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Foreign Affairs Council: Remarks by the High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the press conference


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Good afternoon,

It has been a long day, a long meeting, a lot of discussions. Because we had several points on the current affairs.

First, we discussed about [the] Gulf. I just came back from the Gulf, we have been there a couple of weeks ago. It was clear for me, and it has been also clear for the colleagues during the discussions that the European Union is quite absent from the region. I got this message during my visit. The Gulf wants an increased European Union presence and we have a strategic interest to engage with them. They play a key role on foreign policy issues. For example, if you want to engage with Afghanistan, you better go to Qatar.

Secondly, we need to actively support and accompany the positive momentum in the region, in areas that can build confidence and contribute to the global agenda, not only green transition and climate, but also, trade. Qatar is the country with the highest revenue per head in the world. And there are socio-economic reforms, issues in which we can disagree - like we did recently during the Human Rights Dialogue with Saudi Arabia, which is the first time ever that takes place-. In order to strengthen our relations, we will be holding an EU-Gulf Cooperation Council [Joint Council] in early next year and expanding our network of Delegations, we will open a Delegation in Qatar next year. We will also be working on a Joint Communication with the Gulf, which I plan to present to the Commission next spring.

Talking about the Gulf, we also talked about Iran. We are in a critical point in time for the JCPOA [nuclear deal with Iran]. In New York, during the United Nations General Assembly, I had a meeting with the new [Iranian] Foreign Minister [Hossein] Amir-Abdollahian and the [European] External Action Service saw last week the new negotiating team in Tehran. My team went to Tehran and had a meeting with the new negotiating team.

Everybody is determined to bring the JCPOA back on track. So we are working hard to go back to Vienna. I heard that someone was convinced that next Thursday there is going to be a meeting. No, next Thursday there is not going to be a meeting as far as I know and, certainly, I should know. But we made it clear to the Iranians that time is not on their side and it is better to go back to the negotiating table quickly.

On the Eastern partnership, we have to prepare the new ministerial meeting next month and the Summit in December. I don't have to repeat the difficult geopolitical context: the situation in Ukraine, the protracted conflicts, the ongoing energy crisis in Moldova and the continuous repression in Belarus, which suspended its participation in the Eastern Partnership. We agreed today to work on they called the “fundamentals”. And the fundamentals are: democracy, human rights, rule of law, anti-corruption. These are the cornerstone: democracy, human rights, rule of law, anti-corruption.  

Second, long–term socio-economic recovery. And third support partners with vaccines, vaccine certificates and the fight against disinformation.  

The third issue was Ethiopia. We are marking a sad anniversary, the “first anniversary” of the conflict in Tigray. Since then, Tigray has been shattered by systematic violations of human rights by armed groups that use war crimes and crimes against humanity as a weapon. Humanitarian aid has been prevented to arrive, and we will prepare the ground in view of the upcoming United Nations report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Human Rights expected on 1 November, to give an adequate response, that can start by preparing sanctions. I am tasking my services to take this forward once we have the Human Rights Abuses Report. At the same time, we need to examine how to continue development assistance to Ethiopia. Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, will travel together with my Special Representative for the Horn of Africa to Ethiopia [Annette Weber], to send a clear message on behalf of the European Union, on the need to implement a ceasefire and the start of a political process, engaging all actors into a constructive political process. And certainly the African Union Special Envoy former President [of Nigeria, Olusegun] Obasanjo will have our full support. 

In Nicaragua the repression and the authoritarian drift is more than worrying, it is unacceptable. Since 2018, the violent suppression has left at least 328 people dead, killed in the streets.

President [Daniel] Ortega and his wife Vice-President [Rosamaria] Murillo have eliminated the political opposition ensuring their victory at the polls on 7 November by jailing the opposition. This is one of the worst dictatorships in the world.

The European Union will continue to insist on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The release of political prisoners, the return of international human rights organisations and the holding of free and fair elections. The ones that will take place soon are fake elections organised by a dictatorship. 

On Afghanistan, we discussed the deteriorating humanitarian and economic situation. We should have a minimal presence in Kabul to support the Afghan people and ensure safe passage for Afghans at risk. This does not mean recognition. The announcement of the President of the [European] Commission, [Ursula von der Leyen] to provide 1 billion euro to support Afghan people and the countries of the neighbourhood puts the question of how to deliver this help without supporting the Afghanistan and without channelling these resources through the Afghan government, because the Afghanistan government is formed by several ministers who are in the list of the terrorists identified by the United Nations. 

