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Foreign Affairs Council: Press remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell


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Good evening,

That was the last Foreign Affairs Council of the year and it had a very dense agenda. Let me start with two concrete decisions we took to react to negative developments:

Today, we adopted two sanctions decisions.

First, a new sanctions regime allowing to target persons and entities obstructing the political transition in Mali.

Second, we adopted sanctions against persons and entities in relation to the Wagner Group. The activities of this group reflect Russia’s hybrid warfare, present a threat and create instability in a number of countries around the world.

The sanctions will cover the Wagner Group itself, three companies with links to this Group and eight individuals responsible for serious human rights abuses or destabilising activities in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic, Sudan and Mozambique.

Apart from these two very concrete decisions - very important ones - we also discussed Ukraine and Russia’s military build-up on their borders:

Allow me to say once again firmly that the European Union stands united in support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Ministers - all of them - have been very clear today that any aggression against Ukraine, will come with political consequences and with a high economic cost for Russia.

We are closely coordinating with our transatlantic and like-minded partners. Yesterday at the G7, we talked about it. This topic remains high on the agenda and will be taken up also at the European Council leaders meeting on Thursday.

Staying in our Eastern neighbourhood, we reviewed the situation in Belarus. There, our decisive actions against the misuse of migrants brought results. But, the domestic repression by the [Alexander] Lukashenko regime continues, and it is even getting worse. The number of political prisoners in Belarus has passed 900. We stand in solidarity and continue supporting the Belarusian society. I met with several representatives yesterday and we discussed about how we can support them on their fight for a democratic Belarus. It was also a good moment to announce an increase of €30 million to support their activities.

We also discussed the impact of the unilateral actions taken back in July by Turkish Cypriots and by Turkey in Varosha that run counter to United Nations Security Council Resolutions. All Member States expressed their solidarity vis-a-vis Cyprus and their support to the United Nations process and to the new United Nations Secretary General Special Representative.

We presented an option paper. We agreed to make an evaluation of the options on the table, which include also the creation of a specific sanctions regime focussing on persons and entities with direct involvement in the opening of part of Varosha after last July. Coreper will follow up on this important issue on the basis that we have been doing today.

It is essential that Turkey re-engages seriously with the United Nations process and refrains from any action that would further deteriorate the situation on the ground.

The Council considers that creating the conditions for an environment conductive to a positive solution remains crucial. Confidence-building measures with regard to Varosha are of key importance and will help for the comprehensive solution of the Cyprus issue.

Then we went over to Afghanistan. We had the opportunity to discuss it over lunch with the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Qatar [Sheikh Mohammed Al Thani], with whom I also had the pleasure to exchange with before, bilaterally.

Qatar plays a strategic role in dealing with the situation in Afghanistan on various tracks: it facilitates our interactions with Taliban interim authorities, it ensures a safe passage for those in need, [and] it facilitates the delivery of humanitarian support.

We share with Qatar the understanding that some operational engagement with the interim government is necessary, but without granting them any legitimacy. This engagement has to be conditional upon progress made by [the] Taliban along the five benchmarks we defined back in September just after the summer in our meeting in Slovenia.

And talking about Afghanistan, it brings us to the internal discussion about Central Asia. There are new regional dynamics in Central Asia that create opportunities to step up our cooperation with partners there.

This is our will, to intensify our political engagement with the region. I have been there a couple of times this year and I hope to go back in the framework of helping them to fight COVID-19 and developing important flagship projects on our Global Gateway, especially in the field of water.

Africa had [formed] an important part of our meeting today. You know that we are ahead of the European Council this week and in preparation of the African Union – European Union Summit foreseen for February next year.

We agreed, after a long discussion, that Europe can be and should be more concrete, more practical, more visible and more operational in its dealings with African partners.  

