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


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Today, the Council adopted the Strategic Compass during a joint session of the Ministers of Defence and Foreign Affairs. Both formation together. They finally approved after two years of work the Strategic Compass. I do not want to abuse the word “historic” that you use a lot here in Brussels, but it is certainly a turning point for the European Union as a security provider and a much important step for the European Common Security and Defence Policy.

I think that the adoption of this document sends a strong signal of unity and resolve. And it comes at a very important moment because we certainly need to increase our capacities on security and defence.

Certainly, it is not an answer to the Ukrainian war - we started working two years ago - but it is very timely that we approve this Strategic Compass in a moment in which I think every citizen in Europe can understand the purpose of a document that wants to increase the strength of the European Union as a security provider.

As I said, this is the result of two years of hard work, and I want to thank my team, the [European] External Action Service, and also all Ministers of Defence and Foreign Affairs who have been working on that for all this time - even this weekend, a lot of last minute work – to ensure that everybody was on board.

You have been hearing me talk about the Strategic Compass quite a lot during this long period of two years. And I want just to stress the fact that it is not an answer to the latest international developments, and in particular to the Russian military aggression in Ukraine.

It is an answer to the feeling that the European Union has to be more engaged, coordinating efforts of Member States in order to increase the capacity of all of us together - certainly in complementarity with NATO - to make Europe stronger.

When I presented the draft of the Compass that we presented to the Member States in November, I said “Europe is in danger”. And this sentence, well, many believed it was a matter of selling the product. To attract the attention of the people, to give a headline. Well, today I think everybody is convinced that Europe is in danger. That it is blatantly obvious due to the invasion of Ukraine. It is not rhetoric. On the contrary, this invasion - the war that is going on - is a ‘tectonic shift’ on the geopolitical landscape of Europe. And our reaction to the war has demonstrated that we, as the European Union, can act firmly and united. And today, the adoption of the Compass confirms this capacity.

The Compass will help us to step up our ability to act more robustly and decisively in response to crises, to secure our Union and European citizens, to increase our resilience, and to invest in the required capabilities and in defence innovation.

It is important to know how much Europeans are spending on their defence and to follow the evolution of military expenditures. Since the beginning of the century, passing by the Crimea action in 2014 until this moment – these figures are important to understand where we are, where are we coming from, and why we should react.

Today, the military expenditure in Europe - adding up all Member States - is about €200 billion, 1.5% of the GDP. It was decreasing until 2014 quite quickly. Since 2014, it has started increasing again to 1.5% [of the GDP]. But we have to invest more, and I am sure that everybody will understand that if we want to push defence innovation and to be more able to face situations like the one we are facing today in Ukraine, we need capabilities. With 1.5 %of the GDP, it is not enough. We have to spend more. But we have to spend better. Better means to avoid duplications and to avoid gaps. We are working now according with the mandate of the [European] Council on studying deeper these defence gaps – where are the holes where we do not have the means and ways to react, what are we missing and what we have two or three times in a duplication that is not effective.

These €200 billion is more or less four times the military expenditure of Russia. All together we spend almost four times more than Russia. But certainly not with the same efficiency. €200 billion is the same military expenditure of China. All together we spend as much as China. But, certainly, it is not the same thing 27 different parts than one integrated military structure.

We do not want to create a European army. It is not about creating a European army. The European armies will remain, each Member States having its own military army. But we have to work together closer. We have to coordinate better our expenditure. We have to be able to react and one of the ways to react rapidly is the [EU] Rapid Deployment Capacity that has been agreed. I am very happy that finally this proposal has been agreed by the Member States, which will allow us to mobilise [up to] 5,000 troops, trained and equipped to react to crises. We will strengthen our Command-and-control capabilities, and we will conduct together live exercises together. It has never happened. European armies have been training together apart from the NATO framework.

We will build better tools to fight hybrid attacks, hybrid campaigns, cyber threats and foreign interference and manipulation of information, because the battlefields of tomorrow are also on the networks, on the cyber space, on the outer space, and on the high sea. It is not only about conquering land, but also about conquering minds of the people. And the minds of the people at the end determine the behaviour of their governments and the votes, for example, at the United Nations. There is big work to do, not with guns, but with words, with ideas, countering propaganda and disinformation, and presenting things the way they are.

This allow us to support our partners and to be a better partner. To support our partners, the way we are doing now with Ukraine, and to be a better partner inside NATO, with the United Nations and with the African Union.

