Foreign Affairs Council (Defence): Press remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell after the meeting

14/11/2023, Brussels
EEAS Press Team

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Another [Foreign Affairs] Council. Another long discussion with the ministers [of Defence]. We are 27 and as you may understand, the issues are complicated, and it takes [a] long [time to discuss]. 

Today, the focus was [on the] support to Ukraine.  

We also discussed about where we are on the EU Rapid Deployment Capacity and our Missions and Operations, in particular, in the Sahel. 

We started the morning with a breakfast with the Secretary-General of NATO [Jens Stoltenberg], discussing on the resilience of critical infrastructure, because we have had some recent incidents, which have damaged submarine infrastructures for energy and telecommunications, undersea cables and pipelines in the Baltic Sea. We had a discussion on the state of the play of our capacity to respond to these kinds of threats and how to increase the protection of critical infrastructure. This is one of the priorities of the cooperation between the European Union and NATO. 

Then, with the ministers, talking about Ukraine, I reiterated the urgency to increase our military support to Ukraine and, in particular, the immediate needs of the Ukrainian army to defend [itself] from the Russian aggression. This means air defence - we reviewed the work in progress of the training of the pilots for the F-16, winter equipment - because it is clear that the war will last during the winter, and ammunition. 

We are doing a lot, but everybody agreed that we have to do more and faster. This is something that I have repeated so many times: more and faster.  

Time is being measured not only in [the] destruction of infrastructure, houses, it is [also] being measured in losses of human lives. We have to understand that the support to Ukraine has to be conceived in the long term and it is part of our security commitments.  

We are working with the ministers on the framework of the security commitments that I have been tasked by the European Council to present in December. For that, we have to agree and coordinate bilateral actions with the European Union-level actions. 

My Deputy Secretary-General for [Common] Security [and Defence Policy, Charles Fries] will travel to Kyiv on the first days of December. 

The training mission (EUMAM Ukraine) goes very well. We are over the 30.000 soldiers already been trained. Good training means also saving lives.  

We will train 10.000 more in the upcoming period. I cannot give you a precise date but at the speed that we have been training the 30.000, these 10.000 more can go very quickly.  

On the issue of ammunition, implementation is ongoing. I can give you the figures of today but tomorrow [there] will be different ones, because it is a continuous flow.

Remember that we were based on these three tracks with the Member States. We agreed in Spring, we are in Autumn. The objective of one million rounds of ammunition remains the political goal that we fixed together with the Member States. It is ambitious, but it remains our goal – and we will continue pushing for it, doing everything, every day, in order to deliver quicker and more ammunition. 

What is the state of play? Well, the last figures I got: from the first track, we reached 30% of the overall objective and more than 300,000 shells have already been delivered. This comes from stocks or from re-routing or reprioritisation of orders, because the European industry exports a lot to third countries. So, we are asking Member States to reroute, to change the priority in order to give priority to the production for Ukraine.  

I can say the same thing about the de-stocking. Stocks have been provided but de-stocking will continue, because the stocks are a not a fixed quantity. The stocks increase and decrease. New inputs, new outputs. I asked the Member States to continue de-stocking their capacities. 

With the joint procurement that we have organised from the European Defence Agency and from the lead nations, in particular France and Germany, based on the last data – but the last data is from some days ago and tomorrow there will be a different one - at least 180.000 rounds have been placed as orders to the industry. Remember that the second track is ordering to the industry through joint procurement. 180.000 [rounds] have been put in order to be delivered in 2023 and 2024. But I insist that all of that is work in progress and the figures will continue increasing.  

There is room for more orders. The industry, according to the European Commission, has the capacity. By March, it will have the capacity of producing 1 million rounds – but an important part of it is being supported and it has to be re-routed and re-prioritised.  

This is about the ammunition issue. 

We have to provide the industry with a clear horizon. They need predictability on what we expect from them. 

That is why, the Act in Support of Ammunition Production - the ASAP - is already perceived by the industry as a positive contribution to the increase of European production capacity. Together with Commissioner [for Internal Market, Thierry] Breton, we will continue pushing for it. 

