EU-Ukraine Association Council: Press remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell
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Thank you, Prime Minister [of Ukraine, Denys Shmyhal]. Dear, Commissioner [for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Oliver Várhelyi]. Thank you to all of you who are attending this press conference.
Prime Minister, last time we had this meeting, this Association Council meeting, it was in February. It was before, just before Russia’s aggression against your country. The world is a very different place today.
One year later, we are living in a completely different situation. But we continue meeting together, discussing our Association as the main political goal.
I am happy that today, for the first time, we are having this [Association] Council [meeting] with Ukraine, and Ukraine being a candidate country for the European Union membership.
Putin wanted to occupy, to destroy and to colonise Ukraine and instead, he has been pushing Ukraine closer to the European Union.
He also has been strengthening our resolve to help to build a modern, a democratic, an independent Ukraine as an integral part of the European family.
Putin wanted just the contrary. He could never imagine that six months after launching the war, he would be in a situation like this. Ukraine closer to the European Union and the European Union strengthening our support to you to build – I repeat it - a modern, democratic, sovereign, independent Ukraine as an integral part of the European family.
Prime Minister, dear Denis, this is your first visit to Brussels since the start of the Russian aggression against your country. I promised you in spring, when we met in Kyiv, that we will hold this [Association] Council together in Brussels. And here we are.
And I want also to remind you that in January – last January - when I visited the Donbas [region], and I visited you in Kyiv, you told me: “I hope that, if the Russians attack us, you will support us. You will, at least, provide your arms to reject the invasion”. I am proud to say that what I promised you has happened - we would be supporting you - and we are doing that.
Allow me to say that we salute your courage [and] the courage of the Ukrainian people. You did not kneel in front of a huge, heavily armed aggressor. On the contrary, Ukraine has been standing, fighting for your freedom, for your independence. And on doing that, you are fighting for all of us. As many European leaders have said: “Your fight is our fight”.
At stake is the future of our peaceful neighbourhood, a fellow democracy, but also the wider principles of the European global security. No less than that.
I said that many times. You do not need applause. You do not need nice words. You do not need rhetoric. You need concrete support. You need physical support. You need weapons. You need a support that goes beyond the European landscape, reaching the rest of the world, explaining to everybody which are the causes and the consequences of this war.
We are providing it. The main message from today’s meeting, to the whole world, is that the European Union will continue supporting Ukraine - whatever threat, whatever blackmail Russia can put on us.
We will provide our support – politically, financially, humanitarian and military - as long as it takes and as much as needed.
The first goal of our support is to help Ukraine to end the war, because we want this war to end as soon as possible. But not in any way - we want this war to end respecting the sovereignty of Ukraine. And the long-term objective that goes beyond the war, is to support Ukraine to win the peace. And to win the peace means to build – as I said before - a modern, democratic, independent and prosperous Ukraine.
Our meeting today, dear Prime Minister, is also a proof of the resilience of Ukraine, of its people, of your institutions, despite the Russian aggression. It also underlines the importance of our relations, which are advancing faster than ever.
During our meeting, we reiterated in the strongest possible terms our condemnation of the Russian war of aggression that has to stop, and [our support for] the unconditional withdraw from the entire territory of Ukraine with its internationally-recognised borders.
This certainly includes the actions of Russia around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. The latest news we got about the situation there are increasingly worrisome.
There is a nuclear gamble that has to stop. It is a nuclear gamble playing with fire, which is another example of Russia’s reckless behaviour, disdain for international law and basic principles of nuclear safety.
We emphasised our joint support to the efforts of the International Atomic Energy Agency and underlined the need for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to remain an integral part of the Ukrainian energy system and a demilitarised area.
Dear Prime Minister, with your application to the European Union membership, you took [on] the commitment to intensify the reform efforts. Because before the war you needed reforms, and these reforms are still needed.
Today, we took stock of the progress of our bilateral agenda and Ukraine’s reform path – both of which have been advanced at a remarkable rate over the past months. And that, despite - or maybe due - to the Russian aggression.
We underlined the importance to follow-up on the recommendations set out [by] the [European] Commission – here, Commissioner [Oliver] Várhelyi will develop more on that - in the Commission’s Opinions on Ukraine’s membership application.
And certainly, in the key areas of rule of law and anti-corruption, we welcome the recent steps taken by you, but also, we encourage further actions.
We also welcomed your important progress in the human rights field. We commend your ratification of the Istanbul Convention - a major step in protecting women and girls from all kinds of sexual and gender-based violence.
We also focused on the need to ensure accountability for Russian war crimes. We fully support international and Ukrainian efforts in this matter.
Finally, Ukraine still needs to ratify the Rome Statute, in order to benefit fully of the rights of a full member of the International Criminal Court.
An issue which goes further [than] our relationship, is the grain exports from Ukraine. We learnt a lot about the consequences of this United Nations brokered agreement and the facilitation for the export of more than 10 million tons of agricultural products from Ukraine.
