Foreign Affairs Council (Defence): Remarks by the High Representative Josep Borrell at the press conference
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It has been a busy day, [both] yesterday and today. We had a [working] breakfast, lunch and dinner. Today, also, we had [a working] lunch with the Secretary General of NATO [Jens Stoltenberg]. It has been a marathon about [EU] Defence Policy and, in particular, the Strategic Compass.
Let me start with the Strategic Compass, which I presented yesterday evening to the Foreign Affairs and Defence Ministers altogether in what we call a Jumbo meeting. I want to stress once again here that this document is not just another policy document. It is a guide for action with concrete measures and timelines.
If you want to talk about defence, you have to talk about challenges or threats, because you defend [yourself] from something. The first thing you need is a sound assessment of your strategic environment. This is what we did. Last year [we did] an assessment [of] the threats and challenges. The overall view is that we are witnessing instability, conflicts, transnational threats that impact our security and certainly using hybrid tactics as we see today at the border with Belarus. Something that some months ago was even difficult to imagine.
In the Foreword to the Strategic Compass, I wrote – and I think that is very timely to remember – that the classic distinction between war and peace has been diminishing; [it] is not black and white. The world is full of hybrid situations where we face intermediate dynamics of competition, intimidation, and coercion. What we are seeing today in the Polish and Lithuanian border with Belarus is a typical example of that.
This illustrates very well what I wrote even before [the crisis in Belarus] that we face a hybrid war with a lot of greys between black and white, between peace and classical war, where everything is being weaponised. This is a perfect example of the challenges that I was describing in my Foreword to the Strategic Compass.
The first thing to do in practical terms [is] to identify the challenges and second, [identify] how to respond to them, to which and to how, with which means. I have been discussing and explaining to the Ministers – [this] is the first public press conference in which I am explaining publicly – [what] the Compass is about, we have been analysing the four dimensions of the compass and we refer to them with four verbs: to secure, to act, to invest, and to partner.
First, to act. The European Union needs to be able to act more rapidly and decisively in response to crises. We need to take decisions faster, to be more flexible and to adopt more robust mandates for our missions. In this context is where I propose to develop a European Union Rapid Deployment Capacity that would allow to swiftly deploy modular forces up to a certain number, that we put on 5,000 troops. But based on operational scenarios, it is the missions who determine the force that you have to use, the capabilities that you have to use, and these forces and capabilities have to train together, exercise together, to increase their interoperability and readiness.
This is one of the most important messages: We need to act robustly, rapidly, and decisively in response to crisis. For that, we have to have the capacities to deploy together forces.
The second one is to secure. We need to strengthen our overall resilience and our capacity to protect the union and its citizens against the new kind of cyber-attacks and hybrid threats. That is why we propose to develop a Hybrid Toolbox to ensure a more coordinated response to hybrid campaigns, such as to further develop responses to impose costs on the perpetrators of foreign disinformation manipulation and interference. The cyberspace and the outer space will be the new battlefields of the new wars. We have to be prepared to fight there: cyber, maritime and space. That is why we propose [the] European Union Cyber Defence Policy and Space Strategy to complement our security and defence. This has a civilian dimension and a military dimension. Both have to be developed.
The third is to invest, because if we want to act, we need capacities. We need to have the right capacities, or capabilities, and, through the Compass, we have identified the critical capability shortfalls that we still have, and the need to fill these gaps. We have to be at the cutting edge of the technological innovation, reduce fragmentation and dependencies of our defence markets. We have to increase our industrial capabilities to produce the tools and means that we need to be at the forefront of technology of the new warfare.
Finally, but not the least important, is to partner. In the Compass, we propose a more ambitious partnership and cooperation on security and defence, first, with NATO. Today we had lunch with the Secretary General of NATO [Jens Stoltenberg]. Everybody stressed the importance of increasing, strengthening and reinforcing our cooperation with NATO, because the Strategic Compass is a way of making NATO stronger by making the European Union stronger.
President [Joe] Biden [of the United States] and President [Emmanuel] Macron [of France] said that [it] is is an important cornerstone for us. To increase the military capabilities of the European Union is a way of increasing and reinforcing the global security, the transatlantic link in complementarity with NATO. But if something complements another thing, it means they are not the same thing. In complementarity to NATO means that the European Union not only has Member States who are members of NATO, but [it] has the ambition to build a Common Security and Defence Policy to use its own capacities alone, when necessary, and together, where possible.