We also addressed Tunisia. On Friday, I spoke again to President [Kais] Saied, from Washington, from the United States, before coming back to Europe, to pass a clear message about the importance of preserving the democratic acquis, respecting separation of power and resuming institutional normalicy. Yes, there is a new Head of Government [Najla Bouden Romdhane] and a new set of Ministers, but with different powers that the ones that the Constitution grants them. We need a clear schedule, in order to go back to the normal Constitutional provisions and we will follow closely the impact of the decisions, based on concrete facts.  

On the Western Balkans, you know that we had a Summit last week. During these days have had very difficult situation in the border between Kosovo and Serbia. I have been talking twice to with President Vučić and Prime Minister Kurti. And recent events and the agreement of 30 September show that our EU-facilitated Dialogue is the only way forward. And I have been calling on the two of them to go back to a situation in which the dialogue can resume. 

We talked a lot about climate diplomacy and the increase of the energy prices which we consider to be a geopolitical issue. We are in view of the upcoming COP26.  The EU diplomatic channels are in full swing, from the bilateral level to the G-20 Summit. 

It is imperative that those countries that not have yet submitted their Mitigation plans and Long-Term Zero-Emission Strategies do so without delay.  

We have provided, we European Union, we have provided overall the biggest share. A whole of us we will to the apart. The ministers considered clearly that the fight against climate change is a foreign policy issue and the increase in the price of energy has deep geopolitical roots. It’s part of the geopolitical battle. There are also regulatory problems that need to be solved internally. That is not the matter for the external affairs ministers. But certainly the price of gas, the scarcity is something that has to be looked from a geopolitical perspective and we will devote to it in the next Foreign Affairs Council. 

On Varosha, we referred to the unacceptable interventions by Turkey against European vessels operating in the Exclusive Economic Zones of our Member States. And the members have expressed a strong solidarity with Greece and Cyprus.  

From my part, I can only insist on the idea that only a durable solution to the issues before us is a Cyprus settlement in line with relevant UN Security Council Resolutions and the principles on which the European Union is founded. 

We paid also an important attention to the Sahel and in particular to Mali. We looked at our financial and political leverages, including the possibility to consider restrictive measures, in support of the efforts by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and in line with the Conclusions of the European Council in May, against those hampering the transition agenda. This preparatory work will continue in the Council Working Groups and we will revert to the issues at our meeting in November. We clearly stated that the presence in Mali of the Wagner company will be a red line for our continuous support to the region. 

C’est la dernière question mais non la moins importante. Nous avons eu une longue discussion à propos de la situation des migrants acheminés par la Bielorussie vers les pays européens frontaliers. 

Nous avons déployé des intenses contacts diplomatiques en alertant les pays d'origine de transit. J'ai fait ça, par exemple, pendant mon voyage en Iraq et je remercie la réaction positive des autorités iraquiennes. Mais l'Iraq n’est pas le seul pays d’origine de ce flux. 

Nous sommes en contact avec beaucoup d'autres pays pour essayer d'éviter que ces gens-là soient acheminés à Minsk et puis amenés à la frontière en croyant qu'il y a un libre passage vers l'Europe et qu'ils se trouvent déjà dans des situations de détresse très difficile qu'il faut à tout prix éviter.

L'instrumentalisation des migrants pour des objectifs politiques n'est pas acceptable et nous allons considérer des réponses appropriés. En attendant, nous travaillons avec les pays d'origine pour leur faire comprendre qu’il ne s'agit pas de touristes qui ont tout d’un coup envie de visiter Mins, mais des gens à qui on a fait croire qu'il y a une voie libre pour accéder à l'Europe par la Lituanie, la Lettonie et la Pologne, et qui se trouvent coincés à la frontière entre la Biélorussie et ces pays. Ce sont des situations qu'il faut dénoncer et qu'il faut combattre.

Et je pense que je vous ai résumé le plus important de notre Conseil d’aujourdh’ui. Comme vous voyez, il y a eu beaucoup de sujets et certainement un degré d'accord très important.



Q. On this point with Belarus, has there been agreement today among Ministers that the current practice has to be stopped or discouraged? That Belarus charters airplanes in Ireland and uses them to bring migrants into its own country and then channel them forward into the European Union sphere? Is there in principle agreement that this needs to be stopped and not just for future contracts, but also for existing contracts? And which way do you think would be feasible to actually achieve that goal? 

