Amsterdam, 6 February 2016
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Thank you. Apologies for the delay. It’s not the Dutch presidency's fault, it is due to the fact that we had informal and intense discussions and that sometimes this requires a bit more time than is foreseen.
We had for the whole morning a very substantial discussion on migration, together with the candidate countries - Turkey, but also Montenegro, Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia - on the management of an issue that shows us very clearly that we have shared responsibilities, and that either we find common solutions, or we don’t find solutions at all. And this is a powerful message, inside the European Union and outside the European Union, on the fact that the European integration of these countries, especially in the Western Balkans but also with Turkey, has an added value in itself. Because we need common policies, common instruments to face a phenomenon and to manage a phenomenon that concerns us all. We are in the same continent - and we are in the same boat as you can say here in Amsterdam - and we need to develop more and more common instruments, as we have tried to do over the last year.
This is not the first time we have this discussion in this format, and the common point of all the ministers was the need to implement in full all parts of the decisions that were already taken in the last year. I am sure you will have plenty of questions on that so I will not go further into the details, but we touched upon internal decisions, external policies, especially focusing on our relations with Turkey; our work on Syria and on the rest of the Middle East, our work on Libya, also focusing on the southern route of migration; the need to distinguish refugees and asylum seekers from the migrants, to protect and guarantee security and protection for the former and to return the latter, to make one and the other sustainable and in cooperation. We also obviously discussed about the external borders of the European Union and cooperation on this.
We also had yesterday at the Foreign Ministers Informal Council a very good discussion on Iran and the way forward after the deal was signed last July and implemented on 16 January. I updated the ministers on the preparations we are having for high level dialogues on all different fields, our common lines to proceed on the bilateral relations between the European Union and Iran and the regional implications of the fact that Iran is somehow at the table, in the region and in the international scene, for good and for bad. And the role that the European Union can play, is playing and continues to play in order to try, and let’s say, contain tensions in the region and try to channel energies in a positive rather than in a disruptive direction.
This is extremely relevant for our work on Syria but also for the stability of other countries like Iraq, Lebanon or the conflict in Yemen. The European Union has a leverage and a role that is recognised not only by and with Iran but also by and with other relevant powers in the region, starting from the Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia and others to try and pass the message of wisdom, de-escalation and cooperation as much as possible. I know, this is not necessarily what we see on the ground but if we acted only looking at what is on the ground, we would not even have had the Iranian deal that took us twelve, thirteen years, so we keep this vision and we try to use all our power to get where we all believe we should be getting altogether.
We also had a very interesting exercise, an initiative of the Dutch presidency: a scenario-based exercise that was putting the ministers in front of different options, in a scenario of potential crises. True, we have many real crises, not to mention fake ones, but it was a very good moment for reflexion. Reflecting altogether on how decision making is, should be, inside the European Union, how much of a European or a national approach is useful in case of managing crises. And it was a very good moment of sharing views on how we work.
Let me end by thanking Bert personally and the Dutch presidency for what was a very successful, intense meeting. Successful is difficult to say because as you know informal meetings do not come with conclusions or decisions. The meaning of the informal meetings is to exchange views, reflect in a free format and we did it. So yes, successful for sure. Thank you.
Q: On Turkey and refugees blocked at the border.
A. Yes we discussed this obviously with our Turkish colleague, remembering the fact that first there is a moral, if not a legal duty - there is also a legal duty - for non-refoulement, to protect those in need of international protection, asylum seekers. It is unquestionable that people coming from inside Syria are Syrians in need of international protection. And on top of that, that the support that the European Union is providing to Turkey, among others, is aimed exactly at guaranteeing that Turkey has the means, the instruments, the resources to protect and to host people that are seeking asylum. So yes, we discussed this clearly and this was the message we delivered.
Q: On Western Balkans and helping the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia bilaterally, was this discussed and is this an option.
A. We discussed common ways, as Bert mentioned, common ways not unilateral ways, of managing better the external borders of the European Union, namely the border that Greece has with Turkey but also with Bulgaria, and the management of the flow all over the route, crossing the different Balkan countries.
This is one of the elements that was coming up in the last weeks. It was not a specific point that we discussed this morning, and I also would like to stress the fact that for sure foreign ministers are also members of cabinets, but this is definitely not a foreign policy policy or a foreign policy decision or instrument, as we, especially with the candidate countries in the Balkans, share a set of measures and instruments that are far from the foreign policy ones. So this was not a specific point that we discussed this morning.
If I can summarise in a few words, the main messages I got from all the ministers, those were “support”, “coordination" and the "European approach", possibly “solidarity”.
