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

EEAS Press Team

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The Development Ministers met today, with two items on the agenda. The first one was the global food security crisis. The second one was a meeting with Filippo Grandi [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] to assess the situation of the refugees around the world, not only from Ukraine – also from Ukraine – without forgetting other refugee crises. And we, the European Union, are supporting the [United Nations] High Commissioner for Refugees. 

The first was the discussion among Ministers about the looming global food security crisis. The food market was already under stress before the war, but after the Russian attack against Ukraine, this crisis is becoming much worse. And today, it endangers the food security of millions of people in many parts of the world. 

The Russian troops are bombing Ukrainian fields, not allowing for sowing of crops, looting food stocks and blocking Ukraine’s ports, and therefore increasing prices for food and fertilizers – they have skyrocketed in many parts of the world.  

So, the world’s food supply is in danger, mainly due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

And the numbers speak for themselves: Last year, [in] 2021, Russia and Ukraine were among the top exporters of cereals and sunflower seeds - and oil with Ukraine – and these were accounting about 50% of world trade of sunflower oil, just to put an example. Sunflower oil – 50% coming from Ukraine. And Russia is occupying or shelling parts of the arable Ukrainian land and it is estimated that almost half of the winter wheat, almost 40% of rye and more than 60% of corn, to be harvested in summer 2022, is situated in zones that are at risk. So, these future crops will also be at risk. Between 20% and 30% of the areas of winter cereal, maize and sunflower seed production in Ukraine will either remain unharvested or not be planted this spring. This is to give an idea how much [the] Ukrainian agricultural capacity will be damaged by the war.

The consequence of that is that food is missing and will be missing. And where it is not missing, it is expensive – much more expensive than many people can afford. If they spend more resources on food, they have less for education and health, this will deepen poverty and inequalities.  

It is clear that the first victims will be vulnerable populations around the world, particularly in low-income countries who depend on food and fertilizer imports. As I said, the situation was already very bad before the war on Ukraine. An estimated 193 million people in 53 countries were facing acute food insecurity. And [if] you have a look at the figures, especially in the Horn of Africa where people can die from starvation – in Ethiopia in particular, and [in] all the Horn of Africa, the figures are really terrifying. But now the war has turned it into a full[-on] crisis, and the need for a global response from the global community has been under debate today with the Ministers.

We have already made two pledging conferences, to support the populations in the Sahel and Lake Chad region, and the other on the Horn of Africa. And the European Union, with its Team Europe approach, has made important pledges to these two conferences.  

We have to look for additional money. And for that, we need a Team Europe approach, coming from the budget of the Member States to be mobilised - because you know that the budget of the European Union cannot have a deficit. So, we can redirect, reschedule, reorient our resources, but it is on an approach of the Member States altogether that the solution can be found.  

Today, we discussed about solidarity, emergency relief, to work on food affordability and macro-economic stability. 

We worked on how to boost production. We will support over 70 partners in boosting output and resilience and sustainability of their food systems to increase their food capacity in the medium term. 
Third, on trade. There are around 20 million tons of grains in Ukrainian silos - they are blocked by [Vladimir] Putin’s war. There are a lot of ships waiting to load this grain, and they cannot do it because the Russian navy is blocking the Ukrainian ports. That is why we are trying to look for alternative ways of taking these grains to the people. We have, at the [European] Commission prepared this proposal for “Solidarity lanes”. We call for the Member States to implement it quickly. And we call also to our partners not to restrict global trade of agricultural products and inputs. 

Finally, to work on a multilateral basis, with the United Nations, the G7, the Food and Agriculture Resilience Mission (FARM) initiative, and others that could gather the efforts of everybody.  
We are very much aware that after the “mask diplomacy” - remember, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic - and then the “vaccine diplomacy”, now we are entering into a period of “food diplomacy”.

And we have to fight a new additional battle of narratives to counter the Russian disinformation machine that tries to convince the world that the rise in the price of food is a consequence of the sanctions imposed on Russia. On the contrary, this is not the sanctions. This is a false claim from Russia, it is the war itself which is producing this food crisis and its high price increases. Our sanctions do not counter food, do not counter agricultural products, do not counter fertilizers. We do not prevent Russian exports on these things, because we knew they could affect the world market of food and fertilizers. This has to be clear, because the Russians insist – once and again – [on the fact] that the price peak is a consequence of the West’s sanctions against them. No, the tensions in the markets are consequences of the war that Russia is waging against Ukraine. 

