Brussels/Prague via VTC, 5 September 2022
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Thank you, David [McAllister, Chair of the European Parliament’s AFET Committee]. Thank you to all of you. Thank you to the Czech Parliament for organising this conference in close coordination with the European Parliament.
This is maybe the only forum where we can exchange views on the European Union’s Foreign and Security and Defence policies, with colleagues from the European Parliament, national parliaments from all Member States, plus candidate and observer countries. It is a broad scope.
As an economist, I would say this is a clear example of economies of scale – that we are doing and this conference is really worthwhile.
We need regular dialogue between the European Union institutions and national parliaments if we want to maximise our collective impact.
In particular, your support for our European Union foreign policy, including our CSDP missions and operations is vital. It is even more in today’s complex security environment.
Sorry for not being with you, physically in Prague, but I understand it was difficult to organise this Conference last week, back-to-back with the Gymnich meeting and Informal Defence ministerials that met in Prague. I understand that after the August recess, the agenda is difficult to coordinate.
Let’s try to be telegraphic in briefing you on what was discussed during last week’s Ministers meeting here in Prague – two informal Council meeting, Defence and Foreign Affairs – and to present the latest developments on the Strategic Compass.
First, about the informal Council meetings. The Foreign Ministers discussed the issue of limiting visas to Russians. I know that there is a proposal on banning every Russian at any moment, for any reason. But the Ministers took the decision that, on one hand, could control and decrease the flow of Russians travelling for leisure and shopping as if there was no war raging in Ukraine, while keeping the channels of communication open with the Russian society.
The concrete decision was to fully suspend the Visa Facilitation Agreement and also that that the passports issued by the Russian authorities in occupied territories of Ukraine will not be recognised. These decisions will now be formalised at the European Union level.
At the same time, we recognised that the Member States directly affected by this big flow of Russian tourists can take measures to control the transborder flows – in accordance with the Schengen framework obviously. They can take measures and they are empowered for that, at the national level, to take concrete measures.
Then, we discussed sanctions. We studied the impact of the sanctions on the Russian economy. It is certainly increasing, especially in the high technology sector, such as aviation. People say: “Yes, but Russia continues having a big flow of money, selling gas and oil.” Yes – the sanctions cannot prevent it from happening, especially as the crisis continues increasing. But from the point of view of our inputs to the Russian industry – the technological input to their industry -, the impact is very big and will be much bigger.
But we have to have strategic patience. We have to be aware that it takes time and continue using the sanctions in a well-targeted manner. Half of the fields of gas and oil, that now are under production, are now in depletion mode. Russia needs to develop new fields. They have new fields, but they will not be able to develop these fields without a strong technological involvement from the Western firms and the Western technology. Without us, they cannot continue developing their gas and oil capacities.
We have to continue our work to isolate Russia in the international fora and not allow Moscow to capitalise on the fatigue that is evident in some of our partners.
The war will be long, and the test of strength will last. That is why we must speak to our citizens and explain where the responsibility lies for this current crisis and how we work to cut the European Union’s structural energy dependency on Russia.
Our citizens are very concerned with the upcoming winter – rightly so -, and the difficult prospects posed by the energy crisis, which Russia weaponises as part of the hybrid war against us.
That is why the next weeks will be very challenging.
First of all, for Ukrainians, who are paying with their lives a high toll for this war. But also for other Europeans, that will be under economic and energy stress.
But we are not only us, there is the rest of the world. I will be travelling to Mozambique, Kenya and Somalia, later this week. We have to pay more and more attention to our African partners. And then, I will be at the United Nations General Assembly.
Finally, the Foreign Ministers also discussed how to step up and develop a positive narrative. We are facing a battle of narratives in Africa, but also worldwide.
And the Russian narrative is blaming our sanctions for the crisis. I have been in Bali, Indonesia and, in Phnom Penh in Cambodia this summer. And, every time, I am sitting at a table with Minister [for Foreign Affairs of Russia, Serguei] Lavrov, I have to hear the same story, the same song: “Sanctions create troubles to everybody in the world”.
It is not sanctions, it is the war. But we have to insist on fighting against this narrative because it has been creeping in certain African governments, media outlets and parts of the society. And it is a major geopolitical challenge. And, at the same time, we must be very careful not to push our relationship with our African partners to the point of breaking.
We have to know who is on our side, and we have to explain the reasons, the causes and the consequences of the war. Because people today are much more worried about the consequences of the war, than about the causes of the war.
Parliamentary diplomacy is an important instrument to deliver messages because politicians like to talk with politicians, and not only with diplomats. So I urge you to increase your contacts in your international political families and institutions.
And the last five minutes on the Strategic Compass.
We did not discuss about the Strategic Compass during the Informal Defence Ministers meeting. We focused on this EU training mission for the Ukrainian army. It was an agreement in principle to continue working on that. It was not a formal meeting, so nothing could be approved. But the [Defence] Ministers agreed on defining better the profiles, the purposes and added value following the request of the Ukrainian Defence Minister [Oleksiy Reznikov], who addressed us explaining which are their needs and priorities in the short, medium and long term.
So, we are working hard in order to present a full proposal to the Ministers and see if there is a political agreement to launch this mission, that I think could be of much added value. It is not a way of substituting what Member States are doing – they are doing it well, each one on their side. But if we want to be present at the European level, we have to look for a tool.
The United Kingdom is launching this tool and many European countries are participating in this UK initiative. And I think we have to think European and to present a European capacity, putting together what the Member States can do.
Here we are, developing training missions all over the world – in Mozambique, I will be visiting the latest one. And I do not understand why we are not investing our capacities in Ukraine.
The Strategic Compass was approved in March  and it has marked the biggest step forward in strengthening the European Union’s posture in security and defence.
This document was adopted and endorsed by Member States – it is not something that the High Representative writes. It is a Member States’ agreement, something agreed by the Council. And these Member States, now, they have to do their work. We should stop talking and we should start working because, certainly, it is the Member States that have to develop all the programmes of the Strategic Compass.
And in March  – quite soon –, we will celebrate the 1st anniversary of the Compass and we will see, when we present the first progress report, where we are. There are a lot of actions which are being developed. Many of them are on the way. In others, Member States are not sufficiently engaged and we have to push for it.
In the next stage, we will see what the Member States’ answer to the development of the Strategic Compass is.
And I also would like to discuss with you if the war in Ukraine requires a review of the Strategic Compass. Because it was written, it was discussed and adopted when a conventional high-scale war in Europe was not one of the scenarios that we were considering.
We studied several threats and challenges, but the idea of a real war with conventional means and tools, and big movements of troops and arms in our borders, was not the scenario in which we drafted the Strategic Compass.
Yes, the Compass is still valid and all the actions that we put on the table have to be implemented and developed. But we already started thinking on how to adapt our strategy to this new situation. Because this new situation will determine the future of our relationship with Russia and will determine also the new geopolitical lines in the world.
And we will increase our security concerns, to translate that the world is much more dangerous today than at the end of last year.
Since February , we entered a new era that put the security and defence concerns of Europeans on the top of the agenda.
Maybe, in some of our Member States, the societies are not as aware as in others of what this new geopolitical landscape represents.
Well, we should build – using these circumstances, using these facts – a strategic culture for the Europeans in order to share the same view of what are the challenges that we have facing.
Thank you very much for your attention.
Watch the video:
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-229533
Source – EEAS