And remember that, in the medium term, we are presenting a European Defence Industrial Strategy early next year. 

I come back to the security commitments to Ukraine. I already explained that the purpose is to present it to the European Council in December.  

We discussed about the progress on the EU Rapid Deployment Capacity.  

This is a key deliverable of the Strategic Compass. The purpose is to enable to deploy [up to] 5,000 troops to respond to any imminent threats and to react to crisis situations.  

It has to be fully operational in 2025 and we are making good progress.  

We already made the first live exercise in Spain. Germany will do the same thing next year. We have to work on equipping our staff and our headquarters in Brussels to make the Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC) fully operational.  

We have held a Force Contribution Conference. There are a lot of them, but we need more. Today, I have passed a strong message to the Ministers that their political and practical commitment is absolutely necessary if we want to keep the schedule.  

Then, we went to the Missions and Operations. We discussed about the situation in the Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea. I [recently] came from Ghana, where I had the opportunity to deliver 105 armoured vehicles that were seized in the Mediterranean. They were going to Libya, and they were ceased by our Operation (EUNAVFOR MED IRINI) and delivered to the Gulf [of Guinea] countries, in particular to Ghana.  

Good news from Bosnia and Herzegovina since our military mission (EUFOR Althea) has been renewed by the UN Security Council for another year. I think that this mission is absolutely necessary to continue providing stability and security to Bosnia and Herzegovina.  

Before that, we held the European Defence Agency’s Steering Board.  

The European Defence Agency (EDA) is becoming more and more visible. The work of the agency is becoming more and more interesting. It attracts more interest and importance from the Member States. [It is] normal. We are in a wartime, and everything related to defence has more visibility and attracts more interest than in peace time. 

The EDA has been doing a lot of work but now this work is becoming very much high on the agenda.  

Today, we approved the 2023 Capability Development Plan. I know that a brochure has been distributed. This is not the development plan, this is - let’s say - the way of disseminating and explaining [it] to the general public. But this is an important document, very important, because it says what the European Union armies have to provide in the future.  

Remember that the last Capability Development Plan was in 2018. It means five years ago. During five years, this plan had not been updated and, certainly, the treats and challenges have been changing a lot [since] 2018 to now. Everything has changed.  

That is why this Capability Development Plan is so important. It identifies 22 priorities covering key military capabilities that we need to develop together to ensure that the European armed forces can respond to today’s new strategic environment.  

This is the action plan. The central reference that should guide the defence planning at the European Union level and for the current and future defence initiatives and instruments. 

I cannot go into details on the 22 priorities, they cover all the military capabilities needed. This update was very much needed because since 2018 until now, things have really changed. 

This is the result of our Defence Ministers [meeting] today.  

I hope that we will be able to present to the European Council in December the security commitments for Ukraine and a reviewed strategic plan for the Sahel region, which was another tasking of the last European Council. 



Q. The Chief Commander of the Ukrainian army, General [Valerii] Zaluzhny, has assessed that the war situation in his country is essentially at a stalemate, that Russia has ducked in, and that with current means, there is no way to change the situation on the battlefield decisively. Are you sharing this assessment? Do you see any way for the European Union Member States to give Ukraine the means it needs for another counteroffensive next year? 

The Chief Commander of the Ukrainian army knows - much better than I - the situation. I am not going to discuss with him about the situation on the battlefield. He knows, and if he has said whatever he has said, I do not know. It is not me who is going to consider if he is right or not.  

My duty, my work is supporting him. It is to provide support. It is not me who is fighting. It is not us who are fighting, it is the Ukrainians. Certainly, the war is lasting more than expected - more than expected by Putin, first of all. We have to continue providing support stubbornly, more of the same. That is why the ministers today engaged, all of them. There was not a single one with any kind of doubt about the need to continue supporting Ukraine, doing whatever we can with the tools that we have put in place. 

I cannot comment more on what the Chief of Staff of the Ukrainian army considers, but from our side, we have to continue supporting them as much as we can, and that is what we are doing. 


