Foreign Affairs Council: Press remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell after the meeting

EEAS Press Team

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This is the last Foreign Affairs Council meeting before the summer holidays. We hope it is going to be the last one, but the last two summers were very much troubled by different events. Last year, I remember, it was Afghanistan. And this year, the war in Ukraine continues. 

Today, the Foreign Affairs Council has been devoted mainly to discussing about the Russian aggression against Ukraine, also about Latin America and the Caribbean relationship, and other issues that I will briefly mention. We had a video conference with the Foreign Minister of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba, who joined the Foreign Affairs Council. 

On the first point, he briefed us about the latest developments in the Russian aggression against Ukraine. His description showed that the situation on the ground continues being dramatic, worsening day by day. Russia continues launching missiles, targeting civilian infrastructure, causing dozens of civilian deaths every day. We are terrified by the violence of Russia’s aggression against the population in Ukraine. And there are also disturbing reports about the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war by the Russian troops. 

Russia continues to target fields and food stocks. Everybody has seen the images of wheat fields being burned. They continue blocking the exports from Ukraine. They are responsible for hunger in the world. Russia is trying to destroy Ukraine and the Ukrainian nation, and is, at the same time, unleashing a global food and energy crisis. 

The Ministers were unanimously agreeing on the need to continue stand firmly with Ukraine and to lend Ukraine all our support in its fight for freedom and independence. Ukraine needs more arms; we will provide them. 

The war will continue, we will continue supporting. That is why, I have proposed the next tranche of the European Peace Facility, allocating €500 million more. There has been a political agreement on supporting this proposal. The decision will be taken in the next days, but today the Ministers agreed on that. 

We also continue our work on sanctions. The Joint proposal from the [European] Commission and the High Representative has put on the table more measures to close the loopholes and avoid that existing measures can circumvented, adopting new measures and try to complete the whole architecture of these sanctions. 

These sanctions work. The Russian economy is severely affected. Certainly, they are not going to stop the war overnight, but the consequences of the sanctions will create a lot of economic trouble to Russia. 

We will continue supporting Ukraine in implementing the reform agenda on its European perspective, after Ukraine has been considered and granted the status of candidate country. We will hold the [EU-Ukraine] Association Council on 5 September, after the summer break. And we are working on using this Council to push the European perspective of Ukraine by implementing the required reforms. 

We have been discussing the battle of narratives around who is guilty of what, and which are the causes and the consequences of the war, and about the reasons for the high increase of the energy and food prices. 

It is clear, for example in the case of oil: it is not the European ban on Russian oil, which has created this increase in the price of oil. Many people say that. Many people consider that by adopting sanctions, the European Union has created a problem, provoking an increase of the price of oil. That is completely false. The price of oil started increasing one month before the war. It was advanced by the war. It has been peaking since the beginning or the war. And since we adopted the sanctions, and the ban on the oil exports from Russia, as you can see, the price of oil has decreased, reaching today the same level as just before the war started. 

I am not saying that the ban on Russian oil has produced a decrease – no, but is clear that, watching this graph, no one can seriously say that the sanctions have produced an increase in the price of oil. If anything, they have produced a decrease until reaching the same price as before the war. And this is part of the battle of narratives. A lot of people are saying things without putting evidence [forward]. And I think that behind each argument, there has to be a figure, there has to be evidence, because otherwise everybody can say whatever they want, without having to provide the necessary proof that supports their argument. 

Then, we went to discuss the relations with Latin America and the Caribbean. These countries are also affected by the negative consequences of Putin’s war. In particular, once again, rising prices and global shortages of food, fertilizers and energy - even if this region is one of the biggest producers of food in the world. 

The Latin America and Caribbean region is an important partner for a very important number of reasons, and we agreed to step up what we can call the “other transatlantic relationship”. Because when we talk about the transatlantic relationship, everybody thinks about the relationship with the United States. There is another transatlantic relationship, which is the relationship with Latin America and the Caribbean.  

