Thank you, Helga [Schmid, Secretary General of the European External Action Service].
I thank you for starting this week’s Conference with me as we did already in the previous years.
It is the traditional “rentrée” after the so-called summer break – even if actually I met some of you during the summer break so I am wondering whether it was really a break. But it is good that we start again together this new season, focusing on what we have done last year and what is ahead of us in this year.
Obviously, it has been a very intense year for most of us. We have seen many different changes, many different challenges. By the way, I see present here with us many who are going to take office starting from this week basically. So, it is also a good opportunity to fine tune and start together on a good common path.
I was saying that it was a very intense year for most of us – I would say for all of us, knowing how hard we have all worked all around the world, all the ambassadors of the European Union, all the services here in Brussels. And I know that all of you can measure, on a daily basis, the impact of our external action, of our foreign policy on the lives of many people.
I remember very well that last year, I asked you – and some of you suggested actually – to share the stories of the people we touch with our external action for good; the stories of the people who are grateful to the European Union for our engagement. I know very well it is not only good stories, but there are so many that are good stories worth listening to and telling.
And sometimes I have to admit, hearing these stories, meeting these peoples all around the world where you are, I imagine if tomorrow all the work we do around the world was to disappear. All the diplomatic work we do to support or allow mediation or conflict-prevention or crisis management or the international agreements like the Paris Agreement or the Sustainable Development Goals; if our civilian and military missions and operations were to disappear tomorrow, all those who are supporting our partners in very difficult circumstances on security; if all our humanitarian and development aid were to disappear, the one that allows children to go to school, women to be empowered, refugees to find shelter, stranded communities to recover: if all of this were to disappear tomorrow, in Italian we have a saying: “Se non esistesse dovremmo inventarlo” – if it did not exist, we should invent it.
So maybe we should use this conference not only to see what can be improved – and fore sure we can improve a lot – but also to highlight the value, one would say the added value but I would say the value, of the work we are doing externally. Especially in a year like this, where many things have changed chaotically and people outside and inside the European Union start to realise the importance of being that solid, reliable, I would say strong international player that we are and sometimes we do not say.
During this year, I have seen that the demand for an engaged European Union, for a strong European Union in global affairs has increased enormously. The more chaotic world politics becomes, the stronger the need for a reliable, credible and predictable global power is. The “European way” to foreign policy – that is that unique mix of soft and hard power we manage to exercise – has become more attractive and I would say indispensable for many around the world.
Inside Europe as well – I think that our citizens start realise that our external work brings an added value to their daily life. The events of this summer I believe have only strengthened this demand of Europe and some of you have worked on that together with me during these last months and weeks.
At the beginning of August for instance, when I was at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Manila, the situation in the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] was escalating again. And we might be geographically far away from the Pacific, but all our Asian partners and far beyond Asia, they are all keen to have us, the European Union, involved in the solution of the crisis – and we are ready to do so. Because they know that we will always look for a diplomatic solution, because we know that thinking, even thinking of a military solution to this kind of tensions, not only is dangerous but also it does not solve the problem at all. They know that we will do all we can to find a mediation, keeping in mind the goal of a full and verifiable de-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. They know that we will seek a multilateral solution, and they appreciate our expertise on non-proliferation, especially the one that we have gained all through the negotiations with Iran.
And indeed, if I move from the Korean peninsula to Iran, the deal with Iran shows the way, the European way to foreign policy. This was not an agreement between two countries, I have repeated it time and again and I have the impression that we will need to repeat it time and again in the months to come. It was a commitment undertaken by the entire international community on one side and Iran on the other, supported by a resolution of the UN Security Council, and certified regularly by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
And so today, two years on, compliance with the deal is certified by the IAEA and by the Joint Commission I chair with the strong support of Helga [Schmid], not by one single individual country. And we will have to repeat it time and again in these months to come everywhere we are because again this is a matter of international security, international safety, and also a matter of credibility of international agreements. And I was glad to hear at the beginning of this month from the re-elected President of Iran, [Hassan] Rohani in Tehran in his inaugural speech, his personal commitment to continue to implement their part of the deal. This is what is counting the most for us in this moment.
