Foreign Affairs Council: Press remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell
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Good afternoon, or better good evening,
We started today’s Foreign Affairs Council with a discussion on the external and geopolitical impact of the new digital technologies. These technologies are crucial for our societies and economies. They are becoming an object and a driver of geopolitical competition and global influence. Certainly, global actors are using these new technologies to manipulate the information environment, to influence our public debates and to interfere in our democratic processes.
As European Union, we need to use our unique capacity as regulatory power, setting global norms and standards to maintain an open system, centred on the rule of law. We want to work together with partners from the United States to the Indo-Pacific, Africa and Latin America.
We agreed with the European External Action Service and the European Commission to continue our work on structuring a coherent digital external policy. For sure, in the months to come we are going to go back to this very much important issue and in order to be prepared for that, at the European External Action Service, we have created a new division to deal with the connectivity and digital transformation issues.
Also, for the first time, the Foreign Ministers discussed the Strategic Compass. It is something that the Ministers of Defence have been involved in on several occasions and will continue being involved in the next informal meeting in September, but today the Foreign Ministers – at their request – have been involved in the discussion about: how to better prepare for future crises; how to reinforce our resilience against threats, for example in the cyber space; how to reinforce our partnerships to meet common challenges; and how to develop a common strategic culture.
I presented to the Ministers the schedule in order to be able, by November, to present a first draft and, by March [next year], to adopt the Strategic Compass. I think that it is a very important initiative. I do not care if it is controversial, I prefer to have controversies [rather] than indifferences and I think that the Foreign Ministers took stock of the importance of this project. Let us hope that by November the Ministers will have a full draft of the Strategic Compass.
Talking about defence and security issues, today we formally established, in a record time, the new European Training Mission for Mozambique. This is the second Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) mission that is being created during my mandate.
It has been done in a record time, in European terms ‘record time’ does not mean very quickly, but it has been done quicker than in any other mission.
The new mission will be a fundamental part of our response to the government of Mozambique’s request to address the crisis in Cabo Delgado, in the northern part of the country, and to contribute to reinforce and re-establish security.
This mission will train selected Mozambican units to help the armed forces in their efforts to bring back safety and security. This commitment now needs to be properly resourced and accompanied by the adequate assistance measures. So, I have been asking the Member States, once the mission has been agreed, to bring, to provide the means, the staff that this mission will require. It is not going to be a big mission, like the one that we have in Mali, but it is important that the people who will go to Mozambique to train Mozambican units will be highly qualified military elements.
We had a discussion over lunch with the new Israeli Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid. You know that the European Union and Israel share deep political, historical and cultural ties.
We had a friendly, open and constructive exchange on our bilateral relations, but also on the situation in the region – especially related to the [Middle East] Peace Process and the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iran nuclear deal] negotiations.
The fact that [Foreign] Minister Lapid decided to follow up on my invitation to attend todays’ meeting, and with this to allow for an exchange with the new administration, shows that we have a chance for a fresh start and for strengthening our bilateral relations. But, these bilateral relations are also conditioned to many issues in which we have differences. And the proof is that the Association Agreement meetings have been cancelled since 2012, [as far as] I remember. It is quite a long time, almost 10 years.
We discussed also the Middle East Peace Process. Here I want to stress very clearly that Israel’s security is non-negotiable. We stand firmly for Israel’s security and condemn terrorism, but at the same time, we expect Israel to offer a political perspective to end the conflict. To find a solution with the Palestinians can only contribute to Israel’s security and we have a Foreign Minister from Israel that has publicly been advocating in favour of the ‘two-state solution’ – which is the solution that we, European Union, are strongly supporting.
A credible engagement, a stronger relationship with Israel needs to revive a path towards peace and justice for Israelis and Palestinians both alike. We remain ready and willing to support both in the efforts to rebuild a meaningful political process. We know that this is not going to be for tomorrow, we know the special composition of the Israeli government, but we have been very interested in listening the explanations of the Foreign Minister and his good will in order to improve the everyday life of the Palestinians and to advance in cooperation and working together towards resuming the holding of Association Council meetings if the conditions are met.
