Press Releases Informal Foreign Affairs Council (Defence): Press remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell upon arrival

Informal Foreign Affairs Council (Defence): Press remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell upon arrival

Good morning and thank you for being here so early in the morning. 

We are going to have a very busy schedule today with important issues on the table.

First, we will hear from Ukrainian Minister of Defence [Rustem] Umerov, who will join us by videoconference, to explain the situation on the ground and the military development of the war. 

Then, we will discuss about our support. This is a restricted session – Ministers only – due to the very confidential quality of the information that we are going to share among us.

It is obviously necessary to have a clear understanding of where we are with [the provision of] ammunition. Ministers have been asked to present exactly what they have done, what they are doing, what they plan to do, in order to have a clear understanding of what has to go all together to provide Ukraine with what it needs and to reach the targets that we established.

It is important to clarify the situation and know where we are and how we will be by the end of the year – by March, and by the end of the year. 

I will give you all details on figures at the end of the meeting [at the press conference] because the purpose of the meeting is precisely that: to have a clear understanding of the situation and the commitments.

Ukraine needs more ammunition. There is a big imbalance between the fire capacity from one side and the other, and this gap has to be filled. This is why this [Informal Foreign Affairs Defence] Council will take a quite dramatic dimension. That is why it is taking place in a restrictive manner.

We will also discuss the Assistance Fund for Ukraine inside the European Peace Facility. You know that it is on the agenda of the leaders tomorrow – the package of support to Ukraine.

We have to show that our clear commitment to Ukraine remains and continues, and today we will try to solve the issues that some Member States want to be considered in the new stage of the European Peace Facility.

Until now this has been used in order to fund the destocking of the previous existing material and being taken by new material. Now [it] is more on the idea of supporting the production – new production – of the European Defence industry. So, it has to do both – a way of funding the support to Ukraine, and a way of pushing the European industry to increase its capacity. This is about Ukraine.

Then, in the second discussion, it will be about our defence readiness and, in particular, the will to develop a strategy for the European Defence Industry.

The last European Council tasked me as High Representative in charge of Security Policy, the European Defence Agency – which is the body created ad-hoc for the development of the industrial capacity on defence – and the [European] Commission, obviously. The three of us are working and we will produce a common Communication, a common presentation, a common strategy, putting together the supply and demand sides and using the studies done by the European Defence Agency about what our armies need and what is the capacity of our industry to satisfy these needs.

This document will be presented to the Commission – to approval for the Commission, because it is a joint Communication. On my side, it is me and my team as High Representative, and the European Defence Agency, and on the other side, Commissioner [for Internal Market, Thierry] Breton who is in charge of the industrial sector of defence. I hope it will be approved [by the Commission] at the end of February and presented to the leaders at the following European Council. I repeat: it is a task that the European Council required [us to] work [on] together and present to the leaders.

And the third [point] is the grave security challenge in the Red Sea. The creation of a new navy missions of the European Union, to participate in escorting the merchants’ ships in the Red Sea facing the attacks by the Houthis, will be decided. I am sure that it will be decided. Not all Member States will be willing to participate, but no one will obstruct – that is what I hope. The ones that do not want to participate, they just have to stand aside.

And we are going to be very quick, I hope that on the 17th of next month, the mission could be launched. We have to [still] decide which country will take the command, the command forces, where the headquarters will be and which will be the navy assets that Member States will provide. You know that for [EUNAVFOR] ATALANTA, it is Spain who is taking the command, the headquarters is in Rota, in Spain. It depends on who is going to take the lead. I hope that this will be decided today, and I will announce [it to] you after.

This operation in the Red Sea will have a name: “ASPIDES”. “ASPIDES” means protector, not to confound with “áspid”. “ASPIDES”: protection – this is the purpose. Protection of the ships, intercepting the attacks against the ships, not participating in any kind of actions against the Houthis, only blocking the attacks of the Houthis on the boats.

Certainly, it is an important mission. We are all concerned about the traffic through the [Red Sea] canal. Many European firms ask us to do that, because their business model is suffering a lot due to the high increase in costs on having to go down to South Africa and do all the tour until Europe. It is affecting costs so it is affecting prices [and] it is affecting inflation. So, it is a natural endeavour for us to try to avoid this risk.

The last point will be Sahel. You know that the three countries with military dictatorships – Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso – have abandoned immediately ECOWAS. Mali has broken the Algiers agreements. Well, immediately means that at least during one year they will still be there, preparing their way out. But it is very important and very significant that these three states, all of them with a military dictatorship, decided to leave the regional body – the West Africa [regional body] – to create another group of countries, I suppose very much linked to Mali, which is the strongest among them.

At the same time, we see the Russia influence increase. [It was] very high, very strong already in Mali, and maybe soon in Niger or in Burkina [Faso]. This creates a new geopolitical configuration of this area.

On the 24th  of May, there is a deadline for the [military] mission that we still have in Mali [EUTM Mali], and Member States will have to decide if they want to stay, continue the mission or do otherwise.

This will be [based] on a decision by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs. There will be restricted meeting to see what we do. France has had to leave, we have left our military mission – incipient military mission – in Niger. We have now been invited to abandon Niger with our civilian mission.

We still have a couple of missions in Mali which have not been withdrawn, but they are not connected to the ordinary work since we do not want to cooperate with Wagner, now called “Africa Corps”.

So, more influence of Russia, more fragmentation of the African landscape, and more decisions to be taken by us, I hope – in agreement with all Member States – by the 24th of May. This will be discussed in February too.

Today, [we will discuss] support to Ukraine and [the] navy mission in the Red Sea.



Q. On the Middle East: you know very well that Iran is behind all escalation. They have so many militias in Iraq, Syria, Yemen. Just last week, they attacked the Erbil city, the capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan regime. What is your reaction? Are you concerned about the Iranian regime?

Certainly, we are concerned by all the hot spots in the area, but I cannot say what we have not discussed first. We will talk about it.

Q. Mr Borrell, concerning Ukraine, did I understand correctly that you said 1 million artillery shells you promised until March will [be delivered]…

I have not said anything about figures.

Q. But could you confirm?

I confirm everything after the meeting because if I want to give you accurate data, I have to get it first.

Q. But just the tone you set today, it sounds quite worrying that you fear that Ukraine…

You will see if it is worrying or not when you have the figures.

Thank you.

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