The most important issues in which we have to invest more, is to de-block the Trade Association agreements with Mexico and Chile. In particular [the one] with Mexico, which has been pending for the last four years. Member States strongly request to de-block this Association and Trade agreement. In fact, it is not a new Association [agreement], it is just the modernisation of an agreement that was signed 20 years ago. 

Same thing about Chile, although Chile is facing a referendum on its Constitution in September. Let’s hope that, immediately after, we can proceed with the signature of the modernisation of the Association and Trade agreement with Chile. 

We agreed to hold a Foreign [Affairs] Ministers’ meeting during the Argentinian pro-tempore Presidency of CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) in October [2022], in Buenos Aires. It will be an excellent opportunity to reinforce our partnership and to prepare a Summit between the European Union and the Latin American and Caribbean region during the Spanish presidency in the second half of the next year. 

Going to a more structural issue, we discussed Digital Diplomacy and adopted an important Conclusion on this topic. We are essentially launching the EU’s Digital Diplomacy, as yet another foreign policy tool to support our geopolitical role and our ambitions in the global technical power game. Because digital issues are no longer just a matter of engineers, no longer technical matters. They are the battleground of technology, values, and narratives. 

The Conclusions on this Digital Diplomacy will spell out, in great detail, what we mean in our participation in this technological battle. And in order to engage on that, we will open a dedicated European Union office in San Francisco in the United States, to enhance our Digital Diplomacy in and with the United States. 

Going back to geographical issues, the Ministers exchanged on the resumption of the Association Council meetings with Israel. And they agreed that the Association Council is the highest forum for our bilateral relations. This Association Council has not met since 2012.

The position of the European Union has not changed with respect to the Middle East Peace Process. We continue with the same Council Conclusion of 2016 supporting the two-state solution. We know that the situation on the ground in the Palestinian territories is deteriorating, and I think – and the Ministers agreed - that this Association Council would be a good occasion to engage with Israel about these issues. The date will be agreed mutually with Israel. But first, the European Union Member States have to start working and determine a common European Union position, as with any Association Council meeting. 

We also adopted Conclusions on Foreign Information Manipulation and Interference - something very much related to our Digital Diplomacy. We see more and more how Russia is using disinformation and information manipulation. One example is that the cause of the price increase of oil is due to the EU sanctions, which as you can see is not true at all. And this manipulation [of] information is a strategic tool for Russia in its aggression against Ukraine. On energy and on food security, the Kremlin tries to target coordinated action to manipulate the information environment. And this is a challenge for our security, our democracy and our foreign policy. We agreed to start working on a toolbox that could allow us to impose costs on those who are trying to undermine our democracies, institutions and processes through disinformation. 

Going back to geographical issues, we discussed about the developments in Tunisia, especially in the run-up to the Constitutional referendum on the 25 July. 

We touched upon the situation in Sri Lanka, and about several issues related to the situation in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and other parts of the world under ‘any other business’, where several Member States already put on the agenda of September many issues which - maybe during this summer will become worse -, but that, in any case, will be on our agenda for next Autumn. 

But as you can imagine, everybody is worried about what can happen on the Ukrainian front - on the military side and on the energy side. Nord Stream 1 is still being “repaired”, let's see what happens when this period reaches an end. We will continue watching the situation of gas supply, which is certainly the most important concern for our societies and economies.


Q. ¿Qué es exactamente lo que hay que desbloquear con los acuerdos [con] México, Chile y, quizás un poco más tarde, con Mercosur? ¿Este anuncio de una posible cumbre significa que las tensiones políticas, que hicieron imposible una cumbre durante 7 años, van desapareciendo? ¿Qué es lo que proponen concretamente en esta hoja de ruta hacia el 2023? 

Tardaría mucho tiempo en contestar concretamente y detalladamente a sus preguntas, que no son una, sino tres. 

No podemos poner en el mismo nivel de complejidad la modernización del acuerdo comercial con México o la modernización del acuerdo de Asociación con Chile o Mercosur. En los dos primeros casos, estamos hablando de poner al día acuerdos que llevan 20 años funcionando - y que han funcionado muy bien - pero hay que adaptarlos a las circunstancias actuales. Hace 20 años, las cosas eran distintas.  