We discussed that with the Iraqi government during the summer. I personally had to engage with the Iraq authorities to make them understand that it was funny that suddenly hundreds of Iraqis were willing to spend their holidays in Belarus. Certainly, they had a visa, they had a ticket, and they had a plane. At the beginning the Iraqi government said “Look, there is nothing I can do, there is movement of people, there is a road, there is a plane flying, there is people selling tickets and people buying and there is a visa. Everything is okay”. Finally, they understood that nothing was OK. That there was a weaponisation of poor people to whom they made believe that when travelling to Minsk they were going to have a free entry in some European Member States. When they realised the situation and they even had to suffer clashes in the border and even some casualties from people dying from the clashes, then they understood and they forbade the flights. So the Iraqi road was closed, but other roads appeared.  

There is a long list of countries from where there is a flow of people being transported by air to Minsk and from Minsk to the borders. There is the national airline of Belarus, Belavia, and there are other airlines. We are going to reach out to all these countries to explain the situation, to use all rights that the current regulation on air transport gives to us. And we are ready to implement sanctions against the national company of Belarus. And to try to convince the others that, on doing that, they are just doing the game of the smugglers of human beings. And we hope we can cut this flow of people.  

Q. I guess that in the meeting, when you discussed the relationship with the Gulf, you or your colleagues mentioned that since the 90’s the European Union and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries have been negotiating a Free Trade Agreement that, until now, is not concluded. I think that it is the longest negotiation before the nuclear deal issue.  My question is about the regional security, because you went to the Gulf, you listened to them and you discussed today with your colleagues at the European Union. Do you see any concrete possible contribution from the European Union to strengthen and deepen the cooperation in terms of the security? And, let us say it more directly, a European Union participation in securing the region there? Because it is vital for the region and for the world.  

If you allow me, I think that you are mixing two different things. One thing is a Trade Agreement and another thing is security. It is certainly a long time without advancing on the negotiations of the Trade Agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council. More than 30 years that the discussion goes one side and another without precise advancements and improvements. On that, I transmitted to my colleagues in charge of trade negotiations, the need to take seriously these negotiations, because in the meantime, China has become the first provider. Overcoming us, overpassing us. We have to take this seriously.  

Security is another issue. Security in the region has more to do with the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iran nuclear deal], the war in Yemen and with other issues that are not related with this Trade Agreement.  

Follow up question: What could be the European Union’s possible contribution to enhance the regional security in the Gulf? Can the European Union have a concrete participation in the security of the region? 

We participated in the follow-up of the Baghdad Conference, which was a first step in order to look for a regional architecture for peace and security. We will participate on that, we will support this initiative. It is very much needed.  

The main cornerstone of the security in the region is the JCPOA, the nuclear perspective of Iran, but it is also the war in Yemen. And, thank God, they have been overcoming the difficulties between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, with [United Arab] Emirates, which has increased the security in the region. But the most important thing is the relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia. And also the situation in Iraq, where the last elections seemed to be performed in an orderly manner. That is good news. 

Q. I have a question regarding the Eastern Partnership Summit. Members from the European Parliament will prepare some recommendations. They think that you can take into account the experience of the Berlin process for the Western Balkans countries and launch a similar architectural association trio process to accelerate European Integration in the Eastern Partnership region. What do you think about it and about a pro deformula, everything but the institutions? And second question, from Georgia, how do you evaluate the progress and the challenges ahead for Georgia?  

I am not very much aware of this proposition that you know better than I, about Parliamentarians proposing some new way of pushing for enlargement. It has been discussed at the Summit. It was clear that adhesion is something that the European Union had in mind, that there are some difficulties, but our will is to overcome these difficulties. I do not know what are you talking about on this specific way. Sorry. Maybe you know it. I do not know it. 

Follow-up question: And about progress made by Georgia, can you tell us more about it? 

Progress made by Georgia? Towards what?  

Follow-up question: Towards Georgia’s future integration process. Georgia is going to make an official statement for future membership in 2024 and we are looking forward with high hopes over this Eastern Partnership Summit in December. So, what have you discussed about Georgia?

Nothing in particular about Georgia. 

Q. I want to come back to Iran and clear up some confusion The French Foreign Minister today has said that there should not be any talks anywhere, but in Vienna. So why are you even considering having talks with the Iranians in Brussels? 

