State of the European Union

Published on 15th May 2018

The state of the world today is a state of chaos, a confused proliferation of crises, where conflictuality and confrontation seem to prevail over rationality. And where patient, difficult, sometimes frustrating but vital work of building a common ground among players that have different views and different interests, seems to be an exercise of naïveté – in these confused, chaotic times.

It is exactly when things do not go well, that rationality, calm, predictability, respect, dialogue are most needed to avoid the worst case scenarios; to prevent conflicts to spiral out of control; to contain tensions; to preserve what is still working and delivering – as we are determined to do with the Iran Nuclear Deal.

I know that this is not the mood of our times. It seems that screaming, shouting, insulting and bullying, systematically destroying and dismantling everything that is already in place, is the mood of our times. While the secret of change – and we need change - is to put all energies not in destroying the old, but rather in building the new.

 I have the impression that this impulse to destroy is not leading us anywhere good. It is not solving even one of the problems we need to face, and they are many. On the contrary, it is adding conflictuality to conflictuality.

What leads to solutions is the patient, respectful, rational, humble art of compromise, of building win-win solutions, where everybody's interests can find their own place; where you know that if something is good for your counterpart, it must not necessarily be bad for you.

This is, by the way, the history of our Union: when we found out that our neighbour is better off, it is also good for us. On the opposite, we need to move from the "I win/you lose" approach, to the common search for common solutions, because we do have common problems to face. We are – each of us - as strong as the weakest of our neighbours and partners is. The chain is as strong as the weakest of its rings is. And in this global world, there is no doubt that we are one, interconnected, global chain.

This change of attitude – from confrontation to cooperation – requires a strong, confident European Union. No other global player can work for this change of mentality. The European Union is today the point of reference for all those that are investing in peace, multilateralism, free and fair trade, sustainable development, fight against climate change, human rights and democracy, social economy – in a rules based global order.

This gives us a huge opportunity, probably much bigger than in all recent decades, as Europeans. But it also gives us a huge responsibility. So the question is, are we able, as Europeans, to fulfil these expectations that both of our citizens and our partners have of us?

What is the State of our European Union? I will be very clear and very frank: I believe the State of our Union is as strong as Europeans want it to be. "Europeans" means all of us: governments of Member States, National Parliaments, local authorities, the business sector and trade unions, universities and media - all European citizens together. Because the EU is not a building in Brussels. It is the Union of all of us, and it is as good as we want to make it. I would say the state of the Union is as good as the state of Europeans is.

The question is, do we want to invest in our Union? Then it works and delivers. Do we not want to invest in it? Then it turns into a dysfunctional labyrinth of far-away institutions. And when that happens, when we let the state of our Union be weak, it is the most absurd waste we make of the most powerful tool we have in our hands: our Union. Its state of health depends on all of us.

Go back with your memories to a couple of years ago. We were all discussing the end of the European Union. Many were saying that after the UK, others would have left the European Union. Our Union was, this time exactly two years ago, in a state of deep crisis. Then, last year, during the celebration for the 60th anniversary of our Treaties in Rome, 27 Heads of States and Governments recommitted in quite a solemn and at the same time profoundly true way to the relaunch of our Union. Because they knew, I believe, the only way to effectively serve their respective national interests, in today's world, was and is through our Union. They knew that it is not giving up sovereignty, but the only way to regain sovereignty in today's world. No country is big or strong enough to face the world of today alone: we can do it only together if we want to do it effectively.

In this last year, the State of our Union has grown stronger - much stronger. Starting from the economy - and I know that Mario Draghi will say more about it in a while - to our capacity to act together to manage with our external action the migratory flows. I give you just one example, in partnership with countries of origin and transit, and together with UN agencies, we have assisted more migrants to return voluntarily to their countries in the course of 2017 than in all previous years together.

Let me mention one other aspect where the state of our Union has grown much stronger in the last year: security and defence. Security and defence are probably the best example of the state of our Union today – or at least if you want to see the glass half full. The idea of a European Defence Community dates back to the Fifties, as I know all of you here in this room know very well. But for over sixty years it was impossible to achieve, failure after failure, frustration after frustration and veto after veto.

I remember very well in 2014 I was doing my confirmation hearing at the European Parliament. I said then that I believed that it was high time to fulfil the potential of our Treaties on defence. But back then most people told me that it was completely impossible, that the conditions were not there and the political will was not there. But political will depends on us, and us only. It is not an external factor. It comes from us. In fact, we made it. We took the most significant step ever to build the European Defence after sixty ýears of failures.