Q: On the perspective for relations with Iran and possible invitation of Minister Zarif to the Foreign Affairs Council.
A. On this last issue, no; there is no invitation to Minister Zarif to the Foreign Affairs Council. We have for the next Foreign Affairs Council which is 15 February, an invitation to the Lebanese Foreign Minister, with whom we will share views on the regional dynamics, the crisis, and in particular the effects of this crisis on Lebanon - a country on which we are focussing a lot to guarantee its own resilience and stability.
But I will receive Minister Zarif in Brussels around 15-16 February, not in conjunction with the Foreign Affairs Council. I can also confirm that I debriefed the Ministers on the plans for my visit. I don’t know if it is going to be historic; everything we do with Iran becomes historic! It is going to be an important visit for sure, that we are preparing already with the Iranians, and it was very important to see the unity of the Member States in the direction and the intention of the preparations we are doing with Iran. This was a very helpful and useful exchange because we always highlight the points of division and this is something on which the Member States are fully united.
I cannot yet announce a specific date or a list of Commissioners who are going to travel with me, but there are preparations ongoing. For sure the sectors you mentioned, be it energy or trade, but also other sectors that are covering for instance cultural or scientific dimensions of our cooperation could be part of our common work, as well as others. I can also imagine the fact that migration is also going to be most likely part of our dialogue.
As you know, Iran is hosting a large number of Afghans on its territory and needs some support in this respect, which is also in the European interest, in order to stabilise the situation there. But let me also mention the fact that, exactly to have that regional role I was referring to, the fact that we open relations with Iran and that we work on ways to intensify them, we are doing exactly the same in parallel with our friends in the Gulf, starting with Saudi Arabia.
We don’t see this as an “either/or", but as an “and/and". Good relations, strong relations both with the countries of the Gulf - the GCC and Saudi Arabia in particular, and also with Iran, we are opening the way for bilateral relations, that I believe will be productive for both and for all.
Q: On Turkey and €3 billion package, implementation of Joint Action Plan.
A. In concrete terms the operationalisation is, has been already, translated from the Turkish side on two decisions that they took. One is the decision to give working permits to Syrian refugees in Turkey and the second one is to introduce a number of visa regimes for visitors from other countries who travel to Turkey that helps Turkey itself, in cooperation with us, to monitor and manage flows of third countries nationals passing through Turkey and then heading to Europe.
That are two very concrete steps that Turkey has put in place already and that are going to be extremely relevant as they are implemented in time to, on one side, give economic perspectives to Syrian refugees in Turkey. Another element which is important for that are the programmes we are identifying with this package to support, in particular, education for Syrian children in Turkey. You know there is a specific language issue: the Syrian children have to go to schools in Arabic; otherwise they will have obviously problems going back, when hopefully their country will be in peace. Schools in Turkey are not in that language so we are financing education programmes for Syrian children in their own language and focusing in particular on the education and on the young generations for the future, because those can be generations that are lost not only economically but also from a security point of view. This is an investment in the fact that they might avoid being radicalised in the future. So we are investing in this as well as we are investing in terms of projects on health programmes and everything that gives better living conditions and better perspectives to the refugees that are currently or are going to be in Turkey in the future.
Let me specify on the issue of the programmes, that yes, the political decision, the financing of the €3 billion package now is taken. In any case, the €1 billion coming from the EU budget was already available and the work that the Commission is doing together with the Turkish authorities but in an automous way, is the identification of the projects on the ground. As soon as that would be finished, the money will start to be invested and disbursed.
As the Minister said, the main point for us is to guarantee the two things at the same time. On one side, that Turkey is supported in its work to host and protect the refugees, so to guarantee humanitarian protection for those in need, close to home. And second, to manage and control the flow of migrants that are mixed or are increasingly mixed with the refugee flows. This requires a completely different set of measures, such as the decision on visa I mentioned, or the need to work on dismantling the traffickers' networks.
This is something that Turkey can do with a network of control of the territory that the country has. We are confident that they are taking all the necessary steps to dismantle the criminal organisations which are currently operating on the territory of Turkey.
Q. On Greece and reports on hotspots progress.
A: Let me say we have had Foreign Ministers here, dealing with foreign and security policy issues. It is not for us to confirm or deny these news, as these questions are not under our responsibility. We have had conversation with Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Defence yesterday, on the state of play and they have recommitted to establishing the hotspots in good time. The logistical challenges given the geography of Greece and the flows that are massive are considerable. As the minister mentioned today, all the European support needs to be there in order for them to manage to do this swiftly. I can confirm that we have heard the commitment of the Greek authorities to establish the hotspots swiftly.