So, our partners know that they can count on us, they know where we stand and what our strategic objectives are. It is not easy in these chaotic times to act strategically. But you will remember well last year, we were taking the challenge of acting more strategically, with the Global Strategy [for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy], and I believe we are getting better at this, that the results are beginning to show. I will mention a couple of examples.
One is Syria. Syria is one of the topics that goes up and down on the agenda depending on how much the media is attracted by the last strike or the last humanitarian disaster, or the last meeting here or there and then, a couple of weeks after, it is forgotten. We are the ones that have not only remained constantly engaged on humanitarian support but also on the political approach that puts at the centre the Syrian people. We are the only ones probably doing that – talking with the Syrians, with the Syrians inside Syria and outside of Syria, supporting their way of imagining the future of the country and helping to think of the future of the country.
In April, many where having doubts about the opportunity to have an international conference that we hosted here in Brussels – the Brussels Conference on Syria and the region – to have a reflection on the future of Syria while the conflict is still ongoing. We insisted on that because we know about the power of peace and of imagining peace, the leverage that peace can bring to any political negotiations and even to military cease-fire negotiations. And I have to say that that choice was proven to be the right one.
Today, everybody is focusing on that strand of work, trying to start to imagine how to rebuild some sort of sustainable life locally in the communities; obviously for us that is clear, our support to reconstruction will come only together with a political agreement in Geneva. But that strand of work, of imagining the future of the country has proven to be the right one and the fact of being here that day, together with the UN Secretary General [Antonio Guterres], reaffirming and proposing to the international partners a different way of approaching the crisis, I think we showed our strategic approach to the conflict.
And obviously, there is still a lot of power politics around the conflict. We understand it, we are not afraid of that but the difference we have, the European way, is that even if we understand power politics, and we even accept it from time to time, we know the rules of the game, we can play with it but we never do it behind closed doors. If we discuss the future of Syria, we do it with the Syrians, we do it openly, and we do it in a transparent and reliable way; and we are not the only, but we will continue to be the first donors for Syrians everywhere in the region and inside Syria, hopefully soon more than before.
And let me tell you that I am proud of this, and we should not be afraid to show our pride: we did the right thing, and we did it at the right moment we will need to relaunch it, probably during the UN General Assembly in a couple of weeks from now. And this was not an exception. Because our work to act more strategically I think is starting to bear fruit also in other fields.
For instance, Iraq, not far away from Syria. For years now, we have worked to stabilise the areas liberated from Daesh, where now everybody talks about that. We have started before; we have clear credibility towards the Iraqi authorities everywhere in the country, every kind of authority there and now, we are moving forward to the next step, planning an advisory mission to accompany the country in this challenging new phase.
Moving from the Middle East to another region where we managed to think and act strategically in time and imagining the future and getting ready for the future is Colombia. I have mentioned it many times as a positive example. I was proud when we could sign together with President [of Colombia, Juan Manuel] Santos during the Foreign Affairs Council with the Foreign Ministers of the European Union the Trust Fund in support for peace that was ready to be launched exactly in the moment when the agreement was signed. And symbolically the fact that President Santos received the Nobel Peace Prize and the day after signed the Trust Fund with the European Union, I think is something that highlights the readiness, the strategic approach the European Union has managed to put in place.
There is no contradiction between being effective and being predictable. I believe we are demonstrating this in our daily work, in your daily work – from our strategy on Afghanistan to our continuous commitment to peace between Israel and Palestine. Being strategic also means sometimes being stubborn and keep the right parameters in place when doubts and question marks arise from time to time, here and there.
I would like to go through a few priorities we have been working on over the last year: files where we have achieved a lot already, and where I believe this year we need to complete what we have started and try to get closer to the end of this mandate, a couple of years from now, with some consolidated results in our hands.
