Ministers, Vice-Presidents, Commissioners, Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is the most basic and universal of rights to feel safe and secure in your own home. Europeans rightly expect their Union to provide that for them. And they want their governments to work together to make it happen. European leaders heeded that call three months ago in signing the Rome Declaration. Together, they committed to strengthening Europe's security and defence by doing more and by cooperating closer.
[Europe as a promoter and provider of peace]
The reasons are clear. War is anchored in Europe's history. The memories of terror and bloodshed are still all too vivid for many people in this country and in all of Europe.
Our Union has come very far in making Europe safer and more peaceful. And thanks to our global influence, we have also helped to do the same around the world.
The European Union has 15 missions around the world and is fighting terrorism in the Sahel: we committed EUR 50 million more on Monday. We are combating piracy in the Indian Ocean and we promote security sector reform in Ukraine. European troops have taken leading roles in NATO missions and UN peacekeeping efforts, most recently in Mali, Somalia, Kosovo and elsewhere.
These efforts are complemented by the EU's soft power. We have promoted peace, universal values and inclusive growth right around the world. The European Union and its Member States provide more than half of the world's humanitarian and development aid. Its diplomatic strength has helped to broker agreements that make the world safer, such as the deal with Iran on its nuclear programme.
But it is time to go further.
[A chequered past on defence]
This has been a long time coming. Attempts to move towards common defence have been part of the European project since its inception.
As early as 1950, French Prime Minister René Pleven proposed a plan for far-reaching defence integration, including the setting up of a European Army and the appointment of a European Minister of Defence. Alas, it was not to be. After two years of negotiations, all six members of the European Coal and Steel Community signed the “Treaty establishing the European Defence Community”. But after ratification by the Benelux countries and Germany, the project encountered a political impasse in France, when it was voted down by the Assemblée nationale. This put an end to the idea of a common European defence for the next half a century.
The failure of 1954 left a scar. Subsequent attempts were less bold. We advanced slowly, incrementally, timidly.
This was not for want of trying. I am one of four former European Heads of State and Prime Ministers – France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg – who signed a 2003 declaration seeking to define the outlines of a European Security and Defence Union, with a military headquarters in Tervuren, Brussels, Belgium. They called us the 'Peace Club' — the leaders of the four countries most vocally opposing European intervention in Iraq. We were not a putschist quartet but believed that European integration often advanced at the initiative of a handful of Member States.
Our colleagues were not spontaneously following in our footsteps. The reasons for this should not be underestimated. The difficulties are real. But I believe that they can be overcome.
We have very, diametrically, different defence reflexes amongst our Member States. This diversity was formed by different histories, by different geographies. One example: the cultures of decision-making on military engagement differ starkly between neighbouring France, which favours an executive approach, and Germany, which has a deep tradition of parliamentary oversight.
There is also a long-standing, a fundamental question about sovereignty that we need to properly address. Many of our Member States consider defence as a matter of strict national sovereignty. But sharing sovereignty does not mean forgoing sovereignty. On the contrary, having stronger and more sovereign Member States in a globalised world requires having more cooperation within the European Union, especially on defence. Systematic defence cooperation and further integration will contribute to the preservation of national sovereignty.
This is the natural conclusion of the changing realities around us. How long can we pretend that countries so intimately linked as we are in the European Union do not also need to face external threats together? With the Schengen area of free movement our borders are common. When we speak to Russia we are heard collectively, not individually. When France intervenes in Mali, it is European honour they are saving.
So it is no longer a question of national sovereignty. To borrow a phrase from my friend Emmanuel Macron, it is a question of European sovereignty.
NATO has been and will remain the cornerstone of European security for decades. We are different but we complement each other in so many ways – not least by the fact that we share 22 members. Competition between the EU and NATO is not an option.
Over the years we have worked together in Afghanistan, the Balkans, the Horn of Africa and countless other places across the world. Since the declaration that Donald Tusk, Jens Stoltenberg and myself signed in Warsaw, a new climate of cooperation between the European Union and NATO has been created.
In today's world, a strong NATO, a strong European Union and a strong relationship between the two, are more important than they ever have been before. But our deference to NATO can no longer be used as a convenient alibi to argue against greater European efforts.
The world around us is changing. The United States fundamentally changed its foreign policy long before the arrival of Mr Trump. Over the past decade it has become crystal clear that our American partners consider that they are shouldering too much of the burden for their wealthy European Allies. We have no other choice than to defend our own interests in the Middle East, in climate change, in our trade agreements.
By stepping up their efforts on defence, and by doing so together, the Member States of the Union will strengthen the ties that bind the Allies within NATO.
[The threats we face]
The protection of Europe can no longer be outsourced. Even our biggest military powers — and I could count them on one, maximum two fingers — cannot combat all the challenges and threats alone.
We do not have to look much further than our doorstep to see that war is not a thing of the past.
The Czech Republic knows this. The memories are fresh. Soviet tanks rolled in the streets of Prague as recently as 1968. In this part of Europe, World War II did not end in 1945.
The threats remain and they have dramatically changed in nature. Instability and unpredictability, combined with worldwide rearmament, are symptomatic of the new world we are living in.