For this, we need, on one hand, to reach a consensus among Member States and, on the other hand, Israel has also to do its part.
After a long discussion with the Foreign Affairs Minister of the new Israeli government, we went to the discussion on Ethiopia.
You know that the situation in the Tigray region has never been as bad, despite of the ceasefire announced by the government of Ethiopia. What we are seeing in Tigray, what we are afraid Trigay is going to suffer, is a serious humanitarian crisis, with almost 1 million [people] - 850,000 [people] at risk of famine, and ongoing use of violence against civilians and rape as a weapon of war. The ceasefire is a positive step, but what is happening today is that the Tigray region is being cut-off from the rest of the world by destroying critical infrastructure of transportation, and this, as I said, could bring to the region the risk of mass famine.
We, at the European Union, the Commission, will organise an [humanitarian] air bridge to try to bring support to the region, but you can imagine that we cannot solve the problem of a famine affecting 850,000 people. It is something that is out of our capability, it will require the mobilisation – for this almost 1 million people, 850,000 people - of the United Nations agencies, and to ensure humanitarian access. We are ready to support the population, but we call on the Member States to provide donations as a clear sign of European Union solidarity.
[We should focus on these priorities:] To consolidate the ceasefire, the withdrawal of foreign forces from Ethiopian territory. To stop Human Rights violations. And to launch a reconciliation and national dialogue in order to preserve the integrity and political unity of Ethiopia, which remains a clear strategic objective.
Finally, we should be ready to use restrictive measures where we believe they are justified and necessary in advancing these goals. I believe that the situation in Ethiopia would certainly require that we consider this possibility along all options at our disposal. This option, the option of restrictive measures – to my understanding - must be on the table.
With ministers, we also addressed the situation in Afghanistan. The fighting is having a grave impact on civilians. The number of civilian casualties has grown 23% in the first semester of this year. We condemn the increasing targeted attacks against the Hazara community and other religious and ethnic groups.
The Ministers have unanimously urged the Taliban to engage in substantive and inclusive peace negotiations. We also call on countries of the region and the broader international community to play a constructive role in support of the Afghan peace process. I will be reaching out to many of the regional actors in the conference I will be attending in Tashkent, in Uzbekistan, in the coming days, where we expect the attendance of the President of Afghanistan.
On Lebanon, it seems to me that Europeans are more concerned with the search for a political solution to the country than the Lebanese politicians themselves, which is quite strange. After my visit to Lebanon, the political stalemate persists, the economy is imploding and the suffering of the people of Lebanon is continuously growing. They need to have a Lebanese government in order to avoid a crackdown of the country, fully able to implement the reforms and protect its population. This is in the interest of the Lebanese people, from all confessions and political orientations.
The Ministers reached a political understanding that a sanctions regime against those who are responsible for the situation should be established. In light of the preparatory technical work, the legal acts will be worked on and a decision will be adopted by the Council in order to create this new sanctions regime without delay. I can say that the objective is to complete this by the end of the month. I am not talking about the implementation of the regime, just the building of the regime according with sound legal basis.
On Belarus, the repression by the regime continues. Over the last few weeks, we have seen large-scale bulldozing of the independent media.
We have expressed our full solidarity with Lithuania on the expulsion of their diplomatic staff. We are following closely the situation at the Lithuania-Belarus border, where there are reports that the regime is now sending migrants to the Polish border too.
We call on Belarusian authorities to stick to their international commitments and obligations. We took already a number of restrictive measures and we are ready to consider further response to this behaviour. To use migrants as a weapon, pushing people to the borders is unacceptable and that is what is happening in the Lithuanian and Polish borders.
Finally, Cyprus. We are concerned about developments on the ground in Varosha. The European Union, through the President of the Commission [Ursula von der Leyen] and the President of the European Council [Charles Michel] has repeatedly reaffirmed the status of Varosha and called for the Turkish authorities not to create a situation, which could be against the United Nations decisions. The status of Varosha is set out in relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions, and it is important, as the two Presidents have directly addressed to the highest authorities in Turkey, to refrain from provocative actions.