I would list five priorities. First, security and defence. I’ve said it many times: the European Union has advanced more in this field in one year than in several decades. Different kinds of reasons for that. The main one is the need for security and the added value of European instruments in the field of security that we have now compared to before.
Today I think we have with us – if he is not here in the room, he is somewhere around the city – the Director of the Military Planning and Conduct Capability – the first unified command centre for EU advisory and training missions. And it seemed impossible just last year, at this time of the year, at this Conference, none of you would have said it would have been possible to have a unified command centre here in Brussels for our training missions. This now is a reality.
This autumn will be a turning point for our common security and defence. I count from now to the European Council in December to try to complete the preparation of this work.
We have the first trial of a Coordinated Annual Review on Defence carried out. Our proposals to set up a European Defence Fund are being discussed and hopefully launched by the beginning of next year, and most importantly, the practical details to establish a Permanent Structured Cooperation on Defence are now being drafted.
So, a rather silent and sometimes very technical work involving all institutions together in a coordinated manner, all Member States across the board, also inside Member States, with not only Ministers of Defence but also Prime Ministers, Presidents and also obviously Ministers of Foreign Affairs and sometimes at a certain moment maybe even Ministers of Economy and Finance involved in what is a massive, massive accomplishment, I believe, of realising finally the European potential of security and defence after 60 years of this European dream.
This is a crucial component of our work towards a more credible European Union, and I believe this will be seen, recognised, appreciated and also looked at with a certain interest in different parts of the world because we have always been recognised as an economic power, as a diplomatic power; and a security dimension of it will complement our global strand in a very adequate way especially in these times.
Second priority, but still related to our common security, is our commitment against terrorism and radicalisation. The attacks in Spain just a few days ago tell us that our work will not be over even when the victories against Daesh in the Middle East will be increasing. We have and we will continue to have a challenge inside the Union, this is less of our work, but also the connections between the challenges we have inside our European Union and outside of it.
Over the past years, we have worked with our international partners – and this is what counts the most for our daily work – to strengthen their capabilities, to monitor foreign terrorist fighters and block all revenues for terrorist groups. We have opened new channels to engage with young people from all around the region and far beyond our region, because we know that we need them if we want to win the fight against radicalisation, if we want to prevent radicalisation and if we want to defeat violence – we need the younger generations of this region and of all over the world to be part of this fight, an active part of this fight. We are listening to their aspirations, especially in our region, we are trying to address their concerns in a spirit of full partnership, building new ways of working together with authorities – local and national authorities – in their countries to prevent radicalisation and offer opportunities to be involved actively in their societies and their communities.
As you know – a different strand of work, equally important – we have just established a network of counter-terrorism experts in our delegations and I want to expand it. I think this is an excellent tool and I think it is bringing added-value to our counter-terrorism work, linking the external and the internal work we are doing on counter-terrorism in an excellent way. So in the coming months, it will be essential to fully integrate this network in our daily work, in coordination with the headquarters, with the security personnel in our missions and operations, and with our Justice and Home Affairs Agencies.
Third priority: migration. And some of you might be surprised to see it third. The order is not an order of importance, it is not even an alphabetical order, I am afraid, it is just an order. But on migration, we have a lot of work to do. The situation will continue to be difficult. I am not saying anything contrary to that. It is, I would say, a century challenge. It is a situation that it is here to stay, as now, the Secretary General of the United Nations [António Guterres] used to say when he was leading the UNHCR, tens of millions of people are on the move in the world.
This is not a European crisis, this is a global challenge that we need to find ways to manage together internationally. I am proud and happy of one thing in particular: that in these two years of work on migration, we finally – finally – managed to tackle migration as a foreign policy issue. You might remember well, a couple of years ago, it was an internal issue only, a security issue only, a borders issue only. Now, I think, we have finally realised it is essential to look beyond our borders and think about the long run, to think strategically also here.