More than 60 million people around the world are displaced because of war, some of which are happening in our immediate neighbourhood.
We see the damage unscrupulous and brutal criminals are inflicting in large ungoverned spaces in parts of the Mediterranean and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Further afield, we witness increasing tensions in East Asia. North Korea is accelerating its nuclear plan and is getting closer with every test.
Soft target terrorism as seen in the tragic and devastating scenes in London and Manchester show the lengths that barbaric terrorists will go to in a futile attempt to break us and destroy our way of life.
The cyber-attacks that recently targeted key infrastructure across the world show that we are going to need to invest heavily in information security. We must protect ourselves from this new phenomenon. It becomes more sophisticated by the hour.
All of that shows that soft power alone is not powerful enough in an increasingly militarised world.
And it reminds us that we cannot be naïve or complacent. True security starts at home.
[The way forward]
The way forward starts with making sure that we spend what is needed on our defence.
While the European Union spends around EUR 27,000 per solider on equipment and research, the US spend EUR 108,000.
No wonder then that less than 3% of European troops are deployable at this very moment.
That shows that we need to invest more, and invest in a more efficient way.
Russia spends over 5% of its GDP on defence while China has increased its defence budget by 150% over the past decade. And the US too has just announced a major increase in their defence budget.
And the EU? Overall, the 27 Member States spend only 1.3% of their overall budgets on defence.
Together, we spend half as much as the United States but even then we only achieve 15% of their efficiency.
That is because around 80% of defence procurement, and 90% of research and technology investment, is done at national level with no coordination between the Member States of the European Union.
That is both inefficient and costly. And it makes it harder for our troops to work together.
Our approach is a scattergun one. There are 178 – as the Prime Minister said – different weapon systems in the EU, compared to 30 in the U.S. We allow ourselves the luxury of having 17 different types of combat tanks while the United States is able to manage perfectly well with just one model.
Absurdly, there are more helicopter types then there are governments to buy them! We must do better.
That is why the European Commission proposed a European Defence Fund.
While it will not and cannot replace Member States' budgets on defence, it will create incentives for them to cooperate on joint research, development and acquisition of defence equipment and technology.
We have seen that this approach works, for example with the Meteor air-to-air missile that was developed together by six Member States. It is now widely seen as one of the most capable missiles of its kind.
This is the Fund that will make the European Union the biggest investor in collective defence research and technology in Europe.
The Commission is committed as never in the past: until 2020, we plan almost EUR 600 million in support of defence. And after 2020, we propose to allocate EUR 1.5 billion each year — as part of the new funding priorities of the Commission. The Fund will make the EU the biggest investor in collective defence research and technology in Europe.
This is a crucial step. But we cannot stop here.
[PESCO – the Sleeping Beauty]
The European Union already has the legal means at its disposal to move away from the current patchwork of bilateral and multilateral military cooperation to more efficient forms of defence integration.
I am talking about permanent structured cooperation— the Sleeping Beauty of the Lisbon Treaty.
Article 42 of the Treaty makes it possible for a group of like-minded Member States to take European defence to the next level.
I have said it before and I will say it again: I think the time to make use of this possibility is now.
It is time to wake the Sleeping Beauty up.
But at the end of the day, it is not the Commission that will build a common defence.
The Commission is putting everything it has on the table. We have explained how our policies can help fight hybrid threats. We are using our development policy to build up the security of partner countries. We have proposed a Defence Fund which commits the EU budget in an unprecedented way. And we have produced a detailed reflection paper with different options for how the European Union at 27 might develop by 2025 in the area of defence.
But it will always — always — come down to a question of ambition and political will of the Member States.
The past has shown that European defence does move ahead if and when there is political will.
The Franco-British Saint-Malo agreement laid the ground for a momentous step forward towards the Common Security and Defence Policy we have today. The defence provisions of the Lisbon Treaty were another expression of strong ambition.
But so far these ambitions have remained largely unfulfilled. We created European Battlegroups, but we never used them. The ambitious provisions of the Lisbon Treaty lay dormant too.
I see the tide turning. There were only four believers in 2003. As it happens so often in Europe, it took time for others to realise the importance of what was being proposed. Today we see that the group of believers is expanding.
Just last month, the Member States unanimously decided to establish the first Military Planning and Conduct Capability to take over command of EU training missions. This is a first step towards a more robust capability.
In two weeks, the European Council will meet. My colleagues and friends in the European Council understand the importance of this debate. They know how much the debate on the future of Europe's defence is tied to the debate about the future of Europe.
We have reached a point where progress is the only option. The only question is the speed.
The momentum behind closer defence cooperation comes first and foremost from the people of Europe. In almost all Member States, security is among the top three priorities, and three quarters of Europeans are in favour of a common security and defence policy.
They want their Union to do more to protect them from threats old and new.
And it is time we listened.
In the last decades, there has not been a more compelling set of security challenges, economic facts and political arguments justifying a drastic step change in European defence.
But more than that, the clock is running on how long we can live in a house half built. A European Security and Defence Union will help protect our Union, which is exactly what EU citizens expect.
So the call I make today is not only in favour of a Europe of defence — it is a call in defence of Europe.