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Speech by Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc on military mobility at the North Atlantic Council

Met dank overgenomen van V. (Violeta) Bulc, gepubliceerd op maandag 11 juni 2018.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour to be with you today and to have the opportunity to present the EU's Action Plan on Military Mobility. I'm also pleased to see that there are 9 women out of the 19 NATO Permanent Representatives!

I will start with a few words about Defence and the EU. The European Commission is contributing to the efforts of the Member States on more defence cooperation within Europe.

It set up the European Defence Fund, which is a game changer for the European defence industry as it changes the perception of European defence cooperation, limits its fragmentation and makes investments and spending more efficient.

The Commission proposed on 2 May an ambitious €13 billion for that Fund under the EU's budgetary period 2021-2027. The co-legislators - Council and European Parliament, have to now agree on that budget. They must also agree on the conditions under which companies established in the Union but controlled by third country entities are eligible for funding, and the conditions under which cooperation with companies established outside the Union can take place. We will see how this progresses.

But let me now come back to my main topic, the Action Plan on Military Mobility. This was adopted at the end of March by the European Commission and the EU High Representative for foreign affairs and security policy.

It was developed in the context of our President's commitment during his State of the Union speech in September 2017, to have a full-fledged Defence Union in place by 2025.

Moreover, military mobility should be seen as part of the wider Security and Defence agenda that the EU is now pursuing in the wake of the Global Strategy, in order to allow Europe to respond faster to crises and increase its resilience to external threats.

This Action Plan stems from the fact that military exercises are hampered by physical and administrative obstacles. We are speaking about days and sometimes weeks of those troops and assets being blocked somewhere in the EU before being able or allowed to proceed further.

The aim of the Action Plan is to improve the mobility of military forces within and beyond the EU, allowing the EU and its Member States to act faster, in line with their defence needs and responsibilities - both in the context of Common Security and Defence Policy missions and operations, as well as national and multinational activities (e.g. in the framework of NATO).

This Action Plan focuses on three main areas:

  • Infrastructure - exploring the possibilities of the Trans-European network policy,
  • Regulatory and procedural issues - transport of dangerous goods, customs formalities, cross-border movement permission and
  • Possible new topics in the future.

Regarding transport infrastructure, we first need the detailed description of the military requirements, across all relevant modes of transport, both in geographical terms (which airport, which rail line etc.) and in terms of technical performance (weight capacity, length etc.). This will come from the Member States (Council).

On that basis, we will need about 6 months to compare the EU's transport network (TEN-T) and the military requirements, both in terms of geographical coverage and technical performance, and then to quantify the gaps.

We will then need an additional 12 months to identify, together with the transport infrastructure managers of the different modes, which of these requirements are also useful for civilians.

For example, increasing the weight capacity of a bridge located on a given road may lead to a "dual use" if it would also help freight trucks take a more effective route through that bridge than continuing using a longer alternative itinerary because of the weight limitation.

Another example which will certainly come up is increasing the surface of a given multimodal terminal where trucks are unloaded on trains and vice-versa if it also answers commercial needs.

That dual-use infrastructure would then be financially supported by the EU. We have proposed a dedicated budget of €6.5bn under our next multiannual financial perspectives for 2021-2027.

This budget still needs to be confirmed by the Council and the European Parliament. Supposing it will be confirmed, things will work the following way:

  • My team will prepare regular (probably yearly) calls for proposals based on given criteria aiming to ensure dual uses.
  • Stakeholders will submit related proposals with the agreement of the national authorities, both the Ministries of Transport and of Defence.
  • Those proposals will be evaluated and ranked with a final check by the Commission.
  • The Commission, in agreement with the Member States will, finally, approve the selection.

This financial support will start as of 2021, in line with the EU's new budget. We will nevertheless start preparing a solid project pipeline to ensure a smooth implementation as soon as the dual use criteria will be determined, so in about two years from now.

One question which you have is whether or not this budget will be accessible to non-EU NATO countries. The answer is unfortunately no. This budget will however be accessible to all EU countries, also those who are not NATO members.

Another point is whether the military requirements which we will receive from the Council of the European Union will be coherent with the NATO ones. Work is ongoing at this point. Your input was taken on board in the draft of the requirements, which are currently under discussion in the Military Committee. I know that there is large consensus amongst the EU Member States to aim for coherence if not complete convergence, as this is the most effective approach. And of course cooperation with NATO on this issue of military mobility is part of our Joint Declaration.

And finally, is whether the EU is taking over Defence as a responsibility from the Member States and what about the secret aspect which is inherent to military planning. The answer is very clear: No, the EU will not step into the shoes of its Member States. The aim of the Action Plan is to help and facilitate Member States. In this regard, let me once again underline the full respect of national decision-making autonomy as a general feature of the Action Plan.

The EU Member States have the right to include or not, some or all of their needs in what the Council will communicate to us. They are not obliged to submit a proposal for financial support if they assess that it would expose them too much. The Member States will keep secret what they deem necessary to keep secret; therefore classified information will be duly protected of course. In terms of geographical location, whatever will be co-funded will need to be on the EU's transport network (TEN-T), which is publicly known.

I will end my speech by mentioning the other issues covered by the Action Plan on military mobility, which are not related to physical barriers to the transport of military personnel and assets, but rather to administrative barriers:

The European Commission will look into the formalities for moving dangerous military goods. EU rules exist for the transport of dangerous civilian goods. It would be helpful either to apply the same rules to transporting dangerous military goods or to have another set of harmonised provisions that allow the efficient and safe transport of such materials.

The European Commission will also help on customs-related matters, identifying options for streamlining and simplifying formalities for military operations.

Last, and beyond the concrete actions which I have now detailed, I would like to conclude with a few words about the purpose and spirit underlining our Action Plan. It is all about a higher level of security for the EU citizens. And, since many EU countries are members of NATO, it is also about a higher level of security and effectiveness of the military personnel of all NATO allies. That is what we want to concretely achieve, by leveraging EU policies which we already address for civilians. It is a matter of importance to me that when we invest billions of Euros of public money - that we do so in full knowledge of the military requirements AND do so jointly whenever we define these dual use - military AND civilian - cases.

Thank you very much for your attention.



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