We started with a single command centre for our military training missions, in Brussels. It has been operational for one year now. Then, with the Commission we launched the European Defence Fund, that will allow us by 2020 to invest one-and-a-half billion euros every year on defence research, and on our defence industry, to help Member States spend better, by spending together.

For the first time ever in European history - with the Commission we have proposed to dedicate part of the next EU budget, in the Multiannual Financial Framework, to the European Defence, to support European Defence Industry and Research.

It is not only this that we have done. We have, together with the Council, launched the Permanent Structured Cooperation on defence, using for the first time ever the provision of the Treaty that allows us to go with different levels of engagement among Member States – testing somehow two speeds in the field of security and defence among Member States. And it worked.

Twenty-five European countries have committed to join forces on common projects, to provide troops and assets for our common missions, but also to speed-up their national decision-making and to share information among them.

We are now implementing 17 projects that are very concrete, from a new system for maritime surveillance, to a European training centre for our troops who intervene in case of a natural disaster in Europe, in our neighbourhood or abroad.

The range of security issue we face today is incredibly broad and only together can we develop all the capabilities we need, to protect our citizens and also to build peace. As we built, in these last 2 years, the first elements of the European Defence, we have also strengthened as never before our partnerships with NATO and with the United Nations. Because we see our strength as complementary to the strength of others.

The instruments we have set up in the field of security and defence have an immense potential. But, obviously, it is now up to us all to make full use of this potential. And again, it is a matter of political will, particularly from Member States. The work is a collective one – I would say a teamwork and it has been working exactly for this reason -  and it is going on.

We are now focusing in particular on our civilian capabilities, and I have proposed to set up a new European financial instrument, the European Peace Facility, that would give us predictability to finance our civilian and military missions, but also to support our international partners in a much more efficient manner than the one we are having today.

All these initiatives that I have mentioned, taken together, make the European Union of security and defence real. It is a beginning, but it is a very good beginning. Something that two years ago was considered by everybody impossible to achieve, even in part.

Why did we manage? We managed, because there was political will, there was a sense of shared purpose, there was teamwork and there was a sense of responsibility. Everybody, every institution, every Member State, and every European institution contributed with its own part.

After decades, finally, today we can innovate together, we can buy together, we can plan and act together in the field of defence as Europeans. Today, the European way has become the only effective way to peace and security. In a world where military means are sometimes needed, but never sufficient alone. Where security is never just a matter of traditional defence.

The European way to peace and security is something we have learnt in our daily work around the world, in Africa: where security needs the economy to flourish, and the economy works only if it is not threatened by criminal groups, terrorism or instability.

The European way to peace and security is something we have learnt in Afghanistan, in the Sahel or in Iraq: where we have learnt that if you want to build a strong, resilient, democratic, inclusive state, you need a professional army, but the professional army is just as important as professional judges, doctors and police.

The European way to peace and security is something we have learnt, as I said, in our daily work around the world when we have seen that security only comes with reconciliation. In Europe, we have a certain experience with reconciliation and overcoming old conflicts and wounds. A reconciliation process requires diplomacy, local development, and sometimes also a strong peacekeeping force. Soft and hard power together, smartly and carefully mixed, with local ownership as the compass for any decision.

There is a lot we can be proud of. But I am not living on the moon and the state of our Union is clearly not only about security and defence.

President [of Italy, Sergio] Mattarella said it perfectly well– allow me one sentence in Italian: "La solidarietà sul piano della sicurezza, l’integrazione militare, non possono essere disgiunti da obiettivi di solidarietà civile e politica." Let me stress this: more common work on defence must be coupled with more common work on other issues, from migration to job creation. Not just out of solidarity, which is good in itself, but of self-interest, because the best way of serving our own interest is investing in our Union.

With the work we have done on defence, we have shown that with strong political will, with determination, with a certain stubbornness and a visionary approach and with, most of all, hard, patient and collective work, it is possible to make full and good use of our European Union. It is the demonstration that we can aim high, dream big and deliver beyond expectations.

The state of our Union has become stronger in these last two years. And yet, it is challenged. Probably today more than ever before. I believe it is important that we and every single European citizen realise what we risk to lose and, on the other side, what we can achieve and the distance between what we risk and what we can. There is a very beautiful song that says “You only miss the sun when it starts to snow” – I am afraid we are getting to that point.

I believe that the decision is only ours. A collective responsibility, that calls on each and every of us, citizens of Europe, to invest in the most powerful tool we have to exercise our sovereignty: our Union.

By Federica Mogherini

High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Vice President of the EU.


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