Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me first wish you all a warm welcome. My colleague, Minister of Defence Ludivine Dedonder, and myself are particularly proud to gather such a large and knowledgeable audience here today.

As I understand, it is the first time ever that civil servants from both the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and the Ministries of Defense of the 27 Member States address together EU defence and security policies.

Belgium firmly believes it is key to reflect jointly about what Europe could and should do better in the field of security and defense.

This seminar and the whole process launched by the Strategic Compass is taking place at a critical juncture.

Today, the European Union is stable, at peace, and prosperous as never before. Yet, over the last years, we have encountered serious flashpoints in our neighborhood.

Through the annexation of Crimea, the recent war in Libya or the conflict in Nagorno Karabakh, brutal military power has become a remedy to diplomatic status-quo and an ‘easy fix’ for wider strategic agenda.

Hybrid threats and destabilization actions are taking place in our neighborhood but also within the EU as such. Our own economy and society are increasingly targeted.

Conventional Arms Control is crumbling. The demise of the Open Skies Treaty is the most recent illustration of a worrying trend.

Facing this, we must ensure that Europe is not considered weak or unwilling to restrain adverse powers. We must build our capabilities and have the determination to act.

Our posture of strength and deterrence must be combined with our traditional diplomatic tools and an offer of dialogue. Our efforts in the field of security and defense need to be coherent and to effectively deliver.

For those of us who are members of NATO, the coherence and complementarity with the alliance goes without saying. Let there be no misunderstanding : The alliance remains the vital cornerstone of our collective defense. Yet, within NATO as well, Europe’s lack of capability is becoming a source of concern.

Such European efforts (and by European I mean EU) are therefore contributing to the cohesion of NATO.

Two weeks ago, we have successfully held the first EU-US Summit in presence of President Biden, as well as a NATO Summit. The “US is  back”, allowing us to re-energize political consultations on all major topics of concern for our security.

But we must remain realistic : President Biden, just like his predecessors, will have clear expectations on Europe’s side. Europeans must be ready to engage more robustly.

The call is not only to increase defense spending, but also to think and act more strategically. Europeans are expected to answer the call when they consider their own security to be directly exposed, especially where NATO or the United States are not engaged.

In 2016, the European Union’s Global Strategy has clearly acknowledged such expectations and identified new emerging security threats.

The first initiatives on Security and Defense within the European Union were launched more than 20 years ago. At the Helsinki Summit of December 99, we endorsed a clear level of ambition through the so-called “Helsinki Headline Goal” aiming to develop capabilities. Today, most of the proposal remains relevant.

But the world, opportunities and threats have changed. It is time to upgrade the software and redefine our Level of Ambition in Security and Defense. This, is the purpose of the Strategic Compass, to be delivered next year, in March, by the European Council.

Doing so, we should foster a strong transatlantic cohesion. While, on this side of the town, within the EU, we will negotiate the Strategic Compass;  on the other side of Brussels NATO is discussing the revision its Strategic Concept.

The synchrony of those processes offers a unique opportunity to ensure both institutions and their policies serve the same, single goal : more capabilities, more engagement, a better burden sharing and more collective security.

For Belgium, who like all other members states rely on a single set of forces, this seems very reasonable, and totally uncontroversial. Through the Compass, we must ensure EU institutions help us to deliver “more bang for the buck”, to the benefit of our efforts within NATO as well.

But we must also face the truth. The Compass must examine, in honesty, where and why we have underperformed over the last 20 years. We must identify what could have been done better since the Helsinki Summit of December 1999.

The Strategic Compass must make a real difference. It must be output-oriented, improve our capability and ensure willingness and ability to act.

To do so, Belgium believes it is crucial to improve our decision making process, in terms of working methods, wise allocation of budgets, capability development processes and institutional set-up.

It is of its essence to ensure that EU “security and defense” receives much more political momentum. Ministers of Defense should have a strong ownership to ensure better delivery.

In that regard, Defense Ministers have already had several opportunities to exchange on the Strategic Compass.

I am also delighted that the Strategic Compass will be discussed for the first time at the next Foreign Affairs Council on the 12th of July. A thorough review of the progress so far is essential to ensure political tenure.

I look forward to the results of this seminar to nurture our reflexion on ways to improve governance on European security and defence policies.

Before handing the floor over to the Minister of Defense, my colleague, Ludivine Dedonder, let me wish you fruitful exchanges. I hope bright ideas will come out of the discussions in the two days to come. And that your exchanges will feed the ongoing negotiations of the Strategic Compact.

Ludivine, the floor is yours.