Ladies and Gentlemen!
It is a great pleasure for me to open this conference together with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.
The fact that we are standing here together underlines our unique and close collaboration on security and defence policy. This collaboration translates into a great number of common initiatives and projects. Its one special strength lies in the fact that we follow the same inner compass. This compass is spelled out in the title of this conference: “Remain transatlantic, become more European.”
This is more than just a catchy motto. It expresses both a political position and – a necessity. And it is a lofty goal – much easier said than done. Because “remain transatlantic, become more European” describes the goal, interest and method of our security policy. It states that our interest is to pursue both, a firm integration in the Atlantic Alliance and a growing responsibility of European nations within the transatlantic security partnership. We need both things to keep Europe free, secure, tolerant and committed to the rule of law.
“Remain transatlantic, become more European”: This also emphasises that we Europeans are finally accepting a task that we have been asked to fulfil for a long time: to carry more of the transatlantic burden on European shoulders. To make our security partnership with the United States and Canada more balanced, or, to put it differently: fairer.
I want to make this clear: We are and will remain as committed to NATO as we are committed to Europe! The strength of the Alliance depends on its common commitment and joint action. We must get both of those right. The US-American and the Canadian commitment are an essential contribution to this:
We in Germany and Europe appreciate it very much that the United States is keeping their military presence in Europe at a high level and has even increased it of late. We also appreciate very much what Canada does for Europe, such as leading a NATO Battlegroup in Latvia.
This common commitment and joint action also require commitment from us Europeans. We have been investing a great deal of effort in modernising the Alliance since 2014. Not only in terms of money but, above all, in terms of capabilities and commitments!
Germany is not just on board with this but is in the vanguard: The Bundeswehr has been taking part in the large NATO operations in Afghanistan and the Balkans for many years. Since German reunification, 420,000 German troops have been on operations abroad, most of them in the context of NATO missions.
At present, Germany is doing Baltic air policing, has been leading a Battlegroup in Lithuania for two years, and will lead VJTFVery High Readiness Joint Task Force , the new spearhead force of NATO, for the second time starting in January; Germany is the driving force behind the Framework Nations Concept, which 17 European nations in the Alliance use to pool more capabilities. The fact that we have increased our defence spending by 36% since the 2014 Wales Summit, or, in NATO figures, from €35 billion to €47 billion, is no mean feat either. Our pace is high because, after all, this is not about statistics but about investing in a Bundeswehr with modern equipment that is a reliable partner in the Alliance.
“Remain transatlantic, become more European”: because we all have only one single set of forces, with which we fulfil various tasks, in NATO, in the EU, on blue-helmet missions of the United Nations or missions of coalitions such as the one against ISIL in Syria and Iraq. And because this is the case, everything we are building up in the context of European Security and Defence Policy will ultimately also benefit NATO and the Atlantic security partnership.
The general necessity of building up organic European defence capabilities is beyond question, however: Europe must be able to act independently where it has to act independently: Think of the lingering crises in former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s and the inability of Europeans back then to bring about stability on their own continent. Think of West Africa, Mali in 2013, where the seriousness of the situation was evident to Europe but NATO rightfully saw no reason to become involved while the EU had no structures it could have employed to act swiftly and effectively to prevent the worst from happening. The French had to intervene!
The task the EU must fulfil is clear and in no way new: Since 2003, 35 civilian and military missions have been initiated by the EU, mostly in the Balkans and in Africa, all based on sovereign decisions by the EU. Thus, the question is no longer, and has not been for a while, whether we need European strategic autonomy, but rather how to achieve it.
For the instruments of the EU have been insufficient thus far, and the European nations have been in a political deadlock in this regard for decades. While the United States kept demanding that forces be pooled for defence purposes and made more efficient, we were hampered by internal problems.
In order to break out of this dilemma, we – 25 European states – created the European Defence Union last year.
Its core is PESCOPermanent Structured Cooperation, which will celebrate its first anniversary in two weeks. It could be called the framework that braces the Defence Union – a binding and ambitious framework.
What is binding is the demanding commitments that we have made to one another.
What is ambitious is the projects themselves – of which there are 34 as of last week – and which all focus on the three large areas of training, capabilities and operations; all are selected in such a way that they fill gaps, including NATO gaps, while avoiding a duplication of NATO capabilities.
Germany and the Netherlands participate in many of these projects. Let me mention only one of them, led by our Dutch friends: “Military Mobility” – a case in point that shows how the interests and instruments of the EU and NATO complement and enhance each other.
And we are working on other components of the European Defence Union:
CARDCoordinated Annual Review on Defence, the mechanism to coordinate our defence planning, has successfully gone through its test phase. This was long overdue. We all know that the fragmentation of weapon systems in the European militaries is intolerable. We must become able to better coordinate the development and procurement of our European military capabilities – including with NATO. This is the purpose of CARDCoordinated Annual Review on Defence.
