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Address of the President Pahor at the Interparliamentary Conference on Common Foreign and Security Policy and Common Security and Defence Policy

Ljubljana, 9. 9. 2021 | press release, speech

The President of the Republic of Slovenia, Borut Pahor, attended today's Interparliamentary Conference on the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Common Security and Defence Policy (CFSP/CSDP). President Pahor delivered opening address at the conference.

Address of the President Pahor at the Interparliamentary Conference on Common Foreign and Security Policy and Common Security and Defence Policy
Photo: Tamino Petelinšek/STA

Below is the address of the President of the Republic of Slovenia, Borut Pahor, at the Interparliamentary Conference on Common Foreign and Security Policy and Common Security and Defence Policy. Check against delivery!

The global geopolitical and security situation in which the European Union is seeking its place is complex. More complex than in previous decades. It is impossible to address every challenge, so let me highlight but a few.

The first among them is surely the pandemic that has affected the entire Union and the world in the last year and a half. Then there is climate change that has many consequences for our environment and poses increasing threats. Both the pandemic and climate change expose our lack of preparedness to deal with them. In the last few weeks, the world and the European Union have been greatly affected by the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the consequences of that.

All three challenges have a single answer – strengthening the resilience and strategic autonomy of the European Union. The European Union must build its capacity to offer a timely and effective response. It must be capable of operations and actions even when this is not in the interest of our allies.

It must establish or upgrade the necessary instruments. It must carry out this task in full compliance with its fundamental principles.

Despite all the challenges, we still live in peace. And peace is the foundation of overall development. It is our common responsibility to maintain the peace not only in the European Union, but to do our utmost to contribute to the calming of conflicts, greater security and stability outside its borders through our approach, foreign policy and other available instruments. For ourselves and for others. For our principles. The European Union has a great responsibility.

The pandemic showed that we were not adequately prepared for its outbreak. We failed to quickly identify its dangers, complexity, scale and all its effects – on us and on our way of life, the health system, the economy and other areas of our lives.

Our key objective must be to develop a strategic understanding of such situations, their impact on relations within the European Union and on the internal market, and their impact on the relations between the member states and the Union with third countries. This must be the basis for adopting concrete measures aimed at reducing negative effects.

In this context, I am thinking in particular of measures to build the capacity and resilience of health systems and to provide the necessary equipment. We need to improve decision-making systems and provide more appropriate formal frameworks for working together in managing such situations.

In this context, we need a greater degree of EU autonomy in the provision of medicines, vaccines and medical equipment. We need to focus our research and technological potentials on this and integrate them to a greater extent. We must not allow a repeat of the situation we found ourselves in at the beginning of 2020.

Our confrontation with the pandemic is not over yet. We must focus all our commitment, responsibility and potential to curb it as soon as possible. Therefore I am using this opportunity to call again on Slovenian and all other European citizens to get vaccinated, especially where vaccination coverage is too low. This will be our greatest contribution to our personal and communal health.

Without a doubt, Afghanistan and the situation there following the withdrawal of the allied forces are one of the greatest tests of our common foreign and security policy. We went to Afghanistan in the year of the terrorist attack on the United States and later, with a mandate from the UN Security Council, set up an International Security Assistance Force operation.

Following its completion in 2014, we continued our activities within the NATO Resolute Support Mission.

Given the political processes and internal reconciliation dialogue to ensure lasting peace and stability in the country, and the accepted fact that allied forces would withdraw from the country by the end of August 2021, the way the withdrawal was carried out caused justified dissatisfaction.

First, because we were clearly insufficiently coordinated in understanding the objectives of both missions, and second, because we did not take all factors into account when withdrawing. Withdrawal is always one of the most complex steps. This is why planning requires joint efforts.

The consequences of both factors will need to be analysed in great detail and the conclusions taken into account when planning future peacekeeping and humanitarian missions. The poorly managed withdrawal has and will continue to have implications for attitudes towards Euro-Atlantic cooperation. This is true for the European public at large.

Without doubt, both missions and our joint withdrawal from Afghanistan will be the subject of in-depth analyses on the functioning of the Alliance, the fight against terrorism and the promotion of the values and principles on which our society is based. It will require a tolerant dialogue and understanding of different interests. At the same time, we will have to come up with clearer common positions and messages in relation to others. This means that we need to make more effort in forming these messages and positions.

We are facing an important and demanding task. We need an exhaustive discussion about where to deploy our forces in the future, with what goals and under what conditions.

We also need an in-depth reflection on when and how to promote the principles on which the EU is built outside the EU, and how to promote universal rights. The rights of women and girls are not just some 'Western issue', they are part of international law that everyone is obliged to respect, and the same applies to the rights of national and other minorities.

It is not that the EU should consider withdrawing these values; it should think about how and by what means they can be enforced.

All this is important because our joint contribution constituted an important step in the development of Afghanistan, human rights, in the field of education and health, although far from sufficient, and in the field of security. More would be done and the results would be better if we better understood people and the specifics of the environment and the complexity of internal social and political relations.