Q. I think he clearly said that more of the same will not do for Ukraine. He needs completely different stuff, and I am just wondering: Is there political will to push for another counteroffensive? I am asking that because, this year, many states – at least privately – said: “They have one shot. They have one counteroffensive”. And now it seems to have come to an end. 

I am not the Chief of Staff of the Ukrainian army. I cannot tell you what I do not know, and it is not my job to know. I am not the Chief of Staff of the Ukrainian army. Our work and our duty is to provide as much help as we can. 


Q. Déjeme preguntarle por la crisis de Oriente Próximo, que ayer no pude. Hay países como España que piden un alto al fuego humanitario, evidentemente no hay consenso en el Consejo, pero no sé si estos días se ha avanzado un poco más o si usted es optimista a que se pueda alcanzar en las próximas semanas. También en esta línea, Estados Unidos y Reino Unido han impuesto hoy una ronda de sanciones a líderes de Hamás. No sé si se ha debatido ayer en el Consejo sobre esto, si algún Estado miembro lo ha puesto sobre la mesa. Y, una última pregunta, déjeme preguntarle porque ayer pregunté por su respuesta sobre la amnistía al ministro [de Exteriores, Unión Europea y Cooperación, José Manuel] Alvares y dijo que la ley de amnistía era de concordia y de convivencia. No sé si usted, alto representante, cree que es también de concordia y de convivencia y si ha podido hablar de ello con los ministros [de Exteriores, Unión Europea y Cooperación, José Manuel] Alvares y [de Defensa, Margarita] Robles estos 2 días.  

Sobre esta segunda cuestión ya dije ayer lo que podía decir. Ciertamente las amnistías se hacen con este objetivo. Históricamente, las amnistías son el punto final de una fase de conflicto que trata de hacer borrón y cuenta nueva. Todas las amnistías tienen este objetivo. Naturalmente, esta también lo tiene. Pero no voy a decir nada más sobre eso por razones obvias, estando donde estoy.  

Sí, se ha comentado la posibilidad de aplicar sanciones a Hamás, pero, más que sanciones, lo que se necesita es cortar la financiación a Hamás. También es cierto, y usted lo ha dicho, que no hay consenso dentro de la Unión Europea, y tampoco lo hubo en el G7, para pedir un alto el fuego. Sin embargo, el domingo conseguimos el acuerdo de todos para pedir una pausa humanitaria, pero no en abstracto, sino de una manera inminente, urgente. Pausas en plural, pero ya, porque todo el mundo está de acuerdo en que la situación humanitaria en Gaza es realmente tremenda y, si hay que hacer una, pedir una pausa humanitaria es para ahora.  

Yo mañana salgo hacia una gira por Oriente Medio, visitaré varios países árabes, también Israel y Palestina. Y este tema, obviamente, será el objeto fundamental de mi visita.  


Q. Have the ministers discussed your proposal to allocate €20 billion from the [European] Peace Facility for the next four years? Is that idea still alive? Considering that the Hungarian Foreign Minister [Péter Szijjártó] again confirmed that they will be blocking any kind of payments from that Peace Facility, is the European Union considering some kind of other options? For instance, forming some kind of coalition of good will, which will be taking decisions without Hungary. 

The Hungarian Minister explained [to] us that there is going to be a new meeting today with the Ukrainians in order to try to deblock the payment of the 8th tranche. So, I think there is a possibility. I hope that this will be finally unblocked. Any other solution is not on the table. We work by unanimity, and we need to have unanimity. I asked the Hungarians to continue working with the Ukrainians. There is another meeting today. Let’s hope this will put an end to this stalemate.  

Yes, the idea is still alive, but it has to be part of the overall review of the financial perspective. I mean, the Ministers of Finance want to have all the bills on the table. This is part of the request, together with the €50 billion of civilian support, that the Ministers of Finance and finally the Heads of States and government have to consider. 


