Hello, good morning,
I am happy to be here in Prague, not for the first time, and certainly not for the last time. Around one year ago, the Prime Minister approached me to launch the initiative of today. And we, as the Commission, are very grateful to the Czech Republic for having taken this initiative. It is important in many respects and it proves that this is a really pro-European country taking over responsibilities and wanting to play a central role in Europe, which is the natural role of the Czech Republic.
I have seen in recent weeks that the Prime Minister was saying, and repeating again and again, that the Czech Republic wants to be part of the permanent structured cooperation as far as defence is concerned. And this is prolonging a visible effort of the Prime Minister and his Government to take over responsibilities and duties in the European Union. The Czech Republic joined the European Public Prosecutor decision which has been taken by the Union – 20 Member States are on their way to put this Prosecutor in place, the Czech Republic is one of them. Some founding Member States are not; for instance, the Dutch are not participating in this undertaking. And this shows that all these rumours concerning multi-speed are wrong rumours – fake news, as others would say – because the decisions the Government has taken as far as defence is concerned, as far as the Public Prosecutor is concerned and as far as the European Patent is concerned are proving that the Czech Republic has a central place and a central role to play.
As you know, the Commission was launching a defence agenda in the recent weeks, and last Wednesday we decided to put into place a European Defence Fund. This Defence Fund is contributing to reduce the inefficiency and the fragmentation costs we are facing dearly. And so I am happy that the Czech Republic will be part of this undertaking. This is not a counter-project to NATO – we are acting together with NATO. I had long conversations before coming here with the Secretary General of NATO. And that is the reason why I was stating this morning that no NATO is not an option for the European Union – it would be a disaster for the European Union – because we have to stick together and we will stick together.
I am happy to be here and happy to respond to your questions.
Questions and Answers
Q1 [EN interpretation] I would like to ask the President of the European Commission. An important subject for the future of Europe are the British parliamentary elections, the result of which we happen to know at this stage. How from your point of view will this result have an influence on the future negotiations about Brexit?
President Juncker: All elections are important, not only in so-called big Member States. But the one of yesterday was of a particular importance. I do strongly hope that Britain will stay ready to open negotiations. As far as the Commission is concerned, we can open negotiations tomorrow morning at 09:30. So we are waiting for visitors coming from London. I hope that we will not experience a further delay in the conclusion of these negotiations. First, we have to agree on the divorce and exit modalities and then we have to envisage the architecture of our future relations. I do hope that the result of the elections will have no major impact on the negotiations we are desperately waiting for.
Q2 Although nobody wants to sideline NATO, could you foresee for the future that European defence can also take care of the territorial defence of EU Member States, or is it just – and will forever be – for the missions abroad? And on Brexit: due to uncertainty in London, do you think that the EU-27 might discuss the prolongation of the two-year deadline stemming from Article 50 TEU if Britain so wishes?
Président Juncker: Pour ce qui est des relations entre l'OTAN et l'Union européenne du point de vue de la défense, je voudrais répéter ce que j'ai dit devant vous: l'OTAN et l'Union européenne, pour ce qui est de la défense, sont des jumeaux, et comme les jumeaux normalement – enfin, dans le monde qui fut – font partie de la même famille, il est évident qu'il ne saurait y avoir de rivalités entre l'OTAN et les nouvelles propositions de la Commission pour ce qui est du renforcement de la défense européenne. Le philosophe français Blaise Pascal disait: j'aime les choses qui vont ensemble. Et l'OTAN et la défense européenne sont des choses qui vont ensemble. Avant de se poser la question de prolonger les négociations avec nos amis britanniques, il faudrait qu'elles commencent. Je voudrais qu'elles commencent.
Q3 [EN interpretation] Mr Juncker, will the financing of the European Defence Fund not be negatively affected by Brexit?
President Juncker: When I addressed the European Parliament back in June 2014, I was telling the Parliamentarians that amongst the ten priorities of my Commission, defence would be dealt with in a very privileged way. Nobody – or more or less nobody – did believe it at the time when I was saying this. That gives me the opportunity to say that all those who are writing that the proposals of the Commission – the recent ones – are a direct consequence of the election of Mr Trump as U.S. President or a consequence of Brexit are totally wrong, because this is an ongoing process since June 2014. So far Brexit has no impact at all on the creation and the funding of the European Defence Fund.
Q4 In your speech in the morning you were talking about waking up the sleeping beauty of the Article 42 of the Lisbon Treaty. When do you see this possibly happening, meaning when can some other Member States start to implement Article 42?
President Juncker: The triggering ofthe permanent structured cooperation in defence is not a decision which has to be taken by the European Commission. This is a decision to be taken by Member States, and we do support Member States to take this initiative as soon as possible.