Con Mercosur, en cambio, estamos hablando de un acuerdo nuevo, que no existe; que afecta a varios países a la vez, no solo a uno, no es una relación bilateral; y que tiene complicaciones evidentes desde el punto de vista de las consideraciones de tipo ambiental. Vamos a concentrarnos en intentar empezar el proceso de ratificación del acuerdo con México. Es posible que algún país tuviese todavía alguna precaución al respecto, pero nadie ha planteado hoy nada que permitiese creer que todavía hay la más mínima objeción por parte de los Estados miembros. Y, por lo tanto, estamos solamente ante un problema de tipo procedimental, sobre de qué manera pasar a ratificar este acuerdo. Pero las cuestiones procedimentales no pueden demorar por más tiempo este proceso.  

Con respecto a Chile, la situación es distinta, porque Chile va a celebrar un referéndum constitucional  el próximo mes de septiembre, y todo está pendiente de esta cita con los ciudadanos. Tendremos que esperar a que eso ocurra para retomar algo que debería también estar acabado antes de fin de año, porque este año vamos a celebrar los 20 años del acuerdo que ahora tratamos de modernizar.  

Y con respecto a Mercosur - como le digo - la cuestión es más complicada en la medida en que hay que adaptar el acuerdo al que se llegó en el 2019, incorporando preocupaciones de tipo ambiental - para lo cual hace falta un trabajo técnico muy importante.  

No pretenderá que le resuma en pocas palabras toda la estrategia a través de la cuál pretendemos desarrollar más y mejor nuestro partenariado con América Latina y el Caribe, que no es un solo país; es un continente. Pero está claro que desde hace años China está teniendo un papel muy importante en la región. China ya es el principal socio comercial de la mayor parte de los países de América Latina y del Caribe. Los europeos tenemos que tomar conciencia de que hay vacíos que se llenan; que nuestra presencia tiene que ser más intensa - lo es en términos de inversión y no lo es tanto en términos políticos. Pero hoy, los ministros han acordado que esta situación hay que revertirla. Y en lo que se refiere a la transformación digital, a la lucha contra el cambio climático, a la lucha contra la desigualdad, y a todos los problemas que afectan hoy al crecimiento económico de la región más desigual del mundo, Europa tiene que estar presente. Y yo, personalmente, le aseguro que haré todo lo posible para que así sea. 

Q. What is the assessment by the European Commission of the worst-case scenario if Russia cuts off gas for European countries? What will be the biggest consequences for European consumers and economies? Does this overweigh those losses of lives and ruins that Ukrainians are suffering right now? 

You cannot put on the same level the losses of human lives and the destruction that Ukraine is suffering. That is why we engage with Ukraine with all our capacity providing military support, economic support, sanctioning Russia, financial support in order to avoid a big crisis of the Ukrainian economy facing the challenges of the war. On the energy side, on Wednesday [20 July], the European Commission will meet in order to discuss the situation and to take measures to prevent any possible scenario. I do not want to call for the bad times, but certainly you have to be vigilant because nobody knows what can happen this summer. 

Q. If Russia cuts off [gas], are EU countries ready for that? Is this a disaster for the economy or do you have enough back up plans? Why are those gas sanctions not possible right now? 

Nobody is talking about new sanctions. We are just talking about how we can face a situation in which the gas supply from Russia can be appropriately decreased and we will be prepared for that. Certainly, it is not going to be an easy scenario but we should be prepared for that. 

