Foreign Affairs Council (Defence): Remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell at the press conference

EEAS Press Team

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Today we had another interesting [Foreign Affairs] Council in the Defence format. A long one – we are two hours late. 

Before the Council, we held the European Defence Agency’s Steering Board. As you know, the Steering Board of the [European] Defence Agency is composed of the Defense Ministers of the Member States [of the European Union]. 

I think that the European Defence Agency is not very well known, and it deserves to be better known – because they do extraordinary work. There is not a lot of knowledge about the results of this work. Now the war has been an occasion for the work of the European Defence Agency [to be] put on the news and on the reflection of the work the European Council and the [European] Commission. 

In accordance with the Strategy Compass, today we have established the Hub for European Defence Innovation. The purpose is to stimulate, facilitate and support cooperation on innovation in the military field [among Member States]. It is the first deliverable of the Strategic Compass. 

Then, we went to the analysis on the defence investments gap that we will present tomorrow, together with the Commission, in response to the tasking from the Leaders in Versailles. And I can summarise the results: it is that the Europeans need to spend together, more and better. These three things. And since it looks like that there is a certain readiness to spend more, it is the occasion to spend together because spending together is the best way of spending better. If every Member State increases its defence expenditures, multiplying by “X” its current expenditure, the result will be a big waste of money because we will be multiplying our gaps, our loopholes and not decreasing our duplications - on the contrary, increasing our duplications. 

The analysis that the Agency has been doing, systematically every year, has been very much useful in the preparation of the report that the College [of Commissioners] will study tomorrow and that will be presented to the Leaders [of the Member States of the European Union].  

You know that the Agency produces this Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (the CARD reports), and the Capability Development Plan, where we study what do we have, which are our capabilities and what do we need to have. And this is the gap - the gap is what we have and what we should have or what we need to have. 

Taking into account the current security context, marked by the return of war to Europe, this analysis is becoming much more important. 

The analysis looks at gaps in the short term. The first thing to do is to refill our stockpiles of military material. In the medium term, we have to augment our existing capabilities and, in the long term, we have to reinforce and modernise.  

Can I put a figure to the gap? Yes. If we had been spending on defence every year from 2009 until 2018, the same amount of money that we were spending in 2009 – every year the same amount of money than in 2009 for 9 years -, we would had spent in defence €160 billion more. Now we are at the same level as in 2008. We have recovered this gap, but the accumulated difference, adding up all the annual gaps with respect to 2009, makes €160 billion. It has been a strong disarmament process, a silent disarmament process that Europeans have been going through. And very happily, because less military expenditure means more money for other purposes. But now we face the consequences of this accumulated gap. And we have to recover from these dynamics. 

Then, we move to how to recover? This is the big question. [In the] short term, refilling stocks. [In the] medium term, increase the existing capabilities. [In the] long term, to reinforce and modernise. It is going to be a big task, and a big occasion also for our industry. The war in Ukraine has been a wake-up call, making clear that we have to fill these gaps and increase our defence capabilities. 

Then, we went to the Foreign Affairs Council Defence. We updated Ministers on the latest developments in Mali. Let me summarise [it]. We do not have the guarantees by the transition authorities on non-interference by the Russian mercenaries [with the Malian Armed Forces trained by EUTM].  

On the contrary, we have seen an increasing pattern of collusion and allegations of grave human rights abuses [that are] being investigated by the United Nations. The latest regrettable decision by Mali to pull out from the G5 Sahel only adds to this. So, we decided to reaffirm our provisional decision [that we took a month ago] of suspending operational training to form units of the Malian Armed Forces and the National Guard. We have also suspended the delivery of military equipment under the European Peace Facility, which was on the way.

This does not mean that we are leaving the Sahel. On the contrary, we want to do more and to do better. For that, we will reallocate our military resources to the neighbouring countries. We will look at what is happening in the Gulf of Guinea and we will reduce our effectives in Mali itself. Since we are not going to continue delivering military training, we will decrease our effectives. In the next weeks, we will present the Strategic Review of the two EU Mali missions [EUTM Mali and EUCAP Sahel Mali] to Member States. But we are not cancelling these missions. 

Then, we went to the [Strategic] Compass. [As] you know, the Compass is a very operational document with 80 concrete actions and a time to deliver. And 51 of these 80 concrete actions have to be implemented already this year. We are working on it. We have explained to the Ministers what we are doing and what we expect the Member States to do on space, on fighting Foreign Information Manipulation, or on developing this Rapid Deployment Capacity. 51 of these measurers have to be implemented this year.  