And the third component – the European Defence Fund – is a real game changer, too. For the first time there is European funding for common research, development and procurement. The European Commission plans the EDF to have a €13 billion budget until the year 2027. The EDF creates an incentive for us Europeans to develop the next generation of systems together – be it in the cyber area, in the digital transformation of land-based systems, in unmanned aviation or the navy. This means we will not only procure together but also organise spare part management and maintenance together, and train, conduct exercises and go on missions together.
This is a milestone!
And the attention payed to the EDF in some third states is evidence of the potential it has.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The European Defence Union is a work in progress. And all our initiatives are designed to bring about increasingly close integration of our armed forces with more and more common capabilities: We are paving the way to an “Army of Europeans”. The path there is difficult, but it is the right one for Europe with its unique calling to be both united and diverse, and it is what Europe needs.
In this regard, I want to point out four things:
If we are to become more and more interconnected, as with the assignment of German soldiers to Dutch military elements and vice versa or with the French-German Brigade, we as Europeans will also have to develop what President Macron called a “European strategic culture”. In this process, we must not be afraid to draw on two elements:
The first is our uniquely European way of thinking – that means the comprehensive approach, in other words, integrating military actions into diplomacy and development policy. The second is our willingness as Europeans to take robust action when it becomes necessary to intervene in conflicts. We cannot leave tasks of this kind up to just a few of us. Only honestly expressing our commitment to these two elements and putting them into practice gives all of us Europeans credibility and reliability.
In order to offer protection, Europe must have the will – and the ability – to take action. We have to speed up the decision-making process considerably. It is unacceptable for Europe to take months to respond to severe crises like the one that struck Mali in 2013. It simply takes too long for a European decision to be addressed by the national governments’ cabinets and then voted on in their parliaments. Just so that this is clear and there are no misunderstandings: I believe that the parliaments’ firmly embedded role in this process is an invaluable asset. Sending soldiers on dangerous missions is a difficult decision – one that must have broad support and be justified and explained to the public time and time again. To do all that, we need our European countries’ parliamentarians. Yet the increase in the use of common capabilities and in European missions will also require us to adapt the type of parliamentary deliberations involved.
If, for example, a committee of security policy experts from the national parliaments regularly met in Brussels to get the latest information about future crisis scenarios, then our parliamentary experts would be able to start orienting themselves sooner, stimulating parliamentary discourse and allowing decisions to be made faster – without detracting from Germany’s requirement for parliamentary approval. Quite the contrary: it would take on a more modern form. A committee of this nature could, for example, build on the work of the Inter-Parliamentary Conference on Common Foreign and Security Policy and on Common Security and Defence Policy.
The EU must develop its own command and control capabilities. Particularly because we all have a single set of forces for which we have excellent headquarters on NATO’s end, it is evident that we need to develop our own command and control capabilities for EU missions. Without duplicating what the Alliance already has, mind you. But we as Europeans must be able to conduct European missions on our own, for the very reason that our comprehensive approach effectively brings together diplomatic, civilian-police, military and development-policy actions from a single source. That makes us unique because the EU has instruments of all these kinds. And they all have to be logically coordinated and employed in combination.
And the fourth point:
We urgently need a foreign policy equivalent to what we have achieved in European defence policy this past year. After all, military means can only buy time and provide the framework for politics and diplomacy, which ultimately have to bring about the solutions. We must be able to make European decisions on foreign policy that are supported by the vast majority. To date, the requirement for unanimity often delays and even prevents a powerful and effective Europe from making its voice heard at times because a single country keeps all the others in check.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As NATO and as the EU, we are linked by shared principles and values such as the rules-based order.
This order is valuable, but also vulnerable. We can see that by looking at the annexation of Crimea in violation of international law. People are still dying in Eastern Ukraine to this day. Some of the circumstances involved in the most recent incidents in the Kerch Strait remain unclear, yet it must be clear to all of us what is, unfortunately, once again at issue here: respecting territorial integrity and making efforts to avoid the escalation of disputes. Last but not least, it is a matter of one of the achievements of civilisation, which is stabilising and resolving conflicts between different countries by means of international legislation and the rule of law. In recent years, the Kremlin has broken with these rules and principles.
In the current situation, both sides have to show that they are contributing to de-escalation. The detained ships and sailors must be released. Ukraine must provide evidence of the exact sequence of events. Russia must ensure unrestricted passage through the strait and not take unwarranted actions.
Of course, Europe is always ready to reach out to Russia, but only to a Russia that is committed to rules and values, and acts in accordance with them.
Remain transatlantic and become more European.
With regard to our security situation and the major geostrategic trends, we must always bear in mind that, if we remain stuck in a merely national mindset, we can each feel proud of ourselves, but we will be irrelevant.
That might be just what certain parties outside of Europe want – but it is not in our interest.
If, however, we band together, we all become more relevant – and capable of enforcing European interests.
If we win others over with our words and actions instead of all talking over each other, if we stick to our Euro-Atlantic course instead of allowing ourselves to become unsettled or divided, and if we work step by step to build a European Defence Union with a modern Army of Europeans instead of shirking our common responsibility, then we can turn today’s vision into a true European army committed to peace on our continent and all over the world.