But we have to do more than to try to explain it. We have to present a plan in order to deal with the geopolitical consequences of this war, and we will do it at the next Foreign Affairs Council in June. And I am sure that the European Union Council will also deal with that at their next meeting. 

After this exchange on the food insecurity crisis, we had the opportunity to exchange with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi. It was the first time that Filippo was coming to the Foreign Affairs Council in the Development formation. We had, thanks to him, an overview of the global situation on refugees around the world. One year ago, there were 84 million forcedly displaced persons, and according to the latest data that Filippo Grandi provided to us, we are reaching the red line of 100 million people forced to leave their homes, displaced around the world for many different reasons - from climate change to political instability, from war to hunger. 100 million people are more than the population of Germany, this is the population of Egypt.  

[The] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is a key partner for us, for the European Union and the Member States also. We are the second largest donor to UNHCR. And we have seen how humanitarian needs are at an all-time high. The needs are growing much quicker than the generosity. Already in February this year they were high, at the peak. And then came the Ukrainian war, which added 6 million refugees out at the Ukrainian border, and 7-8 million inside [the] Ukrainian [border]. So, this is why we are reaching the [bar of] 100 million people. And everybody is looking at the refugees coming from Ukraine, at least from the European perspective, but the situation is not improving - on the contrary, it is worsening in many places of the world, as Filippo [Grandi] has explained to us, from Afghanistan, to Myanmar, to the Horn of Africa. The amount of needs is increasing and this will put a strong strain on our capacity to continue supporting financially these people. This will require once again to work on a joint Team Europe response. 

The consequences of this situation have to be faced by the European Union budget but also, and mainly, by the European Union Member States. 

The gap between the available resources will continue to expand. We must step up our efforts to shrink the needs and to become more efficient in delivering aid, but there is a strong need to scale up the resources available. And that we have been discussing today with a lot of preoccupation, because we know that the situation can create political instability and turmoil. And not to pay the price today of avoiding these crises, can come with a higher price tomorrow if these crises develop. 

The Ministers went out of the meeting very much aware of this situation and committed to act.


Q. There are efforts ongoing at the UN to create special humanitarian corridors to export more of the grain that is stuck in Ukraine, but Russia would need to be part of that agreement. Can you envisage that it would be realistic, that the EU would agree to such a deal with Russia to get out the grain from Ukraine? Secondly, there is a real proliferation of international efforts to deal with food security: there is the French Farm initiative, the global alliance for food security from Germany and the G7. Is there a risk that these initiatives are going to counteract each other, and that will not be enough coordination? Should the EU step in a play a more coordinating role? 

Sí, tratamos de hacerlo. Tratamos de asegurar una mayor coordinación. Primero y antes que nada, entre nosotros mismos, que no es poco trabajo. Decir Team Europe no tiene poderes mágicos, es una invocación que tiene que ir seguida de acciones concretas.

Sin duda, hay que coordinar mejor las iniciativas, pero dejemos que surjan iniciativas. Son maneras de canalizar la preocupación, las inquietudes, los recursos. La coordinación tiene que seguir, pero no es una mala cosa que surjan distintas iniciativas, como la impulsada por la presidencia francesa, o las Naciones Unidas o los Estados Unidos. Bienvenidas sean, después habrá que intentar que trabajen de una forma coordinada. 

Sobre los corredores humanitarios, realmente no estamos hablando de corredores humanitarios. Estamos hablando de corredores de sistemas de transporte. No estamos transportando seres humanos, estamos transportando una mercancía tan elemental como es el girasol o el trigo. Necesitamos el acuerdo de Rusia si se trata de pasar por territorios bajo control ruso, por supuesto. Si hay que desbloquear los puertos del Mar Negro ucranianos hará falta el acuerdo ruso. Pero no olvidemos que estas aguas están muy minadas. [Están] llenas de minas que en parte están allí como medida defensiva por parte de Ucrania y en parte como medida de bloqueo por parte de Rusia. Por lo tanto, no es una tarea fácil. Si se trata de hacer pasar los corredores de transporte por territorios en los que Rusia no tiene control, no lo necesitamos para nada. Y en este momento, la intención es intentar enlazar otros puertos del Mar Negro, en las costas de países miembros de la Unión Europea, que puedan ser accesibles por tren desde Ucrania. Solamente con si consiguiésemos reducir el tiempo que tarda hoy un tren cargado de trigo a alcanzar un puerto de la costa europea del Mar Negro, si consiguiéramos reducir eso - que actualmente es del orden de las 16 semanas, a todas luces fuera de todo estándar razonable - ya conseguiríamos hacer mucho. 