We cannot act alone. We want to act in a more coordinated way among us and we want to act in a more integrated way with our partners. Acting in complementarity with NATO, which remains certainly the cornerstone of the territorial defence of Europe. But we, Europeans, with this document, stated our strong will to be a stronger security provider for our citizens, for the stability of the world and for the peace of the world, we will be more effective in facing crises – securing, acting, investing and with partnerships.

This is not a document to keep on the shelf. It is a guide to action with a concrete timeline: what we have to do and when we have to do [it]. This has to be updated frequently, it has been updated in the last weeks to stress the importance of the Ukrainian war, not because we didn’t discover before the Ukrainian war that Russia was one of the most important challenges that we were facing. We knew it and it was considered in the beginning in our threat analysis, but it was much more evident and we had to adapt the text to reflect the current situation. It will have to be under the control of the leaders of the European Union Council, to which I will present the Compass at the next meeting this week.

Finally, let me say one thing. This is only the beginning. We are going to work a lot on that. It is time to translate all these purposes into concrete results.

We need to study our defense gaps, we need to fill these defense gaps. We need to be effective and coordinated. We have to increase our resilience and, certainly, we have to ask for a better commitment from the European citizens as tax-payers to make the European Union a better security provider. Otherwise, we will be in danger. We are in danger. And to face these dangers we have to take full consciousness of that and act accordingly. I think that the Ukrainian war has been a kind of an awakening for our conscience. For example, we have been increasing our energy dependence on Russia for years and now we take full conscience of the weaponisation of dependencies. This is being used as a weapon against us.

We have to react when someone uses something as a weapon against us. We are not a military union. We are not a military alliance. But we want to play a role to provide European citizens with more security in a challenging and dangerous world. We are not living in the world we would like to live in. We live in the world the way it is. This world is dangerous. This world is challenging. Our neighborhood is in flames. From Gibraltar to Ukraine, we are surrounded by a circle of challenges and dangerous situations, and we have to face them.

This is why we have been working with all Member States to produce this approach fulfilling the mandate of the Treaty on the European Union that clearly states that the Union has to build progressively a Common Security and Defence Policy, putting the the High Representative in charge to conduct this work. It is my pleasure to present to you after two years of work what is, certainly, a big step forward to the building of this Common Security and Defence Policy for the European Union.

Before the jumbo meeting with the Defence Ministers, we had another important meeting with the Foreign Affairs Ministers, and as you can imagine the invasion of Ukraine by Russia was the main issue in agenda. The Ministers analyzed the situation and decided to continue taking decisions. Today was not the moment to take concrete decisions, but to have a look at where we are, what is going to happen, and what we can do in the next days.

The conclusions are very clear. All Member States remain extraordinarily united in supporting Ukraine, supporting Ukraine diplomatically and on the international stage. We will continue isolating Russia, to call it out for war crimes, and for blatant violations of international humanitarian law. We will continue supporting Ukraine economically, financially, with humanitarian assistance and supporting the Ukrainian armed forces. I am glad to announce that we have reached a political agreement for the additional €500 million under the European Peace Facility.

We considered that what is happening in Ukraine is a war crime. A massive war crime committed by the Russian armed forces against Ukrainian people and this cannot go unanswered.

That is why we welcome the Commission of Inquiry set up by the United Nations Human Rights Council. We welcome the investigation by the International Criminal Court’s Prosecutor, and we recall the order by this International Court of Justice for Russia to stop the invasion of Ukraine.

Restrictive measures continue constituting an important part of our approach and we are ready to take further [restrictive measures] together with our partners.

We will continue engaging with our international partners in order to continue putting pressure on Russia.

At the end of the meeting, we were joined by the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Moldova, Nicu Popescu. Moldova – as you know - is one of the countries more affected and most threatened by the Russian aggression. They are responding with an incredible generosity and solidarity with their Ukrainian neighbours. 30% of the children in Moldova today are children from Ukraine, refugees from Ukraine. Their education system is under huge strain, but they are integrating them fully, allowing them to continue learning. They need our support. We will provide all the support they need in order to face this challenging situation. The Ministers collectively committed to step up our support to Moldova. At that moment, there are 3.2 - maybe at this hour of the day, 3.3 - million refugees, and the flow continues.

