France welcomes EU defence and security proposals
European Union – Czech Republic – Defence – Closing speech by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, at the European defence and security conference (excerpts)
Prague, 9 June 2017
(…) I genuinely believe that Defence Europe can be strengthened only through greater cooperation. It seems to me, from experience, that we’ve got to give priority to this course of action in order to develop Europeans’ ability to shoulder the most ambitious responsibilities in the area of security and put their duty of solidarity into practice.
In this respect, the proposals the Commission submitted on 7 June, particularly on the plan for a European Defence Fund, are extremely welcome and, I think, profoundly change the level of commitment by all the European Union’s institutions. I’d like to reiterate here – as Sylvie Goulard has already said – that the French authorities are very interested in this initiative. We believe these proposals effectively help develop the European Union’s strategic autonomy.
Just like the scenarios on Europe’s horizon which the Commission is putting to us, the concrete, pragmatic decisions we are taking for the European project will form the framework for the future.
I see Europe’s defence and security project firstly as a brotherhood of arms. This already exists, although it has the potential to do much more. In the European Union framework, member states are committing from today nearly 6,000 of their people to 15 missions and operations spread over three continents. So this is no longer theoretical.
And I don’t need to go very far back to choose a striking example of European countries’ solidarity or commitment to our defence and security. Let me remind you of France’s invocation of Article 42(7) of the Treaty on European Union following the attacks we suffered in November 2015, for which the response was immediate and showed solidarity.
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But to work well together and trigger this solidarity, we need jointly to identify threats and the European Union’s role in dealing with them. It’s even more necessary for the European Union to have tools covering the whole continuum between domestic and external security. This is probably one of its major strengths.
I personally see four major kinds of risks and threats against which the Europeans must be fully mobilized:
The first threat is from terrorism, and everything must be done to eradicate it. We face repeated attacks in our countries. Outside our borders the causes and the scourge are the same, but they are further accentuated by the weakness of certain states and the intensity of certain armed conflicts.
Illegal trafficking – be it of people, arms or drugs – is also a major source of instability. It fuels a criminal economy whose ramifications go well beyond our borders. In recent years, the massive and concentrated influx of people putting their lives in the hands of traffickers who value them as no more than merchandise has severely tested our European solidarity mechanisms.
At the same time, we’re facing a clear challenge to, and genuine deconstruction of, the European security system as we’ve established it since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Europeans and the European Union must be fully mobilized to tackle this undermining of the fundamentals of our continent’s stability.
Finally, threats of digital destabilization are already central to our sovereignty concerns. Unless we can overcome our dependency in terms of data protection and storage, unless we can protect ourselves against cyber espionage and cyber crime, Europe’s strategic autonomy will remain incomplete and we’ll be the weaker for it.
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To face up to these threats, we need capabilities. They’ve already been partially discussed, at the round table I attended earlier.
The renewal of our defence effort is the first stone in the edifice. It must go hand in hand with a modernization of our defence capabilities. This effort is crucial for Europe: without it we won’t be able to plug the gaps that hinder Europeans’ ability to conduct and support operations autonomously. The Coordinated Annual Review on Defence that will be established at the end of the year will greatly contribute, I hope, to ensuring our national efforts are incorporated into a coherent whole.
Over recent months, with the European Commission’s help, we’ve also been able to lay the groundwork for a package of innovative, diversified and complementary financial instruments, to give ourselves the means of controlling key defence technologies and investing in areas of strategic innovation, in order to protect our autonomy when it comes to taking decisions and action in the long term.
The proposals made by the Commission to create the European Defence Fund and establish a programme to support the development of military capabilities from 2019 onwards must enjoy an unprecedented mobilization of the EU budget and the introduction of incentives, particularly financial, that will benefit both SMEs and large businesses. We’ll have to work more on the rules that will govern the fund’s operations, so that it directly benefits the industrial and technological base of European defence and each of the member states can gain from it.
The second level we’re working on is the activation – provided for by the treaty – of permanent structured cooperation. This will certainly be the next Council’s other major project. Some member states – and France is playing its part in this – are working on an ambitious approach enabling us to strengthen the European Union’s image as one of the organizations guaranteeing European security. We’re determined not to exclude certain states but to encourage a significant, collective, long-term effort within the EU that supports operations, capabilities and defence investment in Europe. Before making headway on projects, we must agree on principles. For us, they’re contained in the treaties: we must be in a position to conduct “the most demanding missions” set out in Article 42(6) of the treaty, in order to respond to the threats I mentioned earlier. We must be able to do the work at the required pace in order to be genuinely equal to the task.
Finally, the last area where we’re making progress is operations. The most recent and visible achievement is being able to plan and conduct non-executive military missions. This first stage will strengthen the European Union’s action beyond its borders and enable it to support its partners further. Improving the rapid response to crises naturally complements this effort on the planning and conduct of our operations. In this regard, the progress we’ve made to facilitate the deployment and engagement of the EU Battlegroups (EU BGs) is especially significant. On this issue, I want to pay special tribute to our hosts’ commitment. We totally share the approach the Czech Republic has taken.
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In the case of the EU BGs, as for all the rest, we’ll do nothing without political will to put European solidarity into practice.
That’s why what some people call the “momentum” of Defence Europe must last as long as necessary.
We have the opportunity to take a decisive step essential to guaranteeing our fellow citizens’ security in the long term. That’s the duty that now lies ahead of us. (…)./.