Then, we moved on to the study on how we can make our CSDP Missions and Operations more effective. This is another request from the Compass.  

[We need] more flexibility in order to respond to our partners’ needs. More targeted training, accompanying and with equipment. We cannot have a fit-for-all formula. We have to be able to adapt the missions to the current security environment.  

We should try, for example, to authorise executive tasks – not just training, but executive tasks - using Article 44 [of the Treaty on European Union], which allows EU Member States to agree to execute certain tasks that could represent an executive mission under the EU banner without having to be all together. We need unanimity, but not unanimous participation. Those who do not want to participate can let others go. 

We must be able to prevent better and not only respond to crises. We have to act before a crisis erupts. 

The Gulf of Guinea is a good example. We know that there are some crises that look like the ones in the Sahel. [For example] what is happening in Benin, Togo and Burkina Faso. 

So we need to act before the crisis erupts and we have to be prepared to provide support to our partners well before we are in an urgent situation. We need smaller, more agile teams, that can address specific requests for targeted trainings, advice, equipment and accompaniment. This is the formula. 

Then, we went to [discuss] Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. We were joined by Ukraine’s Minister of Defence, Mr [Oleksii] Reznikov via videoconference, as well as NATO Deputy Secretary-General Mr [Mircea] Geoana. Minister Reznikov gave us an account of the situation on the ground, and the needs of the Ukrainian army that we continue to support. 

This support is making a difference on the battlefield [and] the capacities of the Ukrainian army. We need to sustain their efforts. We have to replenish resources and stockpiles. This support is critical because the war is at a turning point.  

We cannot let Ukraine run out of equipment. And we will not. The battle in the Donbass is at a moment in which the counteroffensive of the Ukrainians and [the] push [against] the Russians are having some extraordinary success - like the one the other day against a column of Russian tanks, shows that Ukrainians continue having an incredible capacity to resist and counterattack. 

The additional tranche of €500 million will bring to €2 billion the total military support from the European Union. But this is just a part of the Europeans' efforts. Member States from their side they are also making a lot of efforts. I will not give you the total amount, but it is much more than people believe. It is a good thing to continue doing. We have done it since the beginning of the war, and we have to continue until the end. 

The delivery is advancing thanks to the hard work of the Clearing House Cell. It is working in cooperation and coordination with the Cell that was created in Rammstein in order to pull together efforts not only of EU Member States, but of everyone - US, UK, Canada and many others that are supporting Ukraine.  

Our [EU] Advisory Mission to Ukraine (EUAM Ukraine) today is back to Kyiv and will support the Ukrainian authorities through civilian activities, supporting border management and investigation and prosecution of war crimes.  

We also launched the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group (ACA), jointly with the United States and the United Kingdom to coordinate international resources supporting these investigations. 

The news of the day is that the Swedish and Finnish ministers explained and updated us about their policy deliberations on NATO membership. They can have, they can count on the full support of the European Union. This will increase the number of [EU] Member States that are NATO members, and this will strengthen and increase cooperation and security in Europe. 

Let us hope that this membership will come soon and in this way NATO and the European Union will be two sets of Member States with more intersections. This is important news, an important geopolitical change – have a look at the map, at the coast of the Baltic Sea and you will see the big differences with Sweden and Finland being members of NATO. 

As I said, it was a long and intense [Foreign Affairs] Council of Defence ministers, I am at your disposal for more information. 



Q. Sur la Finlande et la Suède : on sait très bien qu’il y a une période intérimaire avant l’incorporation totale à l’OTAN, et il y a cet Article 42.7 [du TUE] qui pourrait être activé s’il y avait une volonté d’attaque de la Russie. Est-ce que les Européens sont prêts à répondre à une demande potentielle des Suédois et des Finlandais s’ils décidaient de le mettre en œuvre ? Sur le Mali : vous avez dit qu’on ne partait pas du Mali, mais est-ce qu’on va réussir à rester avec toutes les décisions maliennes qui se succèdent tous les jours, toutes plus mauvaises les unes que les autres, et le possible départ de quand même quelques pays, dont je pense les Espagnols ? 