I am convinced that Putin is using refugees as a tool, as an weapon. Sending as many as they can. They have not destroyed transport infrastructure; they just destroy the cities in order to terrify the civilians and make them escape. We are ready to help all of them.

This an asymmetric burden, because some Member States, on the border [with Ukraine], are having a stronger burden. They are facing this flow of refugees in the frontline, but all Member States will act in full solidarity to attend these people.

Then we talked about Mali. The situation in Mali is not good. The attitude of the Malian authorities has pushed Barkhane and the special forces of [Task Force] Takuba to leave.

Et en même temps que Takuba et Barkhane sont parties du Mali, ou vont partir du Mali, nous restons très inquiets à propos de l’engagement de la société Wagner au Mali. Cette société est bien connue par ses exactions dans tous les théâtres où elle sévit. Nous devons décider ce que l’on fait avec nos missions d’entrainement militaire. Certainement, nos “training missions” ne peuvent pas se voir impliquées, ni de près ni de loin, dans des activités qui pourraient mettre en cause la réputation de l’Union européenne.

Nous souhaitons rester engagés au Mali mais pas à n’importe quel prix.

Jusqu’à présent, la présence a été - je ne dirais pas “massive” - mais très importante : Takuba, Barkhane, la mission européenne de formation et de conseil EUTM Mali, la Facilité européenne pour la paix. Nous avons travaillé avec l’armée malienne, nous l’avons équipée. Mais maintenant, nous demandons des garanties précises aux autorités de la transition, afin que les unités qui sont formées et équipées par nous n’entrent pas en collaboration avec Wagner.

On attend la réponse des autorités maliennes. Si cette réponse ne nous apporte pas les garanties demandées, nous n’aurons pas d’autre choix que de revoir en profondeur nos activités au Mali. Et on attendra la réponse des autorités militaires au Mali pour savoir quelle sera notre décision.

Mais en attendant, nous continuerons à fournir de l’aide financière directe aux populations du Mali et du Sahel en général.

Et les ministres ont souligné leur décision d’amplifier le soutien aux autres pays de la région, notamment le Burkina Faso et le Niger.

Je pense que tout le monde est conscient de la complexité de cette entreprise, qui requiert un investissement qui va au-delà du soutien aux structures de sécurité et défense pour garantir le bien-être des populations qui sont terriblement stressées par les conséquences de la lutte contre le terrorisme, et aussi par le changement climatique, la sécheresse, et qui maintenant vont subir les conséquences de la montée du prix des denrées alimentaires et de l’énergie. Mais ça, c’est un problème, pas seulement pour le Mali, pas seulement pour le Sahel. Ça sera malheureusement un problème qui va toucher beaucoup de pays en Afrique, beaucoup de pays dans notre voisinage. Les sociétés européennes, elles aussi, vont être touchées par la montée des prix, qui ne sont pas les conséquences des sanctions économiques contre la Russie. C’est la conséquence, purement et simplement, de la guerre.

Et voilà.



Q. On the discussion of a possible energy import ban on Russia, is there any frustration to Germany’s resistance to such an important ban? With Biden's visit later this week, could the US help alleviate any economic pain that such an import ban would have on European countries?

Sí, entre las muchas cosas que se han considerado hoy sobre la situación en Ucrania, algunos Estados miembros han planteado las cuestiones relacionadas con la energía.

Hoy no era un día para tomar decisiones – y por lo tanto ninguna decisión ha sido tomada. Pero esta y otras posibles medidas han sido objeto de análisis por parte de los ministros.

No se trata de que un país, o dos países, o tres países estén a favor o en contra. Se trata de conseguir a la vez una respuesta eficaz que no signifique un coste inasumible para los Estados miembros.

Como les digo, hoy no era un día para tomar decisiones, pero sí para analizar las posibles acciones que se pudieran tomar en el futuro. Y, ciertamente, la cuestión de la energía ha sido sacada a colación por varios Estados miembros y ha habido un interesante intercambio de opiniones y de datos al respecto.

