High-level EU representatives, numerous foreign and defence ministers, diplomats, representatives of the defence industry, think-tanks and academics from across Europe met on Friday, June 9th at Zofin Palace, Prague, to begin discussions on how to further strengthen the joint European defence and security policy and the EU-NATO strategic partnership.
The Prague Conference on Defence and Security (DESCOP) was chaired by the Czech Prime Minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, and the European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker. Participants included the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini; the Deputy Secretary General of NATO, Rose Gottemoellero; the Foreign and Defence Ministers of France, Jean-Yves Le Drian and Sylvie Goulard; the Foreign and Defence Ministers of Slovakia, Miroslav Lajcak and Peter Gajdos, and European Commissioners, Jyrki Katainen and Elzbieta Bienkowska. The Czech Minister of Defence, Martin Stropnicky and Foreign Minister, Lubomir Zaoralek were also present.
"I am delighted to chair this important conference on the future of European defence and security,” said Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka during his opening speech, "The people of Europe need a higher level of security and, together, we must intensify our defence cooperation and adopt new and appropriate measures to achieve this goal." Sobotka went on to say that the EU should focus on joint peacekeeping missions which would stabilise its neighborhood, while territorial defence should fall under the jurisdiction of NATO. Jean-Claude Juncker expressed his view that, in today’s environment, the ‘soft power’ approach is not an efficient way to ensure greater security and, therefore, the EU needs a more effective defence policy.
European Union getting serious about defence
The conference participants took part in two panels to discuss the European Commission's new proposals on strengthening joint defence and European defence capabilities in light of the current security situation. Defence Minister Martin Stropnicky also took part in the second panel on European defence capabilities.
In his speech, he said that strengthening European defence cooperation does not mean creating a EU federal army. "I also strongly warn against attempts at creating the impression that NATO and the transatlantic defence cooperation are falling apart. They are not," Minister Stropnicky stressed to the almost full auditorium at the Zofin Palace.
At the final press conference, the Czech Minister of Defence expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to hold such a major forum in the Czech Republic, and with such a large number of high-level EU Representatives. "The Union is sending a signal to its citizens that it is determined to strengthen European defence and security," said Minister Stropnicky concluding his speech at the DESCOP conference.
An informal meeting between Deputy Minister of Defence Tomas Kuchta and the Executive Director of the European Defence Agency (EDA), Jorge Domecq, also took place during the DESCOP conference. They discussed issues relating to the European Defence Action Plan; the principles of project selection, the formation of consortiums and the potential for the Czech defence industry to be more involved in international cooperation.