A propos du Mali : pour annuler la mission, pour la finir, pour plier bagage et partir tous, il faut une décision prise à l’unanimité du Conseil. Et vous savez ô combien difficiles sont les décisions à l’unanimité. Mais la question ne s’est même pas posée. La mission n’est pas annulée. La mission reste mais on va la redéfinir et la redimensionner. On a plus de 1.000 effectifs – on n’a pas besoin de 1.000 effectifs si on ne va pas faire un entrainement de masse, de centaines de soldats. La grosse activité, c’est le “training” [la formation] de dizaines, centaines de troupes – ça ne va continuer, on a arrêté il y a un mois. Il n’y a pas de raison de continuer parce qu’on n’a pas les garanties de la part des autorités [de transition] maliennes, donc ça on arrête. Si ça on arrête, il faut rapatrier un certain nombre de ces effectifs. L’Espagne ne part pas, mais va sans doute diminuer le nombre de ses effectifs car c’est un grand contributeur de la mission au Mali. Evidemment, ça va diminuer. L’Allemagne a ses effectifs qui restent mais pas au Mali – ils restent au Niger, de l’autre côté. Ils font partie d’une mission qui, maintenant, a une dimension régionale, parce que ce n’est pas seulement le Mali, c’est aussi le Burkina [Faso], c’est aussi le Niger, mais ils ne sont pas au Mali. Donc la mission reste, la mission va être redimensionnée, recadrée pour atteindre d’autres objectifs comme le training [la formation] de haut niveau, le training [la formation] sur les questions, [comme] par exemple, le respect du droit humanitaire et le conseil de haut niveau des cadres de l’armée malienne, si c’est possible. Mais l’activité - disons – qui demande un grand volume d’effectifs, qui engage des centaines de personnes – cela va s’arrêter. Mais on reste pour faire les autres choses avec beaucoup moins d’effectifs. Mais ceci ne veut pas dire que tout le monde va partir quand et comment ils [le] voudront, il faudra faire ça de façon coordonnée. On est quand même une mission, et chaque pays devra proposer le retrait de ses troupes d’une façon coordonnée par le Commandement bruxellois de la mission au Mali. 

Ensuite, sur l’Article 42.7. L’Article 42.7, il est là et il dit ce qu’il dit. Il dit clairement que si un Etat est attaqué sur son territoire, s’il y a une agression armée contre un Etat membre de l’Union européenne, cet Etat peut demander aux autres de l’aider. Il peut demander aux autres de l’aider, et les autres sont obligés de le faire, avec tous leurs moyens – ni plus, ni moins. Ni plus, ni moins. Il faut que l’Etat affecté le demande mais s’il le demande, les autres doivent l’aider. Ce n’est pas facultatif, ce n’est pas [possible] de dire “Ah, j’ai d’autres choses à faire !” - non, c’est une obligation du Traité. Mais ce n’est pas automatique, il faut que l’Etat agressé, si ça arrive – espérons que ça n’arrivera jamais – le demande. 


Q. Ce matin, la Secrétaire au Trésor des Etats-Unis, Janet Yellen, a dit, je cite en anglais : “I commend European leaders for their proposal to phase out all Russian energy supplies within six months, and I recognise the solidarity of the European people in accepting the implications of this proposal”. Est-ce que vous pourriez nous dire quand les leaders européens ont pris cet engagement ? Parce qu’à ma connaissance, ce n’est pas un engagement qu’ils ont pris en public. Et en plus, la Secrétaire Yellen est une ancienne Présidente de la Federal Reserve [Réserve fédérale des Etats-Unis] donc j’ai du mal à corire qu’elle parle en faisant des erreurs. 

Je ne dirais qu’elle a commis des erreurs mais il peut y avoir de mauvaises interprétations. “A complete phase-out of Russian energy” - que je sache, il n’y a pas eu de décision ferme de la part de ceux qui peuvent la prendre. Mais peut-être qu’il y a une mauvaise interprétation des données, des chiffres –je ne peux pas commenter une déclaration que vous m’annoncez mais que je ne connais pas en détail.


Q. As you said, the news of the day is Sweden and Finland. And very specific things happened while you were in that meeting. President Biden has asked the Prime Minister of Sweden and the President of Finland to go to the White House on Thursday. The Swedish Foreign Minister has signed the letter requesting membership of NATO. And perhaps most importantly, the Finnish Parliament has voted 188 in favour of joining NATO, just 8 against. These things that have happened today, what message do you think they send to President [Vladimir] Putin?  

Je ne pense pas que les Suédois et les Finlandais ont envoyé un message à l’adresse du Président Poutine. En tout cas, j’ai entendu dire que le Président Poutine ne se sent pas préoccupé par cette décision. Je m’en réjouis. 


Q. You mentioned refilling stocks, where will the money come from? If I understand correctly, there will be an off budget fund, because the MFF cannot be used for military expenditure where Member States can chip in. First of all, I would like to understand whether this is correct. Secondly, will this money be used to refill also the EPF? Because so far €2 billion, as you said, have been spent, so there will be €3 billion for the rest of the years.  