Q. Sur la Boussole Stratégique, pouvez-vous m’expliquer en quoi ce projet ne va pas faire doublon avec l’OTAN ? 21 membres de l’UE sont membres de l’OTAN et se sont engagés à consacrer 2% de leur PIB pour leurs dépenses militaires. Comment peut-on faire 2% du PIB pour les dépenses militaires pour l’OTAN, et 1,5% du PIB pour l'Union? Par ailleurs, tout ce qu’il y a dans la Boussole existe, comme les groupements tactiques par exemple. Vous l’avez souligné vous-même, la seule chose qui manquait, c’était la volonté politique. En quoi êtes-vous certain que la volonté politique va y être cette fois-ci ? Enfin, n’êtes-vous pas peiné d’entendre le ministre d’un Etat membre déplorer publiquement le fait que certains Etats membres plus “grands” ne tenaient pas leurs promesses quant à la délivrance des armements promis à l'Ukraine: est-ce sérieux de la part de l’UE, de ses Etats membres, de s’engager à fournir des armes dont a cruellement besoin l’Ukraine et de ne pas les livrer ? Est-ce sérieux d’en arriver à une situation comme celle-là ?

Je ne suis pas au courant de tout ce que les Etats membres disent quand ils arrivent et parlent avec la presse à l’entrée du Conseil. Je ne peux pas commenter. Je ne sais pas quel Etat membre a dit quoi par rapport à qui. En tous cas, à l’intérieur du Conseil, cette question n’a pas été soulevée. Donc, je ne peux pas vous répondre sur quelque chose que je ne connais pas et qui à l’intérieur du Conseil n’a pas été soulevé à aucun moment. Je suis responsable du débat dans le Conseil, pas de l’information qu’on vous fournit dans le “doorstep” avant de commencer le Conseil.

Ecoutez, il faudrait que j’explique à nouveau toute la Boussole. La Boussole, c’est un outil complémentaire à l’OTAN. Oui, il y a des Etats qui sont membres de l’OTAN et d’autres qui ne le sont pas. Mais l’OTAN ne fournira pas une solution à tous les problèmes de sécurité et de défense pour les européens. C’est un élément pour organiser la complémentarité avec l’OTAN. Et on a dit ça dans le texte tellement de fois que ça m’ennuie de le répéter. L’activité des Etats membres reste chacun pour soi, tous ensemble dans l’OTAN, l’outil fondamental pour la défense territoriale de l’Europe. Mais dans le Traité de l’Union européenne, on dit qu’on a la “volonté” de créer - et j’imagine que tous ceux qui ont souscrit au le Traité le savent – on a la volonté de créer des outils, à l’échelle européenne, pour renforcer la capacité européenne dans le domaine de la sécurité et de la défense. Et on dit qu’on va avancer progressivement vers une union qui puisse représenter un effort additionnel, complémentaire à l’OTAN. Mais ça, il faut l’organiser. Il faut mettre des objectifs, il faut dire qui va faire quoi, comment va-t-on faire pour devenir plus fort. Et c’est ça que la Boussole décrit.

Evidemment vous me direz : “Oui mais avant, on avait déjà décidé d’autres choses qui n’ont pas marché”. Bon, cette fois-ci on a analysé pourquoi elles n’ont pas marché et on a essayé d’offrir une alternative, à la fois ambitieuse et réaliste. Je ne pense pas que dans le passé, on avait décidé d’avoir cette “Rapid Deployment Capacity”. On avait décidé autre chose et cette chose n’a pas marché, on ne l’a pas utilisé. On a fait un effort pour mettre ensemble les volontés d’agir des Etats membres dans tous ces domaines que je décris. Agir, investir, faire des partenariats, et offrir de la sécurité. Il y a une longue liste d’actions, il y a plus d’une cinquantaine d’actions qui vont être développées. Ça ne se fera pas du jour au lendemain, mais on va voir si on est capables de développer ce qu’on s’est engagés à faire. Aucun document ne change la réalité. La réalité est changée par les actions mais les actions ont besoin d’un guide, un guide pour l’action. Et c’est ça la Boussole, c’est un guide pour l’action. On va faire ça, dans cette période de temps, avec ces ressources. On va développer des capacités, on va investir plus, on va développer nos partenariats. Je ne peux pas vous résumer en 5 minutes tout ce que la Boussole dit mais, je vous en prie, laissez-nous le bénéfice du doute. Vous allez voir.

Q. You said there were no concrete decisions today, you have a very busy week of diplomacy ahead. Do you expect further sanctions adopted this week? And could they be extended to the energy sector? There are reports that Russia may want sanctions lifted as part of any peace deal. So, are EU sanctions permanent or are they potentially negotiable?

Formal adoption of sanctions requires a procedure and I do not think that during this week there will be a formal adoption of sanctions according with our procedures. But, certainly, the European Union Council, when they will be discussing about the situation in Ukraine, the Leaders – I am sure – will consider again what else can be done in the field of sanctions.