Q. En fait, l'argent est le nerf de la guerre. Et j'aimerais comprendre, avec toutes les annonces que vous faites aujourd'hui, comment vous allez faire alors que l'argent manque ? Vous avez débloqué une nouvelle tranche de 500 millions [d’euros] pour la Facilité européenne de paix, et on sait que maintenant, elle est en train d'arriver à son terme. Je voudrais savoir si vous avez eu un débat. Est-ce qu'on va remettre de l'argent au pot ? Est-ce qu'on va trouver de nouvelles sources de financement ? Est-ce que certains États membres vont accepter de ne pas se faire rembourser ? Est-ce qu'on va créer une Europe à deux vitesses, entre ceux qui livrent des armes de façon tout à fait spontanée [et] volontaire et ceux qui réclament de se faire rembourser jusqu'au dernier denier ? Et la deuxième question, elle vaut également sur l'aide macroéconomique. Si j'ai bien compris, le budget européen ne pouvait pas financer, ne pouvait pas garantir plus qu’un milliard [d’euros] - ce qui a été fait. Aujourd'hui, on a 8 milliards [d’euros] en suspend et on est en train de demander aux Etats membres de mettre la main à la poche. Les Allemands ont mis la main à la poche, ils ont mis un milliard [d’euros]. Est-ce que d'autres Etats membres ont annoncé des choses similaires ? Et est-ce qu'on peut accepter que des Etats membres viennent le matin, ici à ce Conseil, et disent “les Américains font plus que nous” ?

On vient d'accorder 500 millions [d’euros] de plus. Oui, on vient d'accorder 500 millions de plus et vous me demandez quelle va être la prochaine étape. La prochaine étape, c'est dépenser ses 500 millions de plus. Et si on arrive à la dépenser, on verra bien. Personne ne s’est opposé, on est arrivé à un accord sur la manière de rembourser les frais pour la deuxième, troisième et quatrième tranche. Cet accord manquait donc on ne pouvait faire le remboursement. On est arrivé à cet accord-là. Les États membres – tous - coopèrent. Tout le monde, de façon unanime, a dit : “Oui, mettons 500 millions [d’euros] de plus.” Évidemment, la European Peace Facility [Facilité européenne pour la paix] n'est pas infinie, elle a des ressources limitées. Mais pour l'instant, on peut continuer à financer l'effort de guerre de l'Ukraine. On ne dit pas que l'argent manque - du point de vue de la European Peace Facility [Facilité européenne pour la paix], l’argent ne manque pas. Du point de vue de l’assistance macroéconomique: oui, la Commission [européenne] avait annoncé 9 milliards [d’euros]. Pour l'instant, on est arrivés à un accord au sein du Conseil pour débourser un milliard [d’euros], et on continue à travailler pour débourser les autres 8 milliards [d’euros]. Je ne peux pas vous annoncer une date, mais c'est toujours dans l'agenda et on va le faire. On va le faire parce qu'on est bien conscients du problème macroéconomique auquel l’Ukraine fait face. C’est normal, [le pays] est en guerre, ses ressources se sont effondrées. Il y a des difficultés budgétaires - on les a en temps de paix, imaginez-vous en temps de guerre. Et l'aide macro financière pour stabiliser l'Ukraine est aussi importante que l'aide militaire. 

Q. Están hablando de la batalla por la narrativa de la crisis energética y de la crisis de alimentos, pero lo cierto es que hay crisis energética y crisis de alimentos. Hay mucha inflación, se prevé una desaceleración de la economía europea para final del curso, y la pregunta es : ¿cuánto tiempo creen que la población europea puede aguantar este estrés, cuando además también precisamente la inflación o los problemas para llenar la gasolina afectan a las familias más vulnerables? Y los gobiernos asimismo, ¿cuánto podrán aguantar la presión de esa ciudadanía descontenta porque no puede pagar la luz, porque llega el invierno y no va a poder calentarse, etcétera? Quería saber si esa reflexión ustedes la están haciendo y a dónde puede conducir. 

Naturalmente todo responsable político tiene que hacer frente a consideraciones como las que usted ha hecho, pero esto es un Consejo de ministros de Asuntos Exteriores. Este es un Consejo que define la política exterior y toma de decisiones de política exterior con respecto a la guerra en Ucrania, utilizando los mecanismos que están a nuestro alcance.  

