: Russia’s recent [military] build-up in illegally-annexed Crimea and on the Ukrainian border.
We discussed the de-escalation of the tensions and the implementation of the Minsk agreements as the only way forward for a lasting political solution. But it is unclear that Russia wants to engage fully in this respect and unclear is a mild word.
On Mozambique, Mozambique is a new issue that appears more and more in our agenda. I updated Ministers on our response to Mozambique’s request for European Union assistance to help address the security crisis and the terrorist threat they are facing in the region of Cabo Delgado.
Work is already ongoing. We are considering a potential European Union Training Mission, like the ones we already have in several African countries. We have a few steps ahead of us, but I hope it will be launched as soon as possible. I have given instructions to accelerate the work because we must respond to Mozambique’s request with a certain sense of urgency that we do not always have.
The main dish of our meeting was the Strategic Compass. It was the most important item in our agenda. Today we focused on one of the baskets of the Strategic Compass, the basket of crisis management.
This analysis that we produced last year shows that we need to be prepared for future crises and to react quickly.
To this end, we have put forward a number of concrete ideas and proposals. Many of them are based on inputs received from the Member States themselves. We want to do that in an interactive way. In the end, the Member States, which are responsible, competent for the Foreign and Defence Policy, have to provide their proposals, their input, their analysis. We got a lot of papers and putting all of them together we have to use our own proposal that the Ministers have been discussing. Allow me to summarise the main guidelines of this proposal.
First, the European Union needs to be more effective and take decisions faster. As I said before, we have to react quicker. We need to make decisions faster. And we discussed notably how to launch our missions and operations more quickly, as well as how we could create more incentives to improve the number of personnel, staff, and assets deployed under our Common Security and Defence Policy missions and operations.
Second, we need more flexibility. That is what I learned, during my visit to the missions that we are deploying in the Sahel. We need to better adapt our civilian and military missions to the needs of each crisis and each crisis is different from the others. This could also mean more coordination and cooperation with other military operations conducted in ad hoc coalitions by some Member States or other partners. In the Sahel, for example, there are the European Union missions and then there are coalitions ad hoc led by some Member States. We have to converge these European Union activities with the Member States’ activities. More coordination and cooperation.
Third, we need to be prepared. I want to raise the level of our ambition. And when I am saying to be better prepared, it is not just a matter of speed, but it is also a matter of having fully equipped and prepared our staff to react quickly. In this context, we discussed the idea that was present in some of the papers presented by several Member States – but also in our own reflections – the idea of an initial entry force that could be deployed as a “first responder” in case that we have to face an urgent crisis.
This is just one example of the proposals that could be considered by the Member States as part of the ongoing reflections on the Strategic Compass that I hope will be finished by next March. For the time being nothing is cast in stone, there is no agreement on any specific issue. It is a battle of ideas. It is a reflection, a collective reflection. There is strong agreement on some issues, the debate is ongoing on others. But this idea of an initial entry force has been widely discussed today.
For Member States’ forces to be ready for future crises and conflicts, we also need to plan and exercise together, by using scenarios not only to determine what we need but also to train together and improve our planning and conduct structures. Here also I want to be more ambitious. If we want to have the capabilities to deploy on the field, we must have at the Headquarters planning, conduct, and structures that for the time being we do not have.
In the weeks to come, the Ministers will have substantive discussions also on the other baskets, or directions, the components of the Compass: capabilities, emerging and disruptive technologies, partnerships, and resilience. Some Member States were asked about our partnership with NATO. Our partnership with NATO is something that I take for granted. It will be everywhere, but it has a specific part when we talk about partnerships. And our partnership with NATO is the most important one that we have.
In order to enhance this partnership, we invited to have lunch with us the NATO Secretary-General [Jens] Stoltenberg who joined us for an informal lunch. We discussed areas of common interest from the Mediterranean to Afghanistan.
As you can imagine, the situation in Afghanistan has been the most important issue we have been discussing with Jens, the Secretary-General of NATO. In light of the US and NATO’s decisions to withdraw forces as of 1 May, increased communication and coordination between us, NATO and the US, and other international partners will be key for ensuring a stable and long-term political solution in Afghanistan. Everybody understands that there is a big risk of increased violence. We want to encourage the peace process, to support the prosperity, security, democracy, and human rights in the country. But let us see the events the way they will unfold.
The Mediterranean is the other area in our immediate neighbourhood and there are still pending issues like, for example, the cooperation between our operations, [Operation] Irini and [NATO] Sea Guardian. We asked the Secretary-General of NATO to continue working in order to have the same level of cooperation with Operation Irini that we had with the previous Operation Sophia.
And, finally, we had the Board [meeting] at the Ministerial level of the European Union Satellite Centre based in Torrejón at the outskirts of Madrid. It is the first time in almost 30 years that the Board of the European Union Satellite Centre meets at a political level and I had the honour and the pleasure to chair this meeting.
