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Annual Conference closes with call for action

The second and final day of EDA’s virtual Annual Conference 2020 (see main highlights of the first day here) was marked by several high-level political speeches and contributions which all had as a common thread the urgent need for Europe to take more responsibility for its own security and defence, and to use the already existing cooperation tools to move towards more collaborative defence planning, spending and capability development. 

Josep Borrell: “Time for action is now”

In the opening speech of the second day, the Head of the Agency, High Representative Josep Borrell, said the conference theme ‘Sustaining European defence’ was not only the topic of the day “but our common task for the years and decades to come”. The first ever EU threat analysis that has just been done as part of the process that will lead to the Union’s Strategic Compass to be adopted in 2022 “confirms that we are facing - now and for the foreseeable future - the most challenging combination of risks and threats since the end of the Cold War”, he said. 

In the face of that, “strengthening the EU’s security and defence policy is not a luxury; it is a necessity because the challenges we face can only be addressed by providing a collective European answer”.  This means that Europe needs to enhance its ability to act - autonomously when necessary. “In other words, we need to increase our strategic autonomy. For that, we need to increase our operational effectiveness, our resilience and our civilian and military capabilities”, while at the same time strengthen of our relations with partners, first and foremost the transatlantic bond and cooperation with NATO, Mr Borrel stated. The upcoming Strategic Compass, “a key deliverable of my mandate”, is sometimes questioned by people who doubt about the need to have “yet another paper”. But this Compass is needed to “give a clear direction to enhance coherence between all these initiatives and strategies” and to develop a common strategic culture on security and defence”

But defining goals or shared ambitions is not enough, the Head of Agency pursued: “We also need to follow them through and deliver on them”. Together, the EU's defence instruments set up over the past years (CARD, PESCO, EDF) have a unique potential to help us advance towards a stronger European defence, he said. “What is needed in the future - and there is no better place to state this than at the European Defence Agency - is concrete progress and greater convergence among Member States in three areas: defence investment, defence planning and defence cooperation. This is also the main message that comes out of the first CARD report”. Therefore, “what Europe needs is a more coherent and integrated defence landscape. We need more capable, deployable, interoperable and sustainable military capabilities and forces. To achieve this, we need a drastic change of mindset in the Member States. Cooperation is not always the easiest way, but it is the only and best way to achieve results”, Mr Borrell stressed; adding: “Cooperation must become the default option in Europe”.

The Head of the Agency concluded with a call for urgent action: “I am often told that defence lifecycles are long and that we need strategic patience. This is true, but it should not become an excuse. Let me be blunt: I do not think we have the luxury to take time. We need to think big, be perseverant and action-oriented. We Europeans need to take responsibility for our own future. And the time to do so is now”.

Mircea Geoană: NATO and EU defence are “inextricably linked”

In his keynote speech, Mircea Geoană, NATO’s Deputy Secretary General, said that sustaining European defence is very important for NATO because European defence is “inextricably linked to transatlantic defence”“In recent years, the level of NATO-EU cooperation has reached unprecedented levels. We are working together on so many issues. From improving military mobility and countering hybrid and cyber threats and countering disinformation together - we have done this during the pandemic very successfully - to coordinating our exercises or improving our strategic communications”, he said.

Stressing that NATO and the EU should work “even closer together”, Mr. Geoana noted that NATO is already delivering on the Emerging and Disruptive Technology Implementation Roadmap that NATO leaders agreed in London, when they last met in December 2019. “I think we can do and should do more when it comes to new technologies and the way in which these technologies are affecting, not only defence and security, but also the way of life. Because the definition of security is becoming far more multifaceted. The line between traditional threats and non-traditional threats is becoming more blurred”, he said.

Highlighting the importance of “a very close and complimentary cooperation between NATO and the EU”, he said that “It is good that EU is becoming more ambitious on defence and security”. He noted that today 80% of defence spending in NATO is done by non-EU countries and that 90% of the population of the EU is also population of NATO countries. “So we are, in a way, obliged to work together”, he said.

Commissioner Breton: “Europe needs both soft and hard power”

In his keynote speech (delivered via video message), Thierry Breton, the Commissioner for Internal Market who also oversees the  Directorate-General for Defence Industry and Space (DEFIS), said Europe needed to define its place in the world and take “strategic leadership”. To do that “Europe’s soft-power is not enough”.  “This is why Europe needs to acquire some of the features of ‘hard power’ so that it can defence its vision and interests and become a more credible partner for its allies”, he stressed.

The massive economic recovery package the EU adopted as its answer to the Covid-19 pandemic can also have an impact on Europe’s international position and help it “become more resilient by investing in areas of strategic importance”, the Commissioner said, adding: “To take strategic leadership, and remain able to autonomously analyse, decide and act, we also need to protect autonomously our strategic interests”

As regards Europe’s defence, “it is of paramount importance that we collectively invest in defence and secure our supply by protecting our defence value supply chains”, said Mr Breton, underlining that Member States should “spend wiser by spending together”. To sustain European Defence, defence cooperation should become the “new norm”. It is also important to follow an “holistic approach including all relevant actors at EU and national level”, he said.

Panel discussion, conversations

Participants at the second day of the Conference also witnessed an interesting and informative high-level panel discussion moderated by EDA Chief Executive Jiří Šedivý and focused on ‘Increasing European defence cooperation in times of crisis’,  featuring the Greek Minister of Defence, Nikólaos Panayotópoulos, and Nathalie Loiseau, the Chair the European Parliament’s SEDE Committee. 

The panel discussion was followed by two particularly informative ‘conversations’ moderated by Dr Florence Gaub (Deputy Director of the EUISS): one with Jean Pierre Van Aubel (EEAS) on the Strategic Compass, and one with EDA Deputy Chief Executive Olli Ruutu on the first Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD) report.