Our priority is to focus on getting the Cyprus settlement talks [to restart], that is what we are working on, trying to avoid any kind of trouble, trying to avoid to get trapped in a negative spiral again. Our wish is to work on the settlement of the Cyprus issue. The Ministers today also rejected the two-state solution in Cyprus and on that we are firmly united. Let us hope that we are not going to have, on the following days, reasons for the calling of an extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council.
Many other issues were on the table but I think these are the most important ones.
Thank you for your attention.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-209283
Q. Lebanon is a complicated country with complicated regional interactions. Will this sanctions regime be a balanced one?
It will be a balanced one, be sure of that.
Q. Do you think that? Because there are many communities in the country, some of them will maybe get the feeling that they are being targeted more than others?
It is not a sanctions regime against any community. Our sanctions regime is not against communities it is against behaviour.
Q. On Ethiopia, you said this morning that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam crisis is not officially on the agenda but it is related to the situation, to the political speeches in Ethiopia. What is the European Union’s approach to solve this crisis between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan? Mr Sameh Shoukry the Foreign Affairs Minister of Egypt is talking here the whole day about the issue and he will meet you tomorrow.
That is it, tomorrow I will have the pleasure to meet with my colleague the Foreign Affairs Minister of Egypt [Sameh Shoukry] and certainly, we are going to talk about it. It is not the first time that I am talking about the issue of the [Grand Ethiopian Renaissance] Dam with the Sudanese, Egyptians and the Ethiopians themselves. Our recipe is the same: dialogue and political understanding. We have been asking for it, we will continue asking for it, we understand very much the concerns of the Egyptians and the Sudanese.
I think that water – having been Minister of water in Spain- I know very well how important water is, and how complex can be the confrontations about water use among territories. But I think the water of the Nile can be used for everybody, in a way that benefits everybody, depending on the capacity to seal the deal and this can be done only through goodwill negotiations, and that is what we are asking for.
Q. How is the European Union planning to tackle the issue of the instrumentalization of migrants? Because more and more countries – more and more Member States – face this pressure of a threat. Now it is Lithuania, it is Poland, but also it has been Greece and Ceuta recently. So practically, how is the European Union going to tackle the issue?
On the question of instrumentalization of migrants, putting political pressure on Belarus in order to make them aware that they have to fulfil their international obligations. Putting pressure also or asking the authorities to control the air traffic - the passengers that are travelling from one place to another - and requesting a full control of their documentation. And in the case of Belarus, if they persists in this attitude, to review our sanctions and look for stronger actions on the economic side.
Q. Regarding the globally connected Europe plan also discussed today in the meeting, what is the scope of this plan specifically? How do you intend to make it attractive?
It is not a plan with a list of infrastructure pointing on the map where we are going to invest in bridges, infrastructures, digital, physical, no, it is not a detailed investment plan. It sets up the list of priorities and engages our capacity to participate in a big effort. And that is one of the things that we are going to talk about in Uzbekistan at the end of this week. Because the conference in Uzbekistan is about connectivity with Central Asia. But the fact [is] that we gave a lot of importance to connectivity, as I said, we created already a division in the External Action Service to push and to develop this connectivity and digital policy, but do not look at that as an alternative to the Belt and Road [initiative] of China. It is not our Belt and Road, it has a broader purpose, it is to put connectivity at the centre of our external policy. We started doing that two years ago with the agreement with Japan, but I think that today it is much more important for us to look at the connectivity problems with the broader Middle East and looking forward to Central Asia and China but not with the same approach, with the same purposes that China has with the Belt and Road initiative.
Q. The Council also emphasised the importance of connectivity partnerships with like-minded regions and countries. Which kind of countries and regions would those be?
Avec toutes, on ne va pas exclure personne. La connectivité on l’appelle globale. We talk about global connectivity, this is not an issue of “With you, yes” and “With you, no” depending on our like-minded or political relationship. Global means global. We are talking about connectivity worldwide.
