Informal meeting of Defence Ministers: Remarks by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the press conference
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Thank you, Minister [of National Defence of Portugal, João Gomes Cravinho]. Portugal has organised a wonderful meeting in a wonderful setting and the meeting has delivered quite well.
On current affairs today, we started with a discussion on [the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy] missions and operations. I informed the Ministers [of Defence] on the ongoing preparations for the possible deployment of a CSDP military training mission in Mozambique. We have already sent there a European Union fact-finding mission, which is currently on the ground discussing with the Mozambican authorities and assessing the possibility and modalities of this mission.
Evidently, we also addressed the developments in Mali. Despite the release of the President [Bah N’Daw] and Prime Minister [Moctar Ouane] yesterday – after being forced to resign – the situation remains volatile, unclear and we support the ECOWAS efforts and try to coordinate with them, in light of the next European Union – African summit.
The activities of the CSDP missions in Mali continue given their important contribution to the fight against terrorism – for the benefit of not only Mali, but also other Sahel countries, the G5 Sahel Joint Force, and also in our interest.
The main dish of the meeting was the Strategic Compass. We discussed a lot about the development of capabilities – that we call the capabilities basket – with a focus on emerging and disruptive technology.
We have to prepare for different types of crises. Today, the warfare has changed a lot, some of them are very much disruptive. And we have to deal with these developments.
Ministers discussed about the specific proposals in order to achieve our goals and ambitions and to have a less fragmented military capacity. We need to foster defence innovation to remain at the cutting edge of technological development. We have to continue being leaders, in defining and promoting international norms and standards.
We discussed the level of cooperation and integration, and the cooperation with NATO.
Also important at lunchtime was the cooperation with Africa. Thank you to the Portuguese Presidency for inviting the representatives of the regional organisation of Africa, not all of them could come, due to the Mali crisis. But I think it was a very interesting discussion from the African side, from the European side. [We touched upon] the relationship between development and security, the effects, the dialectical relationship between the two of them – no security without development, no development without security.
I have to remind [you] that, over the last 16 years, the European Union has mobilised €3.5 [billion] to build capacities and to finance the African peace operations. Today, there are more than 3,000 European soldiers, police officers and civil servants, currently serving in 10 missions across the continent, from Libya to the Central African Republic – which by the way is another source of concern. And I hope that in the near future, it will be also in Mozambique.
We talked about the Coordinated Maritime Presence that we have started in the Gulf of Guinea, with very good results. 90% of the piracy events or acts happen not in the Somali coast, they are happening in the Gulf of Guinea. The piracy has been displacing the activities to the Gulf of Guinea. Not only piracy, but today the big problem with piracy is not in Somalia, it is in the West African coast.
And yesterday night, we had an interesting dinner with the Secretary General of NATO [Jens Stoltenberg]. For which maybe you Minister [of National Defence of Portugal, João Gomes Cravinho] can also give some information about.
The only thing that I want to focus on is the need to review the joint declaration between the NATO and the European Union that is approaching its fifth anniversary. It was signed in Warsaw five years ago, reflecting our strategic priorities, which in five years have changed a lot.
So maybe we will work on a new declaration, depending on the will and the need [based] on the assessment of the new threats and challenges that both the European Union and NATO have to face.
Q. How do you see and what relevance in meaning has the meeting between President Putin and President Lukashenko today?
About the alleged meeting – because I do not know if this meeting has been taking place or not. In any case, I was not aware. Neither [President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir] Putin nor [Aleksandr] Lukashenko are nice enough to inform me about their agenda. So, I do not know if they were planning a meeting or not. I do not have any idea, frankly speaking. I do not know.
Putin is a strong supporter of Lukashenko, that is clear. But what was the agenda of this meeting, when has it taken place or when will it take place, what does it mean? I frankly do not know.
Q. Today, the Commission once again stressed that there is a package of €3 billion for a democratic Belarus. Do you think this is enough to convince the regime in Minsk? Or do you think that €3 billion is not enough? Is €3 billion stronger than Mr Putin?
Yes, today the European Commission has presented to the Council its outline for a comprehensive plan of economic support to a future democratic Belarus. It is not a matter of who is paying more, because this plan, [of] up to €3 billion, reflects the European Union’s commitment to support the Belarusian people’s wishes for a peaceful democratic transition. This plan will be activated once Belarus embarks on a democratic transition.
I do not think it is going to be a strong encouragement to Lukashenko because this plan is something that has to be implemented once Belarus goes through a democratic transition and to help Belarus to stabilise its economy, reform its institutions and to increase the economic resilience, growth potential and make the country more democratic. But this plan will not be implemented until Belarus goes on the path to democracy, which means something that I do not think Lukashenko would be very happy in supporting. It is a way of showing our support for Belarus to become a democratic country.
Q. On Mali, the European missions that are already on the ground will continue, but will they suffer any modifications following the latest developments and instability?
The situation in Mali is changing quickly and there is a lot of uncertainty. What happened in Mali happened 48 hours ago. We are in contact and following the situation, but it is very fluid. In the meantime, the humanitarian help continues being provided. There is no reason to stop it. I do not see any reason to stop the humanitarian activities that we are financing. There are about €32 million being delivered through a lot of organisations, INGOs, United Nations, Croix Rouge/Crescent. This continues.
Our training missions also continue, but they are adapting to the situation. We will see what happens in the next days, but for the time being, the missions continue. Yes, I know, some people ask me ‘oh, you are training the Mali army and then the Mali army makes a putsch’. It happens; we are not training the army to do a putsch. What do you propose? Not to train the army until we will be sure that they will never participate in a putsch? Unhappily, that is impossible.
We have to train the army in order to fight against terrorism, in order to keep control of the territory. Our missions do not have any kind of contact with putschists and the modalities of our action are very much framed and controlled by the civilian authorities. And, by the way, the protagonists of the coups d’état – this one and the previous one – have never been trained by our missions in Mali. They have been trained in other countries.
But the purpose of training the soldiers of the Mali army is to make them able to fight against terrorism. It is a hard fight – believe me -, and sometimes they are in inferiority of conditions from the point of view of warfare, they have to cover a big extension of territory. I think that if we want to ensure that Mali has the capacity of facing the challenges, we have to help the army and to train them. If the army participates in a putsch, it is something that we cannot prevent and, certainly, we cannot stop all training activities just in case one day a putsch can happen.
I insist, the people involved in the putsch have never been trained by our missions.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-206374