EU defence ministers reiterate strong support for Ukraine and express concern over the situation in Africa

News - 2023.8.30

Toledo was the city chosen by the Spanish Presidency of the Council to host the defence ministers, where support for Ukraine was reiterated and the worrying situation in the Sahel and in Africa was discussed.

Minister Robles has expressed her condolences to France for the soldiers who have died in Iraq in recent days, and has reported that "the Spanish troops are well" after speaking with the head of the contingent.

At the joint press conference with the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, the minister once again expressed her "total and absolute" solidarity with him in the face of the threats and insults from the Kremlin authorities, considering that "they are insults to democratic values and to the principles shared by all Europeans".

Both leaders admitted their "concern" at the latest developments in Gabon, where a group of soldiers have staged a coup against the president, Ali Bongo.

Because of the scale of the challenges facing Europe, the discussion among ministers has reached a level of depth and clarity unprecedented in previous ministerial meetings. And the situation in Africa and the Sahel has been a particularly central topic of discussion today in Toledo.

During the meeting, EU defence ministers also decided to maintain the strong commitment to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), respecting the principle of African solutions to African problems.

Defence ministerial meeting

It is symbolic that this meeting is being held in Toledo, as its Infantry Academy is training 80% of the more than 3,000 Ukrainian military personnel who will have received training in Spain before the end of the year, in the framework of the Military Assistance Mission in support of Ukraine (EUMAM Ukraine).

This was recalled by Minister Robles at the welcome dinner for the delegations that took place on the evening of Tuesday 29th, after the heads of delegation had made a cultural visit to the centre of Toledo, which included a concert in the Cathedral. The defence ministers thus concluded their first day of work in Spain, which had begun that same day in Madrid with the meeting of the Board of Directors of the European Union Satellite Centre at the Torrejón Air Base.

The facilities of the former Fábrica de Armas, today the campus of the University of Castilla-La Mancha, hosted the working sessions of the ministerial meeting. In the first of these, devoted to Ukraine, the ministers were updated by video conference on the situation on the ground by the Ukrainian Defence Minister, Oleksii Reznikov, and reviewed progress on the various initiatives in support of Ukraine that are underway within the framework of the European Union.

Spain has reiterated its commitment to medical aid, both through the reception of new wounded soldiers and amputees to be treated in our military hospitals, and by sending surgical and medical material to support the recently donated ROLE 2+ type deployable field hospital. Minister Robles also announced that Spain is considering contributing, in collaboration with other partners, to Ukraine's future cyber-defence capabilities, and expressed particular satisfaction with the results of the Military Assistance Mission's training of Ukrainian soldiers, which has already far exceeded initial expectations.

The second working session, which addressed the global repercussions of Russia's aggression in Ukraine, was attended by the UN Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations and NATO's Assistant Secretary General for Defence Policy and Planning. Ministers assessed the possible security guarantees that the EU can provide to Ukraine in the long term, in order to deter further Russian aggression in the future.

Robles is convinced that the time has come for the European defence industry to play a greater role in sustaining support for Ukraine in the long term. "We must ensure that the substantial financial packages we approve not only help Ukraine, but also contribute to job creation by boosting the European defence industry".

In this respect, the minister pointed out that the initiatives underway are already advancing at a steady pace, but they will have to be sustainable over time and not be detrimental to the European Union's actions in other neighbouring geographical areas.

"The war in Ukraine unfortunately frames the moment we are living through in Europe, but it is also a worrying moment because of the difficult situation in the South, in Africa and in the Sahel," said Robles, recalling the 360-degree vocation of the European Peace Facility, a financial instrument that the EU-27 intend to increase very substantially.

At the working lunch following the second session, the security situation in Africa was discussed, especially after the events in Niger and the most recent events in Gabon, as well as the future of the European Union's military missions in that region and in the Balkans.

The acting Minister for Defence reiterated Spain's firm and well-known position: "Despite the growing difficulties, we must persevere in our efforts, demonstrating Europe's commitment to security in the region, listening to Africans to understand their real needs, and not leaving loopholes that can be exploited by hostile actors".

Finally, ministers briefly reviewed progress in the implementation of the Strategic Compass, in particular with regard to the development of the Union's Rapid Deployment Capacity (EU RDC).

Recent events such as the evacuations of European citizens from crisis areas have reiterated the need for such a capability, to which Spain will contribute by organising its first real exercise on our territory next October.

After the press conference, the minister went to the Toledo Conference Centre to inaugurate, together with the acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, the seminar "Implementing the Strategic Compass: Challenges and Opportunities", another of the activities scheduled on the sidelines of the informal meetings.

The activities scheduled in Toledo on the occasion of Spain's rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union will continue on Thursday with the informal meeting of foreign affairs ministers.

Bilateral meetings on the sidelines

Throughout the day, Margarita Robles also had the opportunity to hold bilateral meetings with the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, and with the Romanian Minister of Defence, Ángel Tilvar.

In her meeting with Lacroix, the minister highlighted the valuable contribution of the Spanish Armed Forces to the objectives of the United Nations, not only through our firm commitment to the missions in Lebanon and Colombia, but also through other types of contributions, such as the online Spanish-language Gender Advisor in Operations training course, which has more than 3,300 students from 23 countries enrolled.

Robles thanked the United Nations for its support for the head of the Mission and Force Commander, Spanish Major General Aroldo Lázaro, for tackling the complex political, economic and humanitarian situation in the region, as well as for the extension of his mandate as head of the Mission for a third year.

"Today the United Nations will vote on the continuation of UNIFIL's mandate. We are firmly committed to continuing the mission," said Robles.

During the meeting with the Romanian Defence Minister, the objectives of the Spanish Presidency of the European Union in the area of security and defence, missions in Africa and Spain's contribution to the security of NATO's eastern flank and the Black Sea were reviewed. The minister reiterated our country's support for the European Union's efforts in the Sahel and its willingness to continue participating in missions in Africa for as long as they are maintained.

The acting Minister for Defence thanked Romania in particular for its contribution to the EUTM mission in the Central African Republic and told Minister Tilvar that Spain is determined to continue its military presence in Romania as part of NATO's eastern flank, adapting it as necessary.

Non official translation