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Defence

‘Europe can – and clearly should – be able and willing to do more on its own’ von der Leyen

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen reflected on the precipitous end to the NATO mission in Afghanistan in her ‘State of the EU’ (SOTEU) address. The summer's events have given new impetus to the European Defence Union. 

Von der Leyen described the situation as raising “deeply troubling questions” for the NATO allies, with its consequences for Afghanis, service men and women, as well as for diplomatic and aid workers. Von der Leyen announced that she anticipated a joint EU-NATO statement to be presented before the end of the year, saying that “we” are currently working on this with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

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Many have been critical of the EU’s failure to use its battlegroups. Von der Leyen attacked the issue head on: “You can have the most advanced forces in the world – but if you are never prepared to use them - of what use are they?” She said the problem wasn’t a lack of capacity, but a lack of political will. 

Von der Leyen said the upcoming Strategic Compass document, to be finalized in November, is key to this discussion: “We need to decide how we can use all of the possibilities that are already in the Treaty. This is why, under the French Presidency, President Macron and I will convene a Summit on European defence. It is time for Europe to step up to the next level.”

Von der Leyen called for greater information-sharing for better situational awareness, sharing of intelligence and information, as well as drawing together all services from aid providers to those who could lead on police training. Secondly, she called for improved interoperability through common European platforms, on everything from fighter jets to drones. She threw out the idea of waiving VAT when buying defence equipment developed and produced in the EU, arguing that this would help interoperability and decrease dependency. Finally, on cyber she said that the EU needed a European Cyber Defence Policy, including legislation on common standards under a new European Cyber Resilience Act.

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What are we waiting for?

Speaking after von der Leyen’s speech, chairman of the European Peoples’ Party Manfred Weber MEP said: “I fully welcome the initiatives from the defence council in Ljubjana. But what are we waiting for? The Lisbon Treaty gives us all options, so let's do it and let's do it now.” He said that President Biden had already made it clear that the US no longer wanted to be the world's policeman and added that both China and Russia were waiting to fill the vacuum: “We would wake up in a world in which our children will not want to live.”

9/11

20 years since 9/11: Statement by the High Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell

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On 11 September 2001, the deadliest attack in US history killed nearly 3,000 people and injured more than 6,000 when hijacked passenger flights crashed into the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and into a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

We honour the memory of those who lost their lives on this day, 20 years ago. The victims of terrorism are not forgotten. I express my heartfelt sympathy to the American people, especially those who lost their loved ones in the attacks. Terror attacks are attacks against us all.

9/11 marked a turn in history. It fundamentally changed the global political agenda – for the first time ever, NATO invoked Article 5, allowing its members to respond together in self-defense, and it launched the war against Afghanistan.

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20 years on, terrorist groups such as Al Qaida and Da’esh remain active and virulent in many parts of the world, for example in the Sahel, Middle East and Afghanistan. Their attacks have caused thousands of victims around the world, enormous pain and suffering. They attempt to destroy lives, damage communities and change our way of life. Seeking to destabilise countries as a whole, they prey in particular on fragile societies, but also our Western democracies and the values we stand for. They remind us that terrorism is a threat we live with every day.

Now, as then, we stand determined to fight terrorism in all its forms, anywhere. We stand in admiration, humility and gratitude to those who risk their lives to protect us from this threat and to those who respond in the aftermath of attacks.

Our counter-terrorism experience has taught us that there are no easy answers, or quick fixes. Responding to terrorism and violent extremism by force and military might alone will not help to win hearts and minds. The EU has therefore taken an integrated approach, addressing the root causes of violent extremism, cutting off terrorists’ financing sources and curbing terrorist content online. Five EU security and defence missions around the world are mandated to contribute to the fight against terrorism. In all our efforts, we commit to protect innocent lives, our citizens and our values, as well as uphold human rights and international law.

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The recent events in Afghanistan oblige us to rethink our approach, working with our strategic partners, such as the United States and through multilateral efforts, including with the United Nations, the Global Coalition to Defeat Da’esh and the Global Counter Terrorism Forum (GCTF).

On this day, we should not forget that the only way forward is to stand united and firm against all who seek to damage and divide our societies. The EU will continue to work together with the United States and all its partners to make this world a safer place.

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Education

Statement by Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič on the International Day to Protect Education from Attack

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On the occasion of the International Day to Protect Education from Attack (9 September), the EU reaffirms its commitment to promote and protect the right of every child to grow in a safe environment, have access to quality education, and build a better and more peaceful future, says Janez Lenarčič (pictured).

Attacks on schools, students and teachers have a devastating impact on access to education, education systems and on societal development. Sadly, their incidence is increasing at an alarming rate. This is all too clear from the recent developments in Afghanistan, and the crises in Ethiopia, Chad, Africa's Sahel region, in Syria, Yemen or Myanmar, amongst many others. The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack has identified more than 2,400 attacks on education facilities, students, and educators in 2020, a 33 percent increase since 2019.

Attacks on education constitute also violations of International Humanitarian Law, the set of rules seeking to limit the effects of armed conflict. Such violations are multiplying, while their perpetrators are seldom called to account. In this view, we are putting compliance with International Humanitarian Law consistently at the heart of the EU's external action. As one of the largest humanitarian donors, the EU will hence continue to promote and advocate for global respect for International Humanitarian Law, both by states and non-state armed groups during an armed conflict.