Today, we have signed several agreements, on Ukraine’s participation in our Customs and Fiscal Programmes, on the Digital Europe Programme. Oliver [Várhelyi] will debrief on our discussion on the important achievements made in our extremely wide sectorial cooperation agenda.
[Ukraine being able to join] the Convention on the simplification of formalities in trade in goods and the Convention on the Common transit procedure as of 1 October is another key success.
All in all, to summarise, it is clear that reforms and sustainable reconstruction will take time. But let me underline that Ukraine can rest assured that the European Union will support you all the way on your European path as a fully independent and sovereign country.
Q. High Representative, today in Prague, during the Inter-Parliamentary Conference on security, we have heard some views which were calling for the EU to cancel the military supply to Ukraine and to push Ukraine to some kind of negotiations with the country which is obviously [the] aggressor. From your point of view, how widespread [are] such ideas among the EU countries? Because that exactly reflects the Russian narrative . How dangerous is that issue for the unity or for the European Union as such?
Yes, this morning, [there] was an Inter-Parliamentary meeting. Let me clarify - it was not the European Parliament alone. There were representatives of all Member States Parliaments – Congress and Senate – which reflect the political opinions in all the European Union’s Member States. And certainly, there are people who are in a position which is certainly minoritarian, but they have the right to express their point of view. Some of them expressed their concerns about the prolongation of the war and how our sanctions and our military support to Ukraine is affecting the war. My interlocutors are the governments – the Foreign Affairs ministers - and they represent the Member States. And what I can say is that in Prague, one week ago, there was a clear, complete, unwavering support of all of the governments represented there for our position. There are political parties, there are members of the European parliaments with different opinions, and I answered them this morning but they are not representative of the position of the Member States.
Q. Regarding the Iran nuclear deal, Tehran is asking now for more guarantees and is seeking closure of the investigation of the [International Atomic Energy Agency] - and the United States said [that] this is not a constructive position. So I would like to know, how do you assess this petition? Do you think this is a reasonable request as you said to the previous response?
Well, we have not been talking about that. It was not part of the [EU-Ukraine] Association Council. But, if you allow me, I will divert our attention from our relations [with Ukraine] to provide an answer to this question.
Let me remind [you]. On the past 8th of August – it means almost one month ago – I tabled a carefully balanced text, taking into account all positions of all parties. At a certain moment, my responsibility as Coordinator [of the JCPOA negotiations] is to say: “That is enough. This is the most balanced text [that] I can produce, taking into account all points of view.” This text was very well received. I got positive feedback from all partners. Then, we started a process of interactions. And an interactive process is good if it converges – it means, if the positions are closer after the interaction ends than before. And they were converging, they were converging to a closer position. And the initial requests that I received were reasonable from both parts [US and Iran], and they were taken on board without altering the text fundamentally. But the last interaction is not converging, it is diverging. And the positions are not closer in ‘N+1’ than in ‘N’. On the contrary, in N+1, they are further than in N. That is very much worrisome - if the process does not converge, the whole process is in danger.
So, I have to say that the last answers I got, if the purpose is to close the deal quickly - if the purpose is that - it is not going to help it. So, what I am doing [is] to keep consulting with all the other JCPOA participants, and in particular the United States because it is a request that has to be fulfilled by the United States - in particular, not the only one, how to proceed. But I am sorry to say that I am less confident today than 28 hours ago about the convergence of the negotiation process and about the prospect of closing the deal right now.
Q. Ukraine declares that we are about to fulfill the complete implementation of the Association Agreement and we [Ukraine] are about to start a negotiation on membership accession. Do you see some cohesion of the Association Agreement and our pre-accession status? Did you promise something new to Ukraine and the Prime Minister?
I will pass the floor to Commissioner Várhelyi, but as you said Prime Minister, the Association Agreement procedures are procedures that cannot be substituted by anyone else. [These steps] have to be followed until the full fulfillment - or the complete fulfillment – of the conditions. The Commission will issue an Opinion in order to see if your level of ambition has been reached. We support your level of ambition – the sooner, the better – and certainly, there is a window of opportunity opened by this historical situation. So, as soon as you fulfill the conditions, the negotiations will start. But for that, the Commission will have to issue an evaluation of the fulfillment.
Q. We have a new UK Prime Minister, Liz Truss. [What would be] your message to her given the ongoing situation in Ukraine?
Thank you for this question. It is a good opportunity for me to congratulate Liz [Truss] for her clear victory and the clear support that she got from the bodies of the Conservative party to become the next “Premier” in the United Kingdom’s government. I wish her the best. I wish [her] success. And I hope that we are going to have an important contribution in order to improve the relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom, with the prospect of the full compliance with the Brexit agreement. I do not see any clear signal, any clear prospect the United Kingdom will come back soon to the European Union. So, I am not going to stress my brain by imagining what would happen in such a case.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-229433