Concretely, the Compass outlines why we need a stronger Union ready to protect citizens, values and interests of the Europeans. It will enhance the strategic responsibility, or autonomy – whatever you want to call it -, our ability to work with partners to safeguard our values and interests. This approach was broadly supported by the Ministers. They expressed their readiness to continue working on it actively, in view of the adoption of the final Compass at the March  European Union Council.
In the meantime, from here to March, I will present at least two new drafts of the Compass incorporating the result of the work that is going to be done in different working groups of the Council. In general, I have to say that Member States supported the approach of defence capabilities, addressing hybrid challenges and engaging with partners.
Ministers underlined the fact that our approach has to be complementary with NATO certainly; beneficial to NATO, certainly; avoiding duplication, certainly; but duplications have to be avoided from both sides and ensuring coherence. In my view, this is fully guaranteed by the text I presented, because it is part of our ambition.
The important thing is to be able to translate ambition into action. That is why the Compass has a clear timeline and a review process. This will help to achieve it and to implement it.
The [discussion on the Strategic Compass] was yesterday. This morning we started with the Steering Board of the European Defence Agency. We discussed defence innovation. The Agency was created by a Treaty. It is not an invention of the External Action Service or myself. [It] was created by the Treaty to have a body that pushes for European defence common action in the field of capabilities. Today, the Ministers agreed on a set of revised principles for cooperation with third parties and, in particular, they endorsed the mandate for negotiating an Administrative Arrangement between the European Defence Agency, which I have the honour to head, and United States Department of Defence. This is a clear sign [that we are] strengthening transatlantic defence cooperation and, in parallel, we are working to launch a dedicated dialogue on security and defence between the European Union and the United States.
During the Council, I updated Defence Ministers on the mandate renewable of the United Nations Security Council on the European Union Force Bosnia and Herzegovina (EUFOR Althea). That is good news.
I also informed Ministers about the steps that we are taking to use the Coordinated Maritime Presences – a concept that is also part of the Compass but is already being implemented in the Gulf of Guinea – and how we could establish a new specific Maritime Area of Interest in the Indo-Pacific early next year. We have to continue building on the common strategic culture of our Member States, because the Indo-Pacific is very close for some and very far from others. But we will have to share our threats and challenges and we will have to put on the table everything that can be a problem for us. The Indo-Pacific area is one of the scenarios in which the European Union has to engage.
We discussed about Belarus. Belarus is not a migration crisis. We must respond with all possible tools to our disposal, and the Hybrid Toolbox that we are proposing in the Compass would be extremely relevant to face this kind of situations.
We discussed the new projects of PESCO, the [EU] Training Missions that we are deploying in Mozambique, how we can be more effective in Mali, Somalia and [the] Central African Republic.
To summarise, the Compass includes a number of concrete proposals to strengthen mandates to make our missions more agile, better equipped to respond to disinformation campaigns, being able to proper advising, mentoring, equipping and helping to reform the defence sector of our partners.
Lastly, during the lunch, we hosted [NATO] Secretary General Stoltenberg. We talked about EU-NATO cooperation, about resilience, climate, emerging and disruptive technologies. I think there was a big agreement on the need to advance together and strengthen our cooperation. It should be clear now that the Strategic Compass has nothing to do with duplication of NATO capacities. It is a matter of making the European pillar inside NATO stronger, and on doing so making NATO stronger, and the Transatlantic relationship also stronger.
Certainly, we discussed also about the Russian military build-up at the Ukrainian border. Let me say that we stand strongly and firmly behind Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. But I am sure you will ask more about it.
Link to the video: EC AV PORTAL (europa.eu)
Q. I would like to ask you about these Rapid Deployment Forces. Could you elaborate a little bit more on the concrete details, for example timelines or where these 5,000 forces will be based, how will it work in real terms?
When we talk about [the] deployment of military capabilities, we have to take into account the lessons of the past. In the past, we have perhaps tended to be very ambitious in our objectives, but not achieving much, and so [it was] disappointing from the point of view of results.
In the Strategic Compass, we have decided to change the method starting from the basis that the mission determines the nature of [the] force that you need to deploy. The important thing is not to have a pre-stationed force like the Battlegroup, which has never been used, but to count on a certain number of modules specialised in different types of missions.