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Beyond destruction of facilities, attacks on education result in long-term suspension of learning and teaching, increase the risk of school dropouts, lead to forced labour and recruitment by armed groups and forces. School closures reinforce exposure to all forms of violence, including sexual and gender-based violence or early and forced marriage, levels of which have increased drastically during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed and exacerbated the vulnerability of education worldwide. Now, more than ever, we need to minimise disruption to education disruption, and ensure that children can learn in safety and protection.

Safety of education, including further engagement on the Safe Schools Declaration, is an integral part of our efforts to protect and promote the right to education for every girl and boy.

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Responding to and preventing attacks on schools, supporting protective aspects of education and protecting students and teachers requires a coordinated and inter-sectoral approach.

Through EU-funded projects in Education in Emergencies, we help reduce and mitigate the risks posed by armed conflict.

The EU remains at the forefront of supporting education in emergencies, dedicating 10% of its humanitarian aid budget to support access, quality and protection of education.

More information

Factsheet - Education in Emergencies

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France

Main suspect tells Paris attacks trial he's 'an Islamic State soldier'

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The main suspect in a jihadist rampage that killed 130 people across Paris described himself defiantly as "an Islamic State soldier" and shouted at the top judge on Wednesday (8 September) at the start of a trial into the 2015 attacks, write Tangi Salaün, Yiming Woo, Michaela Cabrera, Antony Paone, Ingrid Melander, Benoit Van Overstraeten, Blandine Henault and Ingrid Melander.

Salah Abdeslam, 31, is believed to be the only surviving member of the group that carried out the gun-and-bomb attacks on six restaurants and bars, the Bataclan concert hall and a sports stadium on 13 November 2015, in which hundreds were injured.

He appeared in court dressed in black and wearing a black face mask. Asked his profession, the French-Moroccan removed his mask and told the Paris court: "I gave up my job to become an Islamic State soldier."

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While the other defendants, who are accused of providing guns, cars or helping plan the attacks, simply answered routine questions on their name and profession and otherwise remained quiet, Abdeslam clearly sought to use the start of the trial as a platform.

Asked by the court's top judge to give his name, Abdeslam used the Shahada, an Islamic oath, saying: "I want to testify that there is no god except Allah and that Mohammad is his servant."

He later shouted at the court's top judge for two minutes, saying the defendants had been treated "like dogs", BFM television reported, adding that someone in the public section of the court, where victims and victims' relatives sit, shouted back: "You bastard, 130 people were killed."

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Victor Edou, a lawyer for eight Bataclan survivors, had said earlier that Abdeslam's statement that he is an Islamic State soldier was "very violent".

"Some of my clients are not doing too well... after hearing a statement that they took as a new, direct threat," he said. "It's going to be like that for nine months."

Others said they were trying not to attach much importance to Abdeslam's comments.

"I need more to be shocked ... I'm not afraid," said Thierry Mallet, a Bataclan survivor.

Responsibility for the attacks was claimed by Islamic State, which had urged followers to attack France over its involvement in the fight against the militant group in Iraq and Syria.

French Police forces secure near the Paris courthouse on the Ile de la Cite France before the start of the trial of the Paris' November 2015 attacks, in Paris, France, September 8, 2021. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
A commemorative plaque for the victims of Paris' November 2015 attacks is seen near the bar and restaurant previously named Comptoir Voltaire in Paris, France, September 1, 2021. Twenty defendants will stand the trial of Paris' November 2015 attacks from September 8, 2021 to May 25, 2022 at Paris courthouse on the Ile de la Cite, with nearly 1,800 civil parties, more than 300 lawyers, hundreds of journalists and large-scale security challenges. Picture taken September 1, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier/File Photo

Before the trial, survivors and victims' relatives had said they were impatient to hear testimony that might help them better understand what happened and why it did so.

"It is important that the victims can bear witness, can tell the perpetrators, the suspects who are on the stand, about the pain," said Philippe Duperron, whose 30-year-old son Thomas was killed in the attacks.

"We are also waiting anxiously because we know that as this trial takes place the pain, the events, everything will come back to the surface."

The trial is expected to last nine months, with nearly 1,800 plaintiffs and more than 300 lawyers involved in what Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti called an unprecedented judicial marathon. The court's top judge, Jean-Louis Peries, said it was an historic trial.

Eleven of the 20 defendants are already in jail pending trial and six will be tried in absentia - most of them are believed to be dead. Most face life imprisonment if convicted.

Police mounted tight security around the Palais de Justice courthouse in central Paris. Defendants appeared behind a reinforced glass partition in a purpose-built courtroom and all people must pass through several checkpoints to enter the court. Read more.

"The terrorist threat in France is high, especially at times like the attacks' trial," Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told France Inter radio.

The first days of the trial are expected to be largely procedural. Victims' testimonies are set to start on 28 September. Questioning of the accused will start in November but they are not set to testify about the night of the attacks and the week before them until March. Read more.

A verdict is not expected before late May, but Bataclan survivor Gaetan Honore, 40, said being there from the start mattered.

"It was important to be here on the first day, symbolically. I'm hoping to understand, somehow, how this could happen," he said.

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