We also need the internal angle, we also need the home affairs part of the work to be done. But for what concerns us, what is essential is to build this new approach of looking at the roots, looking at the processes, looking at the roots and the routes – sorry, it is les racines et les routes, in French it comes easier. We need to act and work more strategically on this and I think we have put in these last two years the basis for doing this in an effective and European manner.
The work of Operation Sophia, the training of the Libyan coastguards, the Migration Compacts with some of the key African countries, the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa supporting economies and projects in the countries of origin and transit, our work to stabilise the Sahel region – all these actions that were built in these last couple of years, were built in an European way – not self-evident but I think we finally got there – and are starting to show the first results. And if you see the numbers, especially in some key transit countries, like Niger, you clearly see that the numbers are going down and the results are taking place with the key objective of protecting and saving lives and managing migration in a sustainable manner.
Of course, as I said, the situation is and will continue to be difficult. The coming months will be particularly important, but we have the instruments put in place and starting to run at the right pace, in the right direction and hopefully with more and more engagement from all Europeans and also from other international partners in the same direction.
I was saying that the next months will be particularly important. We will have the EU-Africa summit coming up. That it will be the key moment for us to check whether our partnership is going in the right direction, solid, not only on migration but on many other fields, but everything is interconnected. The work on the partnership frameworks will have to continue. The work with Libya and the Sahel can develop much further, in particular through our partnership with the IOM and the UNHCR that has known an increase and a development in the last seven, eight months – unprecedented, excellent.
And – crucially – our External Investment Plan for the most fragile areas of Africa and the Mediterranean will finally start in these weeks. So, about all of this, we need European unity and we need to bring on board our international partners, starting from the United Nations, that see us – European Union – finally now as the key interlocutor, the key partner for a humane, sustainable, rational, long-term approach to manage migration. I will discuss all of this, and I will carry on this work also this afternoon in Paris, together with the Presidents of Niger [Mahamadou Issoufou] and Chad [Idriss Déby], with the Prime Minister of Libya [of the Government of National Accord of Libya, Fayez al-Sarraj], President [of France, Emmanuel] Macron, Chancellor [of Germany, Angela] Merkel and Prime Ministers [of Italy, Paolo] Gentiloni and [of Spain, Mariano] Rajoy to increase the level of ownership and participation of, I hope, all our Member States in what is a truly European commitment to a long-term, sustainable, humane approach to this challenge.
Fourth priority and I am coming to the end: the Balkans. Still looking at our immediate neighbourhood, but this is the file on which, as you know very well, we have more to lose and more to gain. Some say it is the backyard. It is not the backyard: it is Europe. And every time I hear people saying to our friends in the Balkans, ‘your way towards Europe’, I get very angry, because it is Europe already and we see it very clearly when it comes to security challenges, when it comes to the migratory routes, when it comes to economic investments and many other things.
This year we have seen in the Balkans tensions arising worryingly in different moments, in different countries. We had some moments of crisis, acute crisis, but at the end of the day our partners in the Balkans have always, always managed to recommit and to reconfirm their willingness and their capacity to advance on the European Union way, on their path towards the European Union – always, we have helped and they have done it. Why? Because I believe their population, their young population, is asking their own leaderships for this and the leadership knows this very well. It might be difficult, it might be challenging, it might be painful from time to time to work on reconciliation and good neighbourly relations, but at the end of the day if this is what your people ask from you, this is what you have to deliver.
And we are there to make it possible for them to deliver on this. This week I will meet again with President [of Serbia, Aleksandar] Vučić and President [of Kosovo, Hashim] Thaci to move forward with the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. And I think we can set as our own goal, by the end of this mandate, to see substantive steps forward for each of our Balkan partners on their path towards European Union membership. I have said it in the region. Sometimes it is easier to say it in the region than in the European Union. We will have work to do both inside and outside of our Union, but I think this is a realistic – and for sure ambitious – but a realistic and a possible and very much needed objective for our work in the year ahead.