Q. Tengo una primera pregunta sobre la propuesta italiana para llegar a un acuerdo de paz en Ucrania. Esta propuesta que ha sido presentada en la mesa de las Naciones Unidas incluye también la neutralidad de Ucrania y de una parte de las regiones de Ucrania. Me gustaría saber si usted piensa que puede ser la solución para terminar el conflicto. Y una segunda pregunta sobre una noticia que acaba de llegar, no sé si usted ya lo sabe, pero han sido secuestrados tres italianos en Mali. ¿Tiene algún comentario sobre esto?  

He tomado nota del anuncio por parte de nuestro colega italiano [el ministro de Asuntos exteriores de Italia, Luigi di Maio] de un plan de paz presentado por Italia al secretario general [de las Naciones Unidas] el pasado 19 de mayo. Nosotros, desde la Unión Europea apoyamos todos los esfuerzos para intentar conseguir el final del conflicto. Pero eso, desde la perspectiva europea, pasa por el inmediato alto de la agresión y la retirada incondicional de las tropas rusas fuera del territorio de Ucrania. Las condiciones para este alto al fuego es Ucrania quien las tiene que decidir. Nosotros ahora, al nivel de la Unión Europea, tratamos de apoyar a Ucrania. Hacemos todos los esfuerzos diplomáticos para llegar a un alto el fuego. Pero también queremos que cuando las negociaciones tengan lugar - que en algún momento tendrán lugar-, Ucrania llegue a las mismas en una posición de fuerza. Y hago una llamada para que los europeos mantengamos la unidad en todos los frentes, diplomáticos y militares en lo que respecta a la agresión de Rusia contra Ucrania. 

[Sobre Mali], no tenemos más información de la que ya tuve ocasión de comentar después del Consejo de ministros de Defensa. Vamos a presentar un plan para una disminución ordenada y un redimensionamiento de nuestra misión en Mali. Hemos decidido suspender las actividades de formación de tropa y no veo una perspectiva para que podamos reemprenderlas en un futuro próximo.

Por lo tanto, hay que disminuir los efectivos, hay que hacerlo de forma coordinada una vez más. No que todo el mundo presente sus planes de retirada por su cuenta. Tenemos que redesplegar los efectivos en otros países de la región. Y tenemos que ver de qué manera los objetivos de la misión pueden ser redefinidos para seguir ayudando a la población de Mali. Pero las actividades de formación de tropa, las que piden muchos efectivos - teníamos ahora casi 1.000 -, esas ya no van a requerir tantos efectivos y, por lo tanto, tendrán que disminuirse. Y lo que he pedido a los Estados miembros es que lo hagamos de una forma coordinada. Evitar iniciativas autónomas que no pueden sino contribuir a dificultar una tarea colectiva. 

Q. On Monday, Commissioner Urpilainen told the DEVE committee that preserving funds for African countries is now her number one priority, in light of the Ukraine conflict and in the need and pressure that is going to come on the EU budget from that conflict. I am aware that the commitment made to the African partners at the Summit in February is also based on the understanding that member states would contribute to a large part of the funding. On the Commission funding, can you guarantee that when it comes to EU budget amount that the amounts that were programmed and have been carefully planned for African partners will be maintained and will not be cut or reallocated as we have seen in Sweden, Norway and other countries? 

Sin duda, África sigue siendo una prioridad para Europa. Es, geopolíticamente hablando, la gran prioridad. Y la guerra en Ucrania, que no estaba anunciada ni prevista, ciertamente nos va a obligar a canalizar fondos a Ucrania – lo estamos haciendo - y a los países vecinos de Ucrania que están recibiendo nada más y nada menos que 6 millones de personas. Pero esto no se está haciendo en detrimento de los fondos que habían sido asignados a África. Otra cosa es que, dentro de las envolventes financieras destinadas a África, se prioricen de forma diferente los objetivos - como ya lo hicimos cuando al llegar la pandemia, dimos prioridad a fortalecer los sistemas sanitarios. En vez de construir carreteras, desarrollamos el sistema sanitario. Y ahora seguramente habrá objetivos que dejarán de ser prioritarios porque dar de comer a la población será más prioritario todavía. Pero dentro de una reestructuración de las envolventes sectoriales, no va a haber disminución en nuestra aportación a África. 
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Nabila Massrali
Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
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Gesine Knolle
Press Officer for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/International Partnerships
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