The key areas of our enhanced engagement include the fight against coronavirus, vaccine distribution, because it is not only [about] providing vaccines, but facilitating vaccination. If you store vaccines, you need to vaccinate. And to vaccinate requires vaccines, certainly, but also logistic capability of the health system. Engagement on peace, security - more and more important in Africa, good governance, green and digital recovery, once again the initiative of our Global Gateway, and better cooperation in the multilateral fora. It has been a good preparation for our Summit next year.

On Venezuela, we heard the first-hand assessment of the recent regional and local elections. We invited the Chief Observer of the European Electoral Observation Mission, the Member of the European Parliament Isabel Santos, who made a wonderful presentation of the mission and how it was: the obstacles, the problems, the results. I want to congratulate Isabel Santos and all the team of this Electoral Observation Mission for the extraordinary work they have done.

Ministers agreed that we will continue to promote democratic transition in Venezuela, all interventions were very much supportive of the decision of sending this Electoral Observation Mission, because the ultimate goal remains a Venezuelan-led solution to a crisis through inclusive and transparent elections at all levels.

We had to talk about Ethiopia, because the conflict in the country has further worsened, expanded, producing a devastating humanitarian crisis. It undermines not only the stability of Ethiopia, but of the entire region. Only a political solution can reverse the negative and dangerous dynamics we are seeing now.

All the efforts of the European Union and international like-minded actors, notably the African Union, Kenya and the United States, should be directed towards achieving a ceasefire and bringing the warring parties to the negotiation table.

Only 10% of the humanitarian help needed in the North of Ethiopia is reaching the people in need. Only 10%. There are more than 9 million people starving in the North of Ethiopia. The fight has been very fierce, but more than the fight itself, there have been grief violations of human rights by both sides. The fight continues nearby the capital.

And I want to stress that, being this my last press conference this year, I want to recognise that Ethiopia is one of the issues that we have debated the most this year. It is also one of my biggest frustrations, because we were not able to react properly to the large-scale human rights violations, mass rapes, using sexual violence as a war arm, killings, and concentration camps based on ethnic origin. We have not been able to stop it and we have not been able to take coercive measures due to the lack of unanimity in the Council.

This is a frustration, but on the other hand, there were situations where we managed to reverse negative developments and prevent a crisis from erupting fully. This is the case of the migration situation at the borders with Belarus. Through intense diplomatic outreach, we have been able to stop the flow into Belarus and to the European borders of migrants being cheated and being sent there with the false promise of finding their way to Europe. We cut the flow in, Lukashenko has not got his purpose, now it is him who is in trouble. This shows that when we act together, united, we can achieve results. I want to stress that this is, for me, a source of satisfaction, because on this endeavour, the European External Action Service and myself, we have been doing - I think - a good job. Every week you will have a report of our relations with 24 countries that were the origin of this flow of migrants and you will see there, what is the situation.

That is what we are trying to do in 2021, and that is what we will continue doing next year: looking for more European unity, more European ability, more European capacity to defend our interests and to stand up to the challenges of the international rules and order.

It has been also a satisfaction to share with you during this year the developments of the Foreign Affairs Council. I remain at your disposal. 


Link to the video: EC AV PORTAL (



Q. What kind of ad-hoc sanctions did you discuss today for the people who are physically?  And what does physically mean in Varosha?  And if you could describe the timeline from now on. When should we expect the first measures?  

Today we were discussing an option paper. As the name of the option paper means, it was a paper about options. It was not a proposal to decide on something concrete, but to analyse the different approaches and the different possibilities to guide action. And this discussion conducted to a decision to start working on a new legal framework specially fitted for the situation araising in Varosha. This could lead to sanctions, but first the Coreper has to study and to evaluate closely the different proposals, and in particular, to start working on that. I cannot give you a detailed timeline. But it is clear that this decision of sending to the Coreper the proposal of a close evaluation of the options and start working on the creation of a specific sanctions regime focusing on what has happened and could be happening in Varosha is an important to step for that. 

Q. You did not mention anything about Beijing Winter Olympics, I was wondering whether that came up during the Council, what was the nature of the discussion and whether you moved any closer to having a common position on this, as we were maybe expecting. 