Q. First on Belarus, Lithuanian Foreign Affairs Minister [Gabrielius Landsbergis] just said that they do not necessarily have the immediate tools to execute returns. And if in your mind, at this situation, as the Polish and Lithuanian borders an emergency under discussion on migration or there are other steps that have been recommended now for the European Union to take?
On Afghanistan, could you say, is there any doubt at all – in your mind - that what is happening in Afghanistan is a direct result of the American withdrawal impulse by President [of the United States of America Joe] Biden?
Certainly, what it is going to happen in Afghanistan will be the consequences of not the Americans alone, but the Western troops [withdrawal] as a whole. The situation in Afghanistan would be different, if the Western troops would have been remaining in the country, not withdrawing. But this is an American decision that was followed by similar decisions [taken] by Western countries.
We have to see how we can support the Afghan government without the presence of our troops, our military means. This is something I will talk with the President of Afghanistan in Tashkent, Uzbekistan this weekend. And maybe we have to think about the creation of an international contact group, support group of people or members of the European Union and others who are ready to increase their financial support to Afghanistan. And at the same time to make clear that this support will come with a strong conditionality, with respect to the human rights and specially the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan.
The conditionality of our support will have to be used just in case that the Talibans could have the temptation to go back to a previous situation, where human rights and the respect of the rights of women were much less developed than the way they are today. [And this is] Thanks, by the way, to the 20 years of the Western presence in Afghanistan. But a big question mark is going to be opened in Afghanistan.
[On the other question] To help with Lithuania, we have Frontex. Frontex is the tool that we have created to face migration crises. Frontex is deployed in the Eastern Mediterranean, it is also deployed on the Spanish border, but this is the good occasion to deploy Frontex, if the Lithuanian authorities ask for it. And we have enough resources in order to give good support to the Lithuanian in order to help them to control their borders. That is why we created Frontex, to help Member States to face migration crises.
Q. On Israel, there is a word that after seven years of pausing there will be an Association Council that will resume its work, is that so? If yes when will it resume its work?
Oui, je comprends que ce que vous aimeriez bien c’est que je vous dise « tel jour il y aura une nouvelle réunion du conseil d’association ». Je ne suis pas en mesure de le faire, d’abord parce que ce n’est pas encore décidé que nous allons recommencer les réunions du conseil d’association.
Beaucoup d’États membres se sont montrés prêts et disposés à le faire, d’autres aussi mais c’est évident qu’il faut que les États membres soient capables de définir une position commune pour aller vers [la reprise de] ce conseil d’association. Et en deuxième lieu il faut aussi que les autorités, le nouveau gouvernement israélien, donne des gages, donne des preuves que les choses ont changé, par rapport à la situation où nous avions décidé de ne plus faire de réunions. Et cela beaucoup d’États membres l’ont mis en rapport avec le développement de « settlements » dans des territoires palestiniens.
Évidemment cela a été un peu un tâtonnement pour savoir qui était prêt à faire quoi. Je pense que cela serait une bonne idée si les conditions sont réunies, de s’engager à nouveau avec Israël à travers le conseil d’association. Mais pour cela je le répète il faut que les États membres soient capable de fixer une position commune sur un certain nombre de sujets et du côté d’Israël de montrer cette bonne volonté que le ministre nous a aujourd’hui transmis.
Q. Sobre el asunto de Cuba, tengo entendido que usted lo ha mencionado durante la reunión. ¿Quería saber si ha expresado algún tipo de preocupación, algún tipo de reflexión sobre lo que ocurre y cuál es la posición del Alto Representante al respecto?
La cuestión no estaba en el orden del día, ni siquiera en Current Affairs - en asuntos corrientes -porque las noticas que han llegado sobre Cuba se han producido prácticamente al mismo momento en que el consejo se estaba reunido.
Pero naturalmente, yo he hecho referencia a estas circunstancias y he comentado con los colegas las noticias que estaban llegando de Cuba, donde, por lo que sabemos, ha habido importantes manifestaciones – en un importante número de ciudades - de protesta contra la falta de medicinas, por la extensión de los afectados con la Covid-19 y también en protestas en contra del régimen.
