Brdo pri Kranju, Slovenia, 02/09/2021
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It has been a long discussion and I want to start this presentation by thanking the Slovenian Presidency and the Defence Minister for hosting this informal meeting of the Defence Ministers of the European Union in this really beautiful setting. I want to thank the Slovenian government, and you personally, Matej [Tonin, Minister for Defence of Slovenia], for your strong support for an ambitious security and defence agenda.
Today, there were two issues [on our agenda], apart from the lunch with the representatives of NATO and the United Nations. We focused on our missions, on the deployment of our missions in the world and, although in Afghanistan the European Union today does not have a mission – we had one four or five years ago and we cancelled it – all Member States have been engaged on Afghanistan in the last two weeks. So, Afghanistan was the backdrop of our discussion. It was obvious and necessary.
The Ministers recognised the good cooperation that the European Union and the Member States demonstrated during the evacuations.
Together, Member States evacuated 17,500 persons, including 520 European Union staff and their relatives – that were transported to the hub in Madrid and, from there, redistributed to the Member States that provided visas to them. This was done in a matter of few days, without previous notice and under difficult circumstances.
We discussed [Afghanistan] during the lunch with NATO Deputy Secretary General [Mircea Geoană] and United Nations Under-Secretary General [Jean-Pierre] Lacroix.
Everybody has been insisting on the need to draw lessons and understand why our efforts to build a modern state in Afghanistan have not led to a sustainable result. And, at the same time, that this is not the moment for disengagement, just the contrary. We have to increase our engagement in order to continue supporting Afghan people and, especially, the ones who were willing to leave and were unable to do so.
I said that we have been discussing about the lessons that we can take about what has happened. And I think that the first one is that Afghanistan has shown that the deficiencies in our strategic autonomy come with a price and that the only way forward is to combine our forces and strengthen not only our capacity, but also our will to act.
This means raising the level of readiness through joint military training and exercising, establishing new tools like this [Initial] Entry Force that will be discussed on the Strategic Compass that will be presented at the November Defence Council of Ministers – this would have helped us to provide a security perimeter for the evacuation of European Union citizens in Kabul, to strengthen further our military command and control capabilities, and addressing capabilities shortfalls through joint projects in PESCO and the European Defence Fund.
Second, [the debate] was related to the efforts for the stabilisation of countries, interventions and state-building efforts. We see clearly that what has happened in Afghanistan will be exploited by anti-Western actors and that is why we have to step-up our integrated approach, combining military, civilian, development and diplomatic efforts.
We need to be aware of the pitfalls of carrying forward state-building efforts in war-torn societies which are not structured along the lines of a modern state. And we have to ensure local ownership. Nothing can be done without local ownership. This is particularly relevant for the efforts that we are deploying in other parts of the world, like for example, in the Sahel.
Third, that we continue to be engaged in supporting the future of Afghanistan together with our partners and allies. We will talk tomorrow about it with the Foreign Affairs Ministers.
We will have to shape our relations with Afghanistan, including developments of relations and cooperation with the new government, depending on the path followed by the new authorities. We will continue encouraging an inclusive transitional government through negotiations. We have already increased our humanitarian assistance, but we need to remain vigilant to ensure that it is delivered in full respect with practice and standards. This is something that will also be discussed tomorrow with Foreign Ministers.
Then we went around other missions, like the Sahel itself, Somalia, Mozambique and Bosnia and Herzegovina. All of them are important, in spite the fact that, certainly, Afghanistan was at the centre of our discussion.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-209997