Press Releases Defence: Statement on behalf of High Representative / Vice-President Josep Borrell at the EP debate on strengthening European Defence in a volatile geopolitical landscape

Defence: Statement on behalf of High Representative / Vice-President Josep Borrell at the EP debate on strengthening European Defence in a volatile geopolitical landscape

Speech delivered by Matthieu Michel, State Secretary for Digitalisation in charge of administrative simplification, privacy and buildings administration of Belgium, on behalf of High Representative / Vice-President Josep Borrell.

Check against delivery!

Thank you, Madam President of the European Parliament [Roberta Metsola],

Madam President of the European Commission [Ursula von der Leyen], 

Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

2023 was a very challenging year. The international system continues to face multiple and overlapping challenges. 

We face two wars on our doorstep, while climate, food, and energy crises pose threats to global peace and security, hamper global governance, and slow down sustainable development.

This forces us to fundamentally rethink our Union.

Right now, two issues are urgent priorities: Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and the war that has flared up once again in the Middle East.

In the current geopolitical context, security and defence must be the top priority for Europeans.

Two years ago, the Strategic Compass was proposed and launched. At that time, nobody paid a lot of attention. Now, the need to strengthen our defence at EU level has become obvious to everybody.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine marks a watershed moment in European defence. Within weeks, dogmas that had stood for decades were overturned.

First, the European Peace Facility was used to incentivise Member States to give more military equipment to Ukraine. Never before had the European Union financed deliveries of military equipment to a country at war. So far, the European Union and Member States have mobilised more than €28 billion of military assistance. 

Later, the largest military mission in the European Union’s history was launched to train the Ukrainian army. By the end of this summer, 60,000 Ukrainian soldiers will have been trained on EU soil. The training they received is what Russia’s new recruits often lack. It significantly increases their chances of survival. 

But the Russian war of aggression has also highlighted the significant weaknesses resulting from 30 years of neglect in defence capacities. The weaknesses exist in terms of material, but also in terms of interoperability. Today, defence budgets are 40% higher than a decade ago but we still have a long way to go, and we all need to accelerate.

We are not going to be able to play a geopolitical role if we are not able to defend ourselves. 

Defence is a national competence. It is the Member States that have armies. We must be able to mobilise our armies to face common threats. We have to make them work together better, in order to have more interoperability, more mobility, capacity together and more coordination. We need to spend better.

But spending more does not automatically mean spending better. 

To get the best results, we need economies of scales. To ramp up production, the European Defence industry needs certainties of long-term demand.

This idea is at the heart of our ammunition initiative. We need to aggregate Member States demands, procure jointly and support European industries in ramping up their production capacities.

Through the European Defence Agency, we have put in place 60 framework contracts to place orders to the European defence industry.

We must follow this example in other areas. Together, with European Defence Agency, EU Ministers of Defence have already identified the key capabilities they need, ranging from ground combat capabilities and integrated air missiles defence to underwater warfare capabilities, space services, cyber defence or other strategic enablers.

All this makes stronger EU defence with Member States spending more and better together will also help to strengthen NATO.

Through the Strategic Compass, we are also working to make our armies more interoperable and EU operational engagement more effective. Evacuations such as in Afghanistan and Sudan have shown that EU Member States often depend on outside help to protect and evacuate their citizens.

We need the capacity to act, with partners where possible, but also alone if needed. By 2025, we will have a Rapid Deployment Capacity allowing us to quickly deploy up to 5,000 troops in response to crisis situations.

As part of this work, we conducted last October, the first live EU military exercise in Cádiz, in Spain. 

Interoperability is also key for our CSDP missions. In this more and more volatile world, they are increasingly important to protect European security interests abroad and contribute to global and regional stability.

We are already working closely together in the context of our Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions. Since the beginning of this legislative mandate, the European Union has launched seven civilian and military missions. Including last week, our new maritime security operation [EUNAVFOR] Aspides in the Red Sea. Through Aspides, Atalanta and our coordinated maritime presence in the Gulf of Guinea, we are showing that the European Union can act decisively when our maritime security is at risk. 

Other examples of our concrete operational engagements – and not only military – are the civilian missions launched last year in Armenia to contribute to stability along the border with Azerbaijan (EU Mission in Armenia) or in Moldova (EU Partnership Mission in the Republic of Moldova) to strengthen the resilience against hybrid threats.

Russia’s war against Ukraine has reminded us how critical traditional military capabilitieslike tanks, artillery or ammunition remains. But also, how much hybrid threats and space, cyber and critical infrastructure as well as information manipulation have changed the threats landscape.

In the past two years, we have seen progress in building capacities in all of those areas. But we can do more.

If we want to be a geopolitical player, we need to have the means. And the means start by having a strong defence capacity and a strong defence industry.


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