Ha sido una manifestación de descontento, que por lo que sabemos ha alcanzado una dimensión que no se conocía desde 1994. Ha habido un número importante de manifestaciones y ha habido una respuesta por parte de las fuerzas del orden que por el momento se ha producido de una forma que no ha significado encontronazos especialmente violentos – por las noticias de las que dispongo. Pero hay que decirlo todo con mucho cuidado y con mucha atención porque los acontecimientos pueden cambiar en las próximas horas.
El tema no ha sido objeto de discusión, pero ciertamente quiero expresar el derecho del pueblo de Cuba de expresar sus opiniones de una forma pacífica. Y quiero pedir al gobierno que permita estas manifestaciones pacíficas y escuche las manifestaciones de desconecto de los manifestantes.
Q. About the statement of the Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša, he called on an enquiry into the 1988 massacre in Iran and provoked very strong reactions from Tehran. The Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also called on the European Union to clarify its position. Has anyone today raised this issue? Do you find his statement appropriate? Does it reflect the European Union’s position? Are you concerned that statements like that might have implications for the Iranian nuclear talks?
Voy a contestarle en castellano para estar seguro de que mido bien mis palabras y no doy lugar a malentendidos. No, en el consejo [de asuntos exteriores] la cuestión no ha sido tratada. Naturalmente yo he compartido con el Ministro de Asuntos Exteriores de Eslovenia [Anže Logar] pero en el consejo como tal no se ha tratado públicamente.
Ayer, mientras estaba de regreso desde Croacia a Bruselas, tuve la ocasión de atender una llamada del Ministro [de Asuntos Exteriores] iraní [Mohamad Javad] Zarif, que me pedía si las declaraciones del Primer Ministro de Eslovenia [Janez Janša] representaban la posición oficial de la Unión Europea., puesto que había una cierta confusión, dado el hecho de que actualmente Eslovenia es el país que asume la Presidencia rotatoria del Consejo – no del Consejo Europeo, del Consejo. Y le tuve que contestar ayer que naturalmente que, en nuestro ordenamiento institucional, la posición de un Primer Ministro, aunque sea del país que asume la Presidencia rotatoria del Consejo no representa la posición de la Unión Europea.
En materia de política exterior, quien habla en nombre de la Unión Europea es el Presidente del Consejo Europeo Charles Michel cuando se trata del nivel de jefes de estado de gobierno o el Alto Representante - servidor de ustedes - cuando se habla a nivel de ministros.
La política exterior sigue siendo una competencia de los Estados miembros. Y cada Estado miembro puede tener la opinión que le parezca sobre cualquier asunto de política internacional. Hace poco el Primer Ministro de Hungría [Viktor Orbán] hizo unas declaraciones sobre las relaciones con China que ciertamente no son - digo yo - más que representa la posición de la Unión Europea.
Bueno, en este caso ha pasado lo mismo, por parte de un Primer Ministro de otro país con respecto a un problema internacional. Y a mí solo me corresponde decir si esa posición es o no es la posición de la Unión Europea. Es decir, si esa posición representa la Unión Europea, y ciertamente no.
La Unión Europea tiene una posición con respecto a Irán, que es una posición equilibrada que pone presión política cuando lo considera necesario en muchas materias, y al mismo tiempo busca la colaboración cuando esta es necesaria. Y queremos, por ejemplo, ayudar a resolver el problema del Acuerdo Nuclear con Irán.
Por lo tanto, no tengo nada que decir con respecto a las opiniones del Primer Ministro de Eslovenia. Es su responsabilidad, pero no representa la Unión Europea. Y además, en ningún momento el Primer Ministro de Eslovenia pretendió hablar en nombre de la Unión Europea, no lo quiso hacer, no lo hizo.
Es verdad que el periodista que presentaba el acto señaló que el Primer Ministro de Eslovenia era el presidente rotatorio del Consejo Europeo - lo cual es cierto - eso pudo haber inducido a una mala interpretación sobre cuál es su papel, cuáles son sus funciones, en materia de política exterior.
Link to the video : https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-209284