Check against delivery!
First of all, we started already yesterday and held a very useful discussion with the Defence Ministers and the Austrian Presidency on our defence and security cooperation with the Western Balkans. I want to start with this because we traditionally see the Western Balkans as an area of instability, where the European Union is since many years – if not decades – security provider. We are now moving into a stage where we are partners in our common security and defence.
The Austrian Presidency is remarkably working on keeping the Western Balkans high on the agenda of the European Union, as the Bulgarian Presidency has done, and I expect the Romanian Presidency will do afterwards. So we discussed with the Ministers, together with NATO and the United Nations – our key partners in the region – how to increase our cooperation on security and defence in the region, which is an integral part of our work with the Western Balkans.
Today, we will continue with the Ministers our work on our defence package. When it comes to the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), we will look at the perspective of new projects and we will look at the whole set of issues that you know we have been putting in place over the last two years.
We will also discuss with the Ministers an issue that is on our table for a few months now. Since July we have been working with the Member States on the Strategic Review of Operation Sophia. As you know, it is a EU military operation that, as all Member States have reconfirmed, plays a key strategic role that is vital for the European Union to fight human trafficking, but also to train the Libyan Coast Guards and also to fulfil some of the tasks that the United Nations Security Council has given to the European Union.
We have to face the issue of the rules of disembarkation. I want to stress the fact that this is an issue that does not concern only Operation Sophia, but is much broader than this. Still, it is an issue that we cannot ignore. I will ask the Ministers today for guidance on how to address and solve this issue. We have been discussing during the summer – during the months of July and August – some proposals to solve this issue, including some proposals of mediation that I have put on the table in the last weeks.
So far, consensus has not been found. As you know, we need unanimity for the rules of our EU military operations. But I will see with Ministers today if there is space and what kind of space we have to find an answer to this question. This requires a constructive attitude from all and also that all Member States take responsibilities.