For me, the Satellite Centre is a very important asset for our institutions and agencies, for the Member States, for our missions and operations, because it provides us with critical geopolitical intelligence analysis.
It also provides [support] to our partners such as the OSCE [in] Ukraine or the United Nations in Libya with an invaluable view of what is happening on the ground.
The Ministers adopted the participation of Canada, Norway, and the US in the first PESCO project shared with non-Member States. Finally, we have non-Member States participating in PESCO projects, in particular in this one on military mobility in the European continent, in which for sure the US, Canada and Norway is also interested. I think it is an important step for PESCO. We have been discussing it for months, but finally, our Common Security and Defence Policy cooperation with partners in the area of defence and for European and transatlantic security has grown one step further. Good news.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-205448
On Mozambique: the request for help was made in September. How soon do you think that the European Union will actually decide whether to help? I would like to know also a bit more about what kind of help will it be? Is this a civilian training mission or a military training mission? What sort of size and what sort of duties are we looking at for the potential mission?
The official request of the Mozambican government is not from September. We have been talking and discussing. I cannot give you a precise date, but I think that – and I could be wrong – the official request of the Mozambican government is not as old as last September. It is true that we have been talking and discussing with them in an informal way.
In any case, you are right. It shows that we have to react quicker. The sense of urgency is something that we have to push on this organisation. We have quite a heavy process and we have to accelerate it. This is part of the review of our strategy.
It will be a military mission and Portugal has already offered half of the staff. In fact, Portugal has already sent in advance military instructors. This Portuguese mission has to be considered as an advance and it will be integrated in the European Union training mission if we finally agree on that.
I think so. The political will is there and with a strong contribution from Portugal and I hope that other Member States will be able to complement the whole force.
Deux petites questions de précision sur l’idée sur la table de Force de Première Entrée : est-ce qu’à l’essor des discussions, vous avez eu le sentiment que le soutien préliminaire à cette idée, qui a déjà été mise sur papier par 14 des États membres, a augmenté ou au contraire a diminué, au vu peut être des difficultés? Est-ce qu’on parle toujours, comme idée préliminaire également, d’une Force [de Première Entrée] de quelques 5000 hommes et femmes? [Interpretation to Spanish translated it to 500]
Do not decrease my level of ambition. We are talking about 5,000, not 500. You do not do a lot of things with 500.
You know that the figure is a tentative figure, but it is of the order of 5,000.
And I think it is a good idea because when you face an urgent situation and you have to start discussing and arguing and going from one committee to another, preparing papers and more papers, and then you have to go to force generation at the end, either it is not urgent or you are late.
And I think that it is good to have the capacity to intervene immediately. If we really want to be a geopolitical power, we should be able to act as quick as needed. The idea has been put on the table by a group of Member States, in the context of our discussions. Immediately, the European External Action Service took this idea as a very important one. And I think that, at this stage, it is an idea, it is a proposal, it has been discussed.
Some Member States were a little bit more reluctant and asking what about it, while others remember that we have the battalions ready to act and [that have] never been used. But in this case you have to be more operational. And I hope, that not underestimating the difficulties, we are going to push for this idea.
On Mozambique: can we write that you expect the mission to be operative on the ground by the end of the year or will this be too much? And secondly, on the rapid entry force, do you have the impression that the consensus is growing below the initial 14 countries, or is it too early to say so? And the last question, on Afghanistan, has any doubt emerged during the discussion on whether the American decision to pull out was a good one?
No, we have not been debating on whether the idea was good or not, because the decision has been taken and what we have to do is to face the situation that is going to be created. Violence in Afghanistan is increasing and it is clear that once the United States will withdraw, the European Union troops will not be able to stay. That is clear and everybody understands it. The important thing is to face the situation in the way it is. You know, to discuss things that have already happened brings a melancholic attitude. We better face the future and try to take positive decisions in order to face reality.
And I can say the same thing about this initial entry force that cannot be considered alone, in isolation from other proposals that we discussed on the Strategic Compass. This is one element that has to fit with other elements. We are discussing other ways to speed up decision-making and improve force generation, but I think it will be a good idea to have already ready in reserve a capacity that could be immediately mobilised. And that was the idea of the [EU] battlegroups. It is a very sound idea, but it was established in 2007 and – as I said – they have never been deployed by a number of reasons, notably political ones -also financial [reasons]-, but the most important reasons are of a political nature. And what we are going to do now is to retake the political dimension, the political ambition. And believe me, after one year and a half of experience in trying to create missions and operations, I think that the idea of having an initial entry force is a good idea. I think that we could manage to agree on that.
About the Mozambican military training mission [being operative] before the end of the year, frankly speaking, if we are not able to send this mission by the end of the year, I would consider that not a good result. So I hope that we will do it before.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-205449