We can talk about European defence in English. Unhappily, I am not able to speak in German, but it would be equally appropriate. The [European] Common Defence is not something that belongs to the French. 

First, certainly we cannot fund military expenditures with the European Union budget. We finance the defence industry through the European Defence Fund. Il devrait s’appeler “European Industrial Defence Fund”, parce qu’il finance l’industrie de défense. Mais il n’achète pas d’armes.  

La European Peace Facility [Facilité européenne pour la paix] ne fait pas partie du budget européen. C'est un budget [issu] d'un accord intergouvernemental qui n'est pas soumis aux règles du budget européen, donc on pourrait en faire ce que les membres du Board [Conseil exécutif] décident. Mais sans doute, ils ne vont pas décider d’utiliser ses maigres ressources parce que finalement - comme vous le dites - il nous reste 3 milliards [d’euros]. Avec 3 milliards [d’euros], on ne va pas très loin pour refaire les stocks des armées européennes qui ont pu être - je ne dirais pas épuisées mais utilisées pour aider l’Ukraine.   

Non, le gap analysis c’est un gap analysis. It is not a gap funding. Le financement devra être fait par chaque État. On peut toujours imaginer des solutions de tout type, mais maintenant c'est clair que le financement des armées, c'est une affaire nationale. Et rien d’autre n’est prévu. 

Par rapport à l’European Peace Facility, yes, we have enough resources for this year. Et on peut toujours les augmenter ces ressources [financières], il suffit que les États décident de le faire. Ce n’est pas comme le budget européen, c'est une décision intergouvernementale, beaucoup plus flexible et qui ne demande pas l'accord avec le Parlement [européen]. Il demande tout simplement que les États membres qui font partie de l’EPF se mettent d’accord pour augmenter la quantité qu’ils auraient décidée au début de l'année. Mais on pense qu’on a assez de ressources avec ce qu'on a. 


Q. I want to ask you about Russia’s war against Ukraine. You are saying that it is at a turning point. Can you tell us what is your assessment? How long will Russia be able to continue its offensive? We now see that Russia is trying to continue its offensive on Donbass. Then, you said that countries want to continue providing weapons to Ukraine, but given this huge gap that you talk about, will the EU countries have enough weapons to provide Ukraine to defend itself and, as you said, start counteroffensive to liberate other parts occupied by Russia? 

Yes certainly, the [EU] Member States have enough resources to continue supporting Ukraine at the same pace. No problem.  

And I am not a military expert, I do not know. I have a military staff and I have got a lot of advice and information. I see what the satellites see, but frankly speaking I would not dare to make a hypothesis about how long Russia can resist. We are talking about Russia resisting. The verb resist we used it with respect to Russia. 

But if it is true that Russia has lost about 15% of their troops at the beginning of the war, this is a world record on the losses of an army invading a country. 

You have the list of material that Russians seem to have lost: tanks, artillery, drones. Losses which have been verified, that is also an incredible amount of losses. I do not know if they can refill it, but the amount of losses of the Russian army is really impressive.  


Q. In the past, the increases in national budget for defence have not always translated into increased cooperation. Do you think that this time the overall geopolitical situation and the need to replenish the stocks will translate into an improved cooperation in defence for Member States? If so, why? 

Because there are good reasons. Because until now we were in a theoretical situation, we were not facing a concrete threat. And you know, Europe is responding to a crisis.  

We need a crisis in order to react. It's a pity, that it has to be on a military crisis, on a war that represents losses of human lives and destruction in Ukraine. But, in any case, it has been a wake-up call.  

Now everybody understands that we need to be more capable of facing situations, like the ones that we have been taken out of our imagination - and now they have become real. So, there is a strong incentive to act and to act in the best way. It is clear that common procurement, common research and development, pooling capacities, avoiding diversification of materials - difference sizes of materials. All the doctrine that the European Defence Agency has been creating along the years. And this agency was created for that, it was created to push for a Common Defence capacity.  

Now is the moment for the Agency to use the knowledge that it has been producing. And I am sure that the Member States will understand that, in order to spend better, they have to spend together. To spend together, to spend better. Since they want to spend more, they will do it in a better way if they do it together.  

The number of expenditure which has been done, let’s say in a common approach, has been decreasing. Against any rationality, it has been decreasing. So it is time to turn this trend up and to do otherwise. 


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Nabila Massrali
Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
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Xavier Cifre Quatresols
Press Officer for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
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