In March EU defence and foreign ministers agreed to create the Military Planning Conduct and Capability facility that will be in charge of EU civilian and military training missions. What are the next steps in EU defence cooperation that are being prepared for leaders to discuss and agree on this year?
The work we are doing to strengthen European defence and security is moving ahead in a very concrete, constructive and united manner. We launched this process at the end of last June with the adoption of the EU Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy and have since proceeded fast with its implementation on security and defence issues: as you said, in March we already made the first operational steps, with the decision to establish a military planning and conduct capability (MPCC). During the 60th anniversary of the Treaties in Rome, the EU leaders committed to be consistent and move forward on European defence and security cooperation. Now we have a set of initiatives almost ready to be submitted to the European council, within provisions of the treaties that so far have never been used. We could launch a trial run of a coordinated annual review on defence in the second half of this year, to help Member States to work better together when it comes to defence investment planning. Then, we could move forward on the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), that will allow groups of member states ready and willing to do it to cooperate closely on military projects and initiatives. Finally, we are working to remove some of the obstacles that have not allowed so far to deploy the Battlegroups, even when there would have been a need or opportunity to do so. All this can come only if member states will be consistent and will agree on a higher level of common funding and predictability, during the review of the so called Athena mechanism next semester.
Do you see any hope of breaking the deadlock in Ukraine this year? Your recent visit to Russia did not bring any tangible achievements in this regard. What could be the necessary developments that would help break the stalemate and solve the conflict before it is frozen for years?
My visit to Moscow was important not only when it comes to the conflict in eastern Ukraine and illegal annexation of Crimea, but also for the other files where the European Union and Russia need to work together: the devastating war in Syria, to find peace between Israel and Palestine, implementing the Iran nuclear deal, Libya, Afghanistan, the Korean Peninsula and the fight against terrorism are all other examples. There is no global power that can solve any of these challenges alone; only through cooperation can we stop the spread of instability. When it comes to the conflict in the east of Ukraine, we have the way forward, the way to resolve the situation through peaceful means and in full respect of Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty: the Minsk agreements. What is needed first of all is political will to fully implement the ceasefire, to withdraw heavy weapons and to improve the security situation. The European Union and its Member States will continue to actively support the agreements. We are the biggest contributors to the OSCE mission that is monitoring the situation on the ground. And we have economic sanctions on Russia that will stay in place until the full implementation of the Minsk agreements: part of our approach to solving the conflict. Having said that, it's worth reminding that we closely work with the Ukrainian government and support the reform efforts of the Ukrainian government and will continue to do so.
In Syria Russia together with Iran and the Syrian regime seems to pursuing a military victory against the rebels. Is greater US military involvement necessary to counterbalance them, put a military solution out of sight and help advance peace talks? The EU is a big humanitarian donor to Syrian refugees and has vowed to contribute billions to the country´s reconstruction. What else could the EU do to help bring the conflict to an end?
The conflict in Syria entered in its 7th year and Syrian civilians are the first victims. It's our top priority to put an end to this war, to help the Syrian people and for the world's interest. The EU firmly believes that there can be no military solution to the Syrian conflict. What we need is a credible political solution to ensure peace and stability in Syria, as well as in the region. The EU has been a very active player in key areas. Politically, we have been supporting the UN-led political process, notably through our regional initiative and political dialogue with key regional players. We aim at identifying the common ground on the basis of which they could facilitate a solution, that has to be Syrian-led and Syrian-owned but that can they can accompany. We also convened the wider international community to reconfirm our continued joint support to Syrians, including for the post conflict period, and for a political solution negotiated under the UN auspices, with the Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region we hosted at the beginning of April. Our work is also on the humanitarian side. We have been the leading donor since the outbreak of the crisis with over EUR 9.4 billion allocated in humanitarian and development assistance for Syrian refugees inside Syria and in the surrounding countries. Political talks need to progress under the UN lead, supported by the effective implementation of the ceasefire on the ground and unhindered access of humanitarian aid. We, the European Union, will continue both our crucial political and humanitarian support to help Syria and its people to find peace.
What do you expect from Estonia´s presidency in the European Council in the sphere of common foreign and security policy?
I am sure that we will work very well and very closely with the Estonian presidency. We had the opportunity to welcome Prime Minister Ratas and his government to Brussels only last week. We have already started to work together on a shared set of priorities. In the field of foreign and security policy, just three examples of what will require strong determination and a capacity to coordinate, three issues that will feature prominently on our EU agenda during the Estonian presidency are the Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels, the EU - Africa Summit in the Ivory Coast, and the work on defence. On all of these files, and many others, I count on the energy and the determination of the Estonian presidency to accompany in the best and most effective way the work of our Union, in true teamwork. I am really looking forward to working together with the people and the institutions of Estonia - and in particular with Prime Minister Ratas, Foreign Minister Mikser and Defence Minister Tsahkna - to deliver good results for our European citizens.
You can find out more on the EU's work on Security and Defence here.