I have not mentioned anything about it because there was nothing to mention. The issue has not been discussed today. It was not on the agenda and it was not part of the discussion. 

Q. Ukrainians are really grateful for a strong position of the European Union and G7 in supporting Ukraine against the military aggression from the side of Russia, but from my perspective we are missing at least one important point. Sometimes [in] counting that price, Russian Federation could pay for aggression, we are missing the role of Ukraine itself. Because for sure that nobody in Ukraine wants war, but everybody is ready to fight. My question is pretty simple: do you count on that situation and that readiness in your operation in Russia against aggression because it would be great of tool for deterrence and their prevention?  

I understand perfectly the situation of the Ukrainian people. In this kind of situation you have to expect the best and prepare for the worst. And that is more or less what we are doing. To prepare for the worst, expecting  the best. And in order to expect the best, we are now on deterring mode, in dissuasion mode to try to avoid the crises. To try to avoid any kind of military action to start happening, because once it starts, it is very difficult to stop. Before being prepared for organising a military response of Ukraine – and, by the way, we are supporting [them], the other day we granted €35 million to the logistics of the Ukrainian Army from the European Peace Facility. We are supporting, but the most important thing now is to prevent, to deter, to dissuade. Whatever you want to use, these are the words. To be prepare for the worst and to expect the best.  

Q. Est-ce que vous avez une liste d’options qui sera soumise aux dirigeants jeudi en cas d’agression russe en Ukraine?  La deuxième question, je suis un peu surpris par l’accusation très grave que vous avez porté sur l’Éthiopie, en disant que à cause du manque d’unanimité au Conseil, en fait l’Union européenne a complètement manqué la possibilité de résoudre ou d’aider à résoudre ce conflit? C'est très grave d’entendre ça. Qui sont les pays, quelles sont les raisons qui ont été évoqués pour ne pas parvenir à l’unanimité sur les mesures qui auraient été en mesure d’éviter un grand conflit ou d’empêcher ce drame en Éthiopie ? 

Non, je n’ai pas dit que les mesures auraient été en mesure d’éviter le drame éthiopien. Si on avait eu des mesures capables d’éviter ça. Non, j'ai parlé de ma frustration personnelle, j’ai parlé à titre personnel, parce que à mon avis, dans le cas de l’Éthiopie, il aurait fallu prendre des mesures restrictives, mais beaucoup de pays ne l’ont pas considéré une solution adéquate. Ce n'est pas la première fois que ça arrive et, donc, il n’y a pas eu de l’unanimité pour prendre des mesures restrictives. Mais, d’ici à croire que si on avait fait ça, on aurait arrêté le drame éthiopien, il y a une énorme distance. Malheureusement, sans doute, ça n’aurait pas arrêté, mais ça aurait été, à mon avis, ça aurait conditionné le comportement des acteurs. Mais n'extrapolez pas. Ne dites pas que si on avait  pris ces mesures on aurait évité le drame éthiopien, parce que pour éviter le drame éthiopien il faut beaucoup plus que des mesures coercitives qu’on aurait pu prendre dans l'Union européenne. 

Et je voudrais stresser et remarquer l’intensité de ce drame, qu’il y a déjà une année qui dure, qui a fait des milliers de victimes. On a vu la violence sexuelle massive convertie dans une arme de guerre, la famine convertie dans une arme de guerre, des violents accrochages, des tueries. Je me demande l’effort qu'il va demander pour l'Éthiopie de guérir les blessures de cette guerre. 

[Sur la Russie] on, c’est qu’on a c’est une série de scenarios. Le Conseil va étudier, va regarder de différentes possibilités et, pour chaque possibilité, des possibles mesures à prendre. C'est une étude classique dans cette situation-là. On a des scenarios et, pour chaque scenario, on dessine une réponse. Mais, évidemment, je ne peux pas faire publique maintenant cette analyse-là. C'est ça ce que je vais reporter au Conseil. 


Link to the video:

Peter Stano
Lead Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
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Nabila Massrali
Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
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