Talks are scheduled to happen in Vienna and they will happen in Vienna at a date not yet fixed.  

[EEAS/Deputy Secretary General] Political Director [Enrique Mora] informed me that the Iranians would like to have previous talks with me and with other members of the board of the JCPOA before sitting all together. But this is a wish that has not been precised and there is nothing concrete about it. I am not against it. If they need some clarification and they need to discuss bilaterally with me and with others before sitting in Vienna, I will do it. Because my duty and my will is to do my best in order to restart negotiations as soon as possible, but there is nothing concrete about it. 

Q.  A question on Turkey and Varosha. Did you discuss about any possible measures against Turkey, since Ankara has not reversed its provocative actions in Varosha and, as you said, continues the provocation on the exclusive economic zone of Greece and Cyprus? You said that these provocations are unacceptable, but what is next? What should we wait? Any measures against Ankara?  

According to what we decided before the summer, if these kind of activities were continuing, we should ask the European External Action Service to prepare what we call an option paper, which is, on one hand, an analysis of the situation, and on the other hand, an analysis and a proposal of different types of measures that the Council could consider in case they want to take some decision. An option paper is the first step in order to study decision-taking in this respect. And that is what we agreed to do. 

Q. Je voudrais revenir sur votre intervention sur les prix de l’énergie et l’aspect géopolitique. Est-ce que les États membres autour de la table sont conscients qu'avec leurs achats de gaz, ils participent au réarmement et à la monté en puissance de la Russie ? Est-ce que c’est un problème qui est posé ? Est-ce que l’Allemagne est consciente du problème vue sa dépendance au gaz russe ? 

Certainement, nous avons une certaine dépendance au gaz russe. Ce n’est pas une nouveauté. Ce n’est pas quelque chose qu’on a découvert aujourd'hui. Je pense que la chiffre c’est 40% de gaz qu’on importe de la Russie. Et, comme vous savez, il y a un déséquilibre – on ne sait pas si [c’est] temporaire - entre l’offre et la demande de gaz qui répond à beaucoup de circonstances. Quelques-unes sont strictement économiques. Après le confinement, l’activité économique est repartie à nouveau, il y a eu un rebound de l’activité économique, ce qui a augmenté tout d’un coup la demande de gaz.

La Chine, qui a une crise énergétique profonde, a décidé d’augmenter ses achats de gaz pour ne pas avoir un hiver avec coupures d'électricité. La demande chinoise de gaz est en train d’augmenter de 20%. Et on peut dire la même chose dans l’Asie du Sud-Est (du Sud-Est asiatique) dont la demande a augmenté tout d’un coup et beaucoup. L'été a été chaud et sans vent, donc pas d’énergie renouvelable et beaucoup [de demande] d’électricité pour l’air conditionné. 

Et puis, on a la dimension géopolitique. On a des problèmes dans le Nord de l’Afrique, entre l’Algérie et le Maroc. La Russie a  tenu strictement tous ses contrats, on ne peut pas dire qu’elle ne le fait pas, mais elle n’augmente pas les quantité contractées. Dans le Moyen-Orient, dans les pays du Golfe, pratiquement tout le gaz liquéfié va vers l’Asie. Et aux États-Unis une bonne partie va aussi en Asie. Donc il y a une dimension géopolitique, il y a une dimension économique, il y a une dimension conjoncturelle. Et Il y a même une dimension météorologique.  

So, there is the perfect storm. Everything has come together. And, then, there are the regulatory problems on how we fix the price of electricity. But this is our problem. This is something that can be solved by ourselves. We cannot blame anyone for the way we manage our electricity system. So, certainly, climate policy is foreign policy, because we take decisions that affect third countries deeply, immediately and in the mid-term. In the mid-term, if we fulfill our commitments on climate change, it will affect the economy of the countries that provide us with hydrocarbons.

What we have to study is the balance between of these effects, and the speed at which the investments on and carbon energy are decreasing - because the prospect is that we are not going to spend more in the future - and the speed at which renewables are developing in order not to create a gap between something decreasing and something increasing.

It is a matter of synchronism and this is something that we have to take care of very carefully if we do not want to create political tensions. The Ministers were very interested, because everybody is facing energy prices increases and they want to study the geopolitical roots of it.


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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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+32 (0) 460 79 52 44