You do not need the same capabilities or forces if the mission consists of the evacuation of European nationals, or [an] inter-position force between people who are fighting. You do not need the same type of capabilities. In some cases, you will need a strong, but small military force. In other cases, you will need a very highly specialised type of intervention.
We need to be modular. We need to be ready to gather different types of capacities with a certain level of dimension, that as a maximum we consider 5,000. Remember that after the Helsinki Goals after the Yugoslavia wars, the European Union decided to build a capacity to deploy 60,000 troops. Well, the world has changed a lot since then. And the strategic landscape. Nobody is thinking today on deploying 60,000 troops. So, we want to deploy capabilities.
We want to deploy capabilities to deploy forces on the basis that it has to be modular, it has to be adapted to the mission. They have to be provided by Member States. From now on, we will go into details on the further discussions on the text.
Q. You already said that there were a lot of initiatives and ideas in Security Policy in the European Union while the results were a little bit disappointing. So why do you think this time with the Compass it will be different? With these partnerships, you talked about the partnership with NATO, but what about partnerships with countries like Ukraine, Georgia? How do you see here in new types of partnerships? And what is being talked in the Strategic Compass? So, you discussed again today this military build-up and it is very similar with what we saw in April with the build-up. Did the European Union use this time to come up with some tools and instruments to deter Russia from using this military build-up? So, can you tell us a little bit what the European Union is doing or is going to do?
Certainly, we are following the situation in Ukraine, but – as far as I know – we do not have with Ukraine nothing more than an Association Agreement which covers a broad range of issues, we do not have a military alliance with Ukraine. We have an Association Agreement, the Eastern Partnership that covers a broad range [of issues], and we have solidarity with Ukraine. We have the engagement to defend, to support, the territorial integrity of Ukraine. This will be continue to be like this.
On that, the Compass does not point to anything specific. The Compass tries to create capabilities for different kinds of situations. But you are asking what are we going to do tomorrow in Ukraine? What may happen in the border? For the time being, we do not have a lot of information. Only the one that is being provided by the Ukrainians and the Americans.
We will continue doing exactly the same thing: to support Ukraine politically and diplomatically in the framework of the activities that have been developing since Russia took Crimea and started the war in Donbass. And certainly, Ukraine can be sure of the political, diplomatic, economic and financial support of the European Union.
What I wanted to say is that previous initiatives have been very ambitious. I just remembered that after the Yugoslavian war on the Helsinki Goals, we were talking about 60,000 troops that could be deployed quickly and be ready to fight for a long period.
Now we are not talking about it, because the strategic environment and the nature of war, the nature of threats, has changed completely. Today you do not need to move masses of troops. What you need is to mobilise specific capabilities highly qualified to face new kinds of challenges.
That is why we talk about capabilities deployment. Among the capabilities, there are forces as in a particular case and in limited number. We can say the same thing about the Battlegroups that were conceived and they have never been used, maybe because their situation was not fit for the capabilities that they were able to deploy and because they were on the basis of rotating responsibility of Member States. Now it is a matter of pulling together different modules, then presenting different kinds of capabilities provided by all Member States at the same time.
Q. You mentioned the Strategic Compass and instruments in the Strategic compass that what’s going on the border with Belarus. It’s also an example, so I’d like to understand how these instruments could be used in helping to solve the current situation, and if I may say: since like you also discussed the EU training mission, did the Portuguese minister of defence inform the colleagues about ongoing investigation in Portugal related to the smuggling of diamonds and drugs from the Central African Republic involving also Portuguese troops. I know this happened with the mission related to United Nations, but since Portugal is also participating in the UN training mission, I like to understand if this was an issue. If you are aware of this situation, thank you. You can play in Spanish if you want.
No. The answer is very easy in Spanish, in English and in French. It is very short.
About how the Compass can help to address the current Belarus situation, what is happening today at the Belarusian border, shows that we are clearly facing a different kind of threat where everything is being weaponised.
Migrants, human beings – picked up by plane several thousand kilometres away – have been turned into weapons and sent to the borders as a new tool of destabilisation. That is exactly what the Strategic Compass is addressing: to create preparedness to respond to these threats.