Q. Pour compléter la question de mon collègue, je voulais savoir si vous n’êtes pas un peu déçu des réponses - je dirais - plutôt réticentes des États membres à votre proposition d'une Facilité ambitieuse dotée de 5 milliards par an - donc 20 milliards, et du fait que vous allez peut-être devoir un peu réduire cette ambition. Comment allez-vous pouvoir tenir à la fois le niveau de l'ambition et la réalité financière des États membres et leur réticence ? Et si je peux permettre sur le deuxième aspect conjoint sur la mission d'assistance en Ukraine, vous avez parlé des objectifs qui ont été réalisés, est-ce que l’année prochaine on réalise le même type d'objectifs en termes de nombres ? Avec le même financement ? Est-ce qu'on développe des nouveaux modules de formation ? Est-ce qu'il y a des formations qui pourraient se dérouler éventuellement en Ukraine ?  

Oui, la formation, c'est aussi un processus continu. Ce n'est pas qu'on est à 30 000 et on arrête ou, que l’on est à 40 000 et on arrête. Malheureusement, tant que la guerre va continuer, on aura besoin de former des soldats, donc la mission d'entraînement va continuer aussi long que nécessaire. 

Vous savez, je suis habitué à des discussions budgétaires. Je sais qu'il y a sur la table du monde qui arrive d'un côté et de l'autre, les ministres de la défense ne sont pas réticents mais il faut faire une enveloppe globale. En plus, vous savez, je ne suis pas tellement intéressé par ce qu’il va arriver dans cinq ans. Moi ce qui m'intéresse, c’est ce qu’il va arriver cette année, l'année prochaine. Donc je préfère avoir des objectifs concrets dans le court terme, dans l’immédiat, qui permettent d’avoir la visibilité nécessaire pour les décisions qui vont suivre. Évidemment, le plan on le fait à cinq ans, en espérant que cette guerre ne va pas durer cinq ans. 


Q. Do you have any update on when the F-16s will actually be operational in Ukraine? Did you discuss that? Secondly, can you give your own explanation as to why Germany [Defence Minister, Boris] Pistorius said today that the 1 million target would not be met by March next year whereas Thierry Breton said it would be? I understand that there might be two different tracks, but could you explain to us, in your view, where we are on that? 

No, I do not have any concrete information about when the first F-16 will be flying in the Ukrainian skies. I know that the training of the pilots continues. I know from my personal training that this is something that takes time, and nobody can send a pilot over a plane without the full capacity to take advantage of this complex machine.  

It depends on what we are talking about. Do we talk about production capacity? Do we talk about concrete deliveries, which are already in the front line, being ready to be used? Do we talk about orders? It is a whole process. In which moment are we describing the goal? According to Commissioner Breton, the European industry has the capacity to produce 1 million shots a year. It does not mean that we [will] already have 1 million shots ready by March. So, maybe we will not have 1 million [rounds] ready by March, but it will depend on how quickly the orders come to the industry, and how quickly the industry reacts. Both things could be true at the same time. The capacity of the industry, and the deliveries to the industry and from the industry to us, and from us to Ukraine. So, maybe by March we will not have 1 million shots, but if the industry has the capacity to produce, it is [up] to the Member States to pass the orders in order to ask for this production to be developed.  

That is what I am asking. I gave you the figures of something that is already delivered to the Ukrainians, something ordered to the industry, and something about the future capacity of production. But we are talking about different figures and different stages of the process. 


Q. Is there a clear objective at this point among the EU Ministers – or leaders, for that matter – for what do we want to achieve in Ukraine, the goal? Because the situation on the front is dire, quite bleak, to the point that in some places, the front may not hold. So, what happens if that happens? Do we have plans? Have we discussed that? Secondly, if the United States decides to reduce its commitments, are the Europeans ready to step in with military aid or that is that? These conversations at least, are they taking place? 

The Council of Ministers is not a talk shop, and I am not an astrologue. I do not know what is going to happen in the United States next year. And frankly speaking with you, we take things more seriously than just speculating about “what may happen if (…) if (…) if”. I don’t care about “if”. What I care about is “what”. We know what we have to do right now, today, tomorrow, next week and next month. This consumes all our energy.  

I do not know what may happen in the United States depending on the electoral results, the mood of the Congressmen deciding to vote or not to vote. Frankly speaking, I am too much consumed by my current activities to spend my time on speculations. 


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