Last but not least point of priority: global governance. We will have to continue investing all we can – all we can and this is a lot – in the multilateral institutions and in global governance systems and frameworks. First of all, because they are under attack from many different sides – I will not list them, leaving this to your imagination. When we work to build a global alliance in defence of the Paris agreement on climate; when we work for a free and fair trade; when we work for the respect of international norms, from Ukraine to the Korean peninsula – in all these cases, we are working for a safer Europe as well as for a safer world. The two things coincide. For us Europeans preserving and strengthening the global governance system is a way of investing in our own security and also in our own prosperity because our economic strength is based on a multilateral rules-based system.
So we are ready to cooperate with all those who share our priorities, be it with global powers – and again I will not list them, you can imagine them, also this can be subject to discussions – but also with regional and sub-regional organisations, more and more. Investing in regional and sub-regional organisations, strengthening their capacity to work together, I think is part of building a strong global governance system. We know that alliances might change from file to file or from time to time and this is the new normal in our times, probably. But we, the Europeans, will always pivot around the multilateral institutions. This has to be clear and this has to be a top priority for us in the years to come.
First of all, the framework of the United Nations, building cooperative solutions, win-win solutions in the framework of the United Nations system. The UN General Assembly ministerial week will be an important moment in this work, together with two European friends: the Secretary General [of the United Nations] António Guterres and the new President of the General Assembly, Miro[slav] Lajčák. So, I know that the UN system counts on us, Europeans, and we, Europeans, have to for our own interest strengthen this international system as much as we can.
So to conclude, I believe that we have this year a bigger responsibility than we ever had in the past. Sorry for those of you who are becoming Head of Delegation this year to make your burden a bit heavier than previous ones, but I believe that this year both the rest of the world and also our European citizens attach much greater importance to our external work because they see the difference it brings – be it on security, be it on migration, be it on trade, and economic opportunities, you name it. But also because most people understand the link between what happens around us and what happens inside, what happens in our region – peace in the Middle East, the situation in Ukraine – the situation in different parts of the world have a direct impact on Europeans lives.
And what is maybe new is that European citizens, I believe, start to understand that there are some things in the global issues, most of the things actually, that only together as Europeans we can do: take the migration file, take the security file, take some of the big, big global challenges, like the support of the international agreements, like the climates change agreement. Only as Europeans together we have the critical mass that can change and impact at the global level.
We bear a greater responsibility this year, but we also have the opportunity to show the immense potential of the European Union. And this is also a service that we can do to our Union beyond the external action. So we have a challenge, we have a big opportunity. I think if we manage this year that will come to work as we managed to work last year – and even more intensely – to show the great potential we have when we act together, when we act strategically as an indispensable power for peace and security, as a force for good for our citizens and for the world, we will serve at the same time the European citizens and the rest of the world.
I count on you to spend this week in the most fruitful way. We will see each other again on Wednesday for a couple of hours to do the housekeeping, but also something else. Maybe we can have a free exchange of views on our work, but I think we have also some time now for exchanging views again, not only to ask questions – you know it already, not only to ask questions – but also to raise observations or suggestions, or issues. It is also a good opportunity for me to listen and not only for you to listen to me.
I thank you very much, not only for the attention but also and mainly for your daily work, because last, last word – this is more housekeeping but I think it is fair to do it in this part that I understand it is open, so public – I have seen your work in so many different parts of the world. I think I have travelled to most of our delegations, I have seen you working on the ground, I have seen the impact your work and your teams’ work is having. I have seen the commitment, the quality, the dedication, the competence of all of our people on the ground and I think we have an excellent, excellent service around the world.
I would like to thank you all for all your work and all your teams’ work on the ground and also wish those who are starting this week a successful, not too challenging, but probably a bit challenging beginning and a great teamwork. Because if we managed to be so powerful in terms of an impact on the ground I think it is thanks to the fact that all your interlocutors know that behind you there is this – and this is a unique power we have in the world.
I thank you very much.