We warn about these kind threats and challenges, these kind of new situations, and the need to bring together all possible instruments that we have, to respond to these attacks or campaigns in a coordinated, coherent and effective way. For instance, the creation of the EU Rapid Hybrid response teams would allow Member States draw up a broad range of expertise that could be tailored to any situation at hand. This team could temporarily supporting national actors in front of concrete situations like the one that we are witnessing in Belarus, Poland and Lithuania. Today we do not have these kind of tools. We do not have these kind of assets or capacities. It has to be created to be mobilised when needed. We call it European Union Rapid Hybrid Response Teams. It is clear what would be the purpose and it is clear that today we do not have them.
Q. I have two questions. The first one is on duplication. If you can explain why these, the rapid entry force would not be a duplication of the NATO’s Response Force. What would be the difference. Why it is not a duplication. And secondly, if it’s possible to imagine a day when the rapid force would be deployed despite US objections despite the US saying no to our intentions to deploy it, thanks.
[Spanish expression]. You are really looking for confrontation between the Strategic Compass and NATO. It is a kind of obsession. Not from you, but from many people. Not you necessary, but I feel the perception that there is the view that when the EU wants to build a common security and defense policy, it has to be against NATO. But why? I do not understand why?
“If the Members of NATO are stronger, NATO should be weaker”. No! The Europeans have more capacities. They are ready to pull these capacities using it in a more efficient way, this will be to the benefit of our partnership. Starting with the NATO one.
Even the President Biden and President Macron had to say clearly that they consider that the increasing military capabilities of the European Union is something that will increase the global security driving force transatlantic partnership in complement of NATO.
It cannot repeat [enough]. There is no alternative to NATO for the territorial defence of Europe. We are not trying to look for an alternative to NATO. Nobody wants it. It is just a way of conforming the capacity of the Europeans to act together according to the Treaties to have a better capacity, because together we are stronger.
Q. Sur les missions de formation. En général, je pense et il y a eu un débat si les européens pouvaient agir d’avantage et si ces missions pouvaient être plus efficaces. Parce que je pense qu’il y a un problème d’effectif dans ses missions. Il y a peut-être aussi un problème d’équipement. Quelles sont les réponses que vous pouvez ou que vous voulez apporter? Qui est un peu le core business des missions, de l’aspect européen, c’est les formations des militaires dans les pays africains.
Oui ce sont des missions de formation, mais il n’y a pas que ça. Il y a une chose qui s’appelle PESCO [Permanent Structured Cooperation], qui mobilise plus de 60 projets dans le domaine des capacités de défense.
Aujourd’hui, par exemple, on en a approuvé 14 de plus. Avec ces 14, ça fait 60. Ne négligez pas ça. Le fait qu’on est capable de bâtir 60 projets capacitaires pour combler [les carences] des capacités que nous avons. Je pense que c’est quelque chose de très important, ce n’est peut-être pas très visible. Évidemment ce n’est pas un défilé militaire, mais c’est une façon de bâtir des capacités dans le domaine de la défense qui sont très importantes. Certainement nous avons des missions d’entraînement – on en a au Mali, en République centrafricaine, on en a au Mozambique. Et c’est vrai que ces missions doivent faire à des difficultés qui sont en partie [une] conséquence de la situation politique de ces pays. Par exemple, le rôle que la compagnie Wagner joue dans la République centrafricaine c’est quelque chose qui touche la manière dont nous travaillons, parce que nous devons savoir à quoi ça sert l’entraînement que nous faisons autour de ce pays.
C’est vrai que, puisque l’Union européenne n’a pas les capacités militaires propres, on est dépendant de la « force provision », de la mise en disposition des forces que nous font les États membres. Et parfois on a des moments où on n’a pas toutes les ressources qu’il nous faudrait. Et parfois, quand il faut décider si on lance une nouvelle mission, nous sommes en train de discuter, par exemple la proposition de lancer une mission de formation en Ukraine, cela prend un certain temps. Et nos procédures sont très longues et on discute beaucoup. Mais ce n’est pas seulement dans le domaine de la défense. En général, nos missions fonctionnent bien mais elles pourraient être plus efficaces. Sans doute on pourrait en avoir plus, mais pour cela, il faut la volonté des États membres de contribuer avec les moyens nécessaires.
Mais la boussole stratégique se consacre à cette question-là et il y a tout un chapitre dédié à la nécessité de renforcer et faire rendre plus efficaces nos missions militaires non exécutives. C’est-à-dire, les missions qui ont pour but, l’entraînement, [renforcer] la capacité des forces des armées des pays avec lesquels nous avons des partenariats stratégiques.