Naturalmente que hay un incremento de los precios de la energía. Este gráfico lo demuestra. Desde el mes de enero hasta ahora, claro que los hay. Y [un incremento del precio] de los productos alimentarios, claro que lo hay. ¿Cómo no lo va a haber? Si hay 20 millones de toneladas de trigo que no llegan a los mercados es evidente que los mercados van a reaccionar al alza. Pero esas son consecuencias de la guerra. Las guerras tienen estas consecuencias. Afortunadamente nosotros no sufrimos bombardeos como los ucranianos, ni tenemos que exiliarnos de nuestras casas.

Pero sí, el mundo entero sufre las consecuencias de una guerra y de las políticas que Putin está usando para acompañar esta guerra. La guerra se hace con armas de fuego en el territorio donde la guerra tiene lugar y también se hace bloqueando el acceso de los alimentos a los mercados. La sociedad europea tiene que ser consciente de que esta es una prueba de resistencia. Y nosotros tenemos que tener la resistencia suficiente para seguir apoyando a Ucrania. No tenemos otra solución, ellos tampoco. 

Q. You spoke very strongly this morning about people criticising the sanctions, and I noticed your blog yesterday calling for strategic patience. And I wondered why the timing of this? To what extent you are worried that it is not just Viktor Orban now who is hesitating over sanctions and support for Ukraine? Are you worried that there is a broader European wobble on this issue? On the Association Council, I noted you said [that] there is no date, but my understanding is the intention is to do this before the Israeli elections on 1 November. Is that your understanding as well? 

Yes, about the Association Council, one could consider that with the Israeli government being a caretaker government, because they will be in the midst of the electoral process, it would be better to wait for another government that comes out from the electoral process with a stronger political support. But Member States and Ministers almost unanimously decided that, if we are able to agree on a common agenda and on a common position on the points of the agenda, there was no need to wait until December or who knows when - because who knows when the next Israeli government will be formed. It is maybe six months or one year - who knows. So, the important thing is not the electoral process, that certainly is going to happen, and nobody knows what is going to be the result and we do not want to interfere in the result; but Member States agreeing on the agenda and a common position on the agenda points. And on that, there is nothing different with other Association Councils. In all Association Councils, the European Union speaks with a single voice saying the same. And from now on, we start with a process of building this common position. And I think it would be a good occasion to rethink about the Middle East Peace Process, and the role and the position of the European Union with respect to it. As soon as we have a common position, we will try to agree with the Israeli side for a date, not before. It would not make sense to fix a date and afterwards to look for a common position. First thing first. First, common position, secondly to fix the date. 

On your first question, certainly I am sure Putin is counting on the democratic fatigue, I'm sure. He believes that democracies are weak and then the news hide the news. No, European societies cannot afford fatigue. European societies and European Union member states’ governments have to continue standing behind the decisions they have taken. They took the decisions on restrictive measures on the Russian economy and they have to stick to it. And they have to keep putting pressure on the economy of Russia knowing that it's not going to be a miraculous solution, but we have to do that exactly at the same level that we support Ukraine militarily. 

Q. On the new sanctions’ measures that were discussed today, I understand that there are some exemptions for banks and other sanctioned entities when it comes to food and grain transactions. Can you explain a bit about why this was included in the new sanctions proposal? And what impact this should have on the growing food crisis?

The COREPER is working right now to complete the work on the new - call it “restrictive measures new package”, or adaptation or improvement of the existing measures. There is nothing new. Nothing new on changing the current restrictive measures with respect to the payments for food and fertilisers. Since the beginning, food and fertilisers were completely out of our package. No restrictive measures affect the trade on food and fertilisers. It is perfectly possible for us that Russia sells and people buy food and fertilizers. No restrictive measures, no limit on the banking capacity to convey payments. If there are overcompliances, if there are market avoidances by some economic and financial actors, we are trying to explain to them that there is nothing in our restrictive measures that prevents them from exporting and paying for food and fertilisers exports. 


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Peter Stano
Lead Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
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Paloma Hall Caballero
Press Officer for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
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