In any case, the European Union Council provides political guidance. And this political guidance then is being converted in practical and concrete decisions, legally-binding, by the technical bodies. So, I do not think there is going to be a formal decision of a new package of sanctions, but certainly the European Union Council will provide guidance about how to develop the future.

I do not want to speculate about what is going to be or not in the negotiations for a ceasefire. But I want to insist on the absolute need of stopping this war. All wars reach an end, and they reach an end through an agreement. The first step to an agreement is a ceasefire. Keep in mind the suffering of the people in Mariupol. Keep in mind the people who are being bombed, killed. People who are starving, escaping. The houses of Europeans are full of images on their TV screens about what is happening in Ukraine. This has to stop. On that, on stopping this war, now we are using all our diplomatic efforts. We are supporting Ukraine. We are pushing for negotiations. We asked Russia to stop this barbaric war. Once the ceasefire will be agreed, then certainly there will have to be negotiations about how to make the peace permanent. Sanctions are a way of putting pressure. And, believe me, they are damaging a lot the Russian economy.

Q. Quería preguntar si el ministro español les ha trasmitido a los socios el cambio de posición del gobierno respecto al Sáhara. Quería saber si la Unión Europea prevé alinearse con esta nueva posición que ha anunciado España. Si cree que el plan que tiene Marruecos es una opción entre varias posibles y si cree que se alinea con las resoluciones de Naciones Unidas.

Lo siento, pero le voy a poder contar pocas cosas porque este tema no se ha tratado en el Consejo. Seguramente el ministro español habrá comentado con sus colegas informalmente, como lo ha hecho conmigo, pero no ha habido una información formal, como un punto del orden del día.

Lo que sí le puedo decir es que la posición de la Unión Europea sigue siendo la misma. Es decir, pleno respeto y apoyo a las resoluciones de las Naciones Unidas. Cualquier solución al problema tiene que encontrarse en el marco de estas resoluciones que, por cierto, también es lo que dice la carta enviada por el gobierno español a Marruecos. También dice claramente que la solución tiene que encontrarse por acuerdo entre las partes, en el marco de las resoluciones de las Naciones Unidas. Expresa una preferencia por una solución, pero insiste en que la solución tiene que encontrarse en el marco de las resoluciones de las Naciones Unidas. Que es exactamente lo que dice la Unión Europea y lo dijo bien claramente en el 2019 por última y concreta vez. La solución al problema del Sáhara tiene que venir del acuerdo entre las partes en el marco de la resolución de las Naciones Unidas. Esta es la posición europea y, por lo que he leído en la carta enviada por España, no la contradice.

Q. Could you give us more details on Mali? You said that you asked for security guarantees to the Transitional authorities. What are those? And you mentioned support to Burkina Faso and Niger, what kind of support is that? It has been relatively vague until now. What are the plans there?

Sobre Mali creo que he sido todo lo detallado que podía ser. Hemos mandado a las autoridades de Mali una solicitud para que clarifiquen las condiciones en las cuales podemos seguir allí, desarrollando la misión de entrenamiento militar. Mientras esta respuesta no llegue, he encargado al jefe militar de la misión, que está allí sobre el terreno, que adapte el funcionamiento de la misión a las circunstancias a las que se enfrenta. Que mantengamos aquellas misiones de formación que no están directamente relacionadas con la formación al combate de las tropas del ejército de Mali. Y que esperemos a saber cuáles son las condiciones en las cuales podríamos – o no – continuar.

En todo caso, la misión no se va a cancelar, porque esto requeriría la unanimidad de los Estados miembros. Podemos graduar la forma en la que la desarrollamos, podemos graduar la intensidad de nuestra acción, dejando de hacer ciertas actividades y desarrollando otras. Pero de momento estamos en una especie de stand by, disminuyendo la actividad y esperando la respuesta de las autoridades de Mali.

Adicionalmente a eso – creo que lo he explicado, pero lo voy a repetir – con los recursos del presupuesto de la Unión Europea, seguiremos prestando ayuda al pueblo de Mali y a los ciudadanos del Sahel en general. Pero mantenemos congelada la ayuda directa al gobierno.


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Peter Stano
Lead Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
+32 (0)460 75 45 53
Nabila Massrali
Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
+32 (0) 2 29 88093
+32 (0) 460 79 52 44