One possible consequence of the rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan is migration. What I have in mind is both internal migration and migration from the country into the wider region and perhaps beyond. Our responsibility is to help these people. We have already done part of the task with the evacuation of our colleagues and their families, while some of our colleagues are still waiting to be evacuated.

This framework must also include people who have been most exposed in the development and implementation of democratic principles. This must be a priority. Through our joint action we need to create conditions as soon as possible to reach an agreement with the new regime for their safe evacuation, and the provision of humanitarian aid to the Afghan people.

Humanitarian corridors are important for delivering humanitarian aid. They are essential for Afghanistan itself and for keeping the majority of the people in their country. One step was already taken, when the foreign minister set five key conditions to engage in cooperation with the Taliban regime.

We must act together. United. This will put us in a better position and give us a chance of success. Each Member State must take its share.

In the next step it is important to take care of those who have fled or might flee to the neighbouring countries. This requires comprehensive, rapid and practical assistance. It is important that people stay as close to their homes as possible to be able to return to their environment as soon as the situation improves.

The third step to be taken is to protect vulnerable groups, especially women, children, people who are ill and the elderly who will be at risk. If protection cannot be fully provided by neighbouring countries or should these countries be overburdened, practical programmes and plans for the provision of temporary refuge should be considered or in individual cases also permanent resettlement to countries willing to take these people in.

We need to take into account all the specific features of individual countries and at the same time their capacities to accept the people. Quotas are not the only solution. It is important that we act jointly and in a coordinated way. One thing is certain: if there is no solidarity in the European Union or with countries outside it, there is no longer a European Union.
This is all the more reason why the Pact on Migration and Asylum should remain an absolute priority in our joint efforts. While acting, we need to listen to each other, to be heard and to be willing to understand each other. A tolerant, committed and ongoing dialogue is the only way. Without reaching an agreement we will face a new crisis.

Despite some criticism, the agreement reached jointly by the interior ministers is sound. First, because it was adopted unanimously, albeit not without controversy. There has not been such a consensus for a long time. Second, it gives answers related to illegal and unregulated migrations.

I myself cannot think of a solution in this uncontrolled process, where people who benefit most are mainly smugglers and those who take advantage of migrations and use them as a means of hybrid warfare. Innocent people fleeing their homes are being faced with huge, often insurmountable problems, both as they flee and in the environment where they seek refuge.

An important debate ahead of us is strategic autonomy and strengthening the resilience of the European Union. It is positive that the European Union is increasingly aware of this and that a number of measures have already been taken in defence industry and its development.

Strategic autonomy and enhanced resilience of the European Union are the key issues for the survival of our alliance.

Both are most often understood in the context of the Union's security and defence action. They must, however, be understood in a much broader sense. Both assume sovereignty in a number of areas, but most of all – apart from the military field – in the field of science and technology, in digital and data sovereignty. As to the latter, I have in mind investments in research and innovation. We must also not forget the resilience and security of critical infrastructure.

As I have already mentioned, the need to increase autonomy and resilience has already been demonstrated during the pandemic. However, the same need is also evident in the area of climate change.

The European Union must play the leading role in tackling climate change and position itself as a global actor. In doing so, we must not be satisfied simply with reducing environmental risks.

We need to increase the use of green technologies and reduce our dependence on key raw materials. Improved waste management and more efficient exploitation of secondary raw materials will contribute to the reduction of waste and their export and increase the recycling rate.

In the area of security and defence, we particularly need to provide security and defence structures that are capable of protecting the European Union, its citizens and their freedoms, sufficient forces to ensure we have a deterrent, and to provide cybersecurity and protection against hybrid threats, and sufficient support to civilian structures in natural and other disasters and in tackling various crises and climate change where the defence sector can make a significant contribution.

The paradox of the global nature of challenges and the need to strengthen local power to respond to these challenges has become increasingly evident.

And where in all this are the European Union and Slovenia?

The European Union aims to build a Europe whole and free and at peace with its neighbours.

This principle, also stated in the letter issued on the initiative of President Mattarella and myself and signed by 21 presidents of the Member States of the European Union, implies that the European Union will complete its enlargement process by including the countries of the Western Balkans and that it will regulate and maintain good relations with its neighbours. I have regularly pointed out that a faster EU enlargement to the Western Balkans is in the geostrategic interest of both – the European Union and the countries in that region.

As to relations with the wider neighbourhood, I am referring in particular to the relations with the Russian Federation as well as with Turkey. The European Union must be principled, but also practical. While we understand the fears of our partners in the European Union, we are well aware that we need to talk and to reach an agreement.

All this will be easier if the European Union is internally strong and united. United we stand, divided we fall.

The Conference on the Future of Europe should be an opportunity for us to become stronger and united.

But the way it has been set up, it could prove to be a missed opportunity for an in-depth debate on how to strengthen the European Union internally and how to make it more powerful externally.

We need a debate as thoroughly organised as the Convention on the Future of Europe debate some years ago, which led to the first serious attempt to draft a European Constitution.

As a convinced European, I want the European Union to strengthen its power and unity. It is in the interest of Slovenia to be in with the European Union's core of committed members and to be involved as much as possible in the creation of its common foreign and security policy.