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First of all, it was a pleasure to meet again and welcome again Minister [of Foreign Affairs of Norway, Børge] Brende here in Brussels. We meet very often as we work closely together on many different files. Our bilateral relations are excellent, but I would like to say that the work we do on foreign policy together is particularly valued in the European Union and from what I see by our partners around the world - from Colombia to the Middle East, from the work we do on Syria to Libya or the global issues and the support to the UN system - really our cooperation is excellent and precious.
We discussed in depth our common work especially in the Middle East, looking forward to continue our work and also in preparation for the Syria conference we will host in Brussels that actually comes as a follow-up on the initiative that was initially started by Norway, to look at the ways we can support Syrians and Syria. This year we hope to have a conference that will not only take stock of the pledges, but also allow us to turn the page for a political solution to the conflict. So it is a pleasure to continue working together with a strong European partner that even tough is not part of the European Union is the best possible friend and ally with whom we work intensively. Thank you.
Q. What is your comment on the US travel ban by President [of the U.S. Donald] Trump this weekend?
A: I had already the opportunity yesterday to state it very clearly: this is not the European way, the European Union will continue to first of all to take care and host Syrian refugees and others who are fleeing from war. I was meeting a group of Syrian children just a few days ago in Lebanon. We are financing schools for them as well as job opportunities and humanitarian assistance. We are the first donor for Syrians – I take only Syrians because obviously this is the most relevant part of the consequences that this decision might have. For us, it is an investment first of all in their lives, but also in our own security, because any single day that a Syrian child is out of school exposes him or her to a future that is definitely not a future of commitment and engagement in the way we would like to see. But apart from that, the European Union strongly believes in a system that is based on international rules and norms, full respect of all individuals, regardless of their religion, of their ethnic background or their country or nationality or gender and we will continue to be this way. On top of that, we have in Europe a history – and here I think I do not speak only for the European Union – that has told us that every time that one invests in divisions and wars, you might end up being in a prison, if you build all walls around you. And we have a history and a tradition and an identity based on the fact that we celebrate when walls are broken down and bridges are built. We believe in cooperation, and the European Union will continue to work in a sense of cooperation and respect with all the countries of the region, regardless of the religion of their population - all of them. This is the European Union's way, I am convinced this is also the European way.
Q. What is your comment about the populist right-wing parties that this weekend supported Trump and said that this was the right thing to do?
A: The beauty of democracy is that you have different opinions, but what I noticed is that many point at divisions in Europe. My impression is that divisions are clear in the United States, in their own political debate, in their own society, and I think this will have to be addressed by the U.S. institutions.
Q. Trump and others have said that the free movement of people within Europe and the Schengen agreement has a security risk. Trump has said that this is one of the reasons why he think is necessary for the U.S. to take steps.
A: As I said, my impression is that the President of the United States [Donald Trump] in these hours has to focus probably more on the divisions he is facing in his own country rather than taking too much care about our own policies in the European Union. He has a big, great country to rule – the United States of America – that by the way was always a great country based on openness and freedoms, so I think this will be an internal debate that he will have to face in his own country. In the European Union we will face our debate ourselves.
Q. About the upcoming Malta Summit: how will the European Union in the future months and years tackle the migrants’ crisis in the Mediterranean?
A: I presented just a few days ago a new package of measures to strengthen our capacity to manage the flow of migrants in the Central Mediterranean route which means mainly in Libya through the coast of Italy. We have done already a lot of work there especially with our operation – EU Operation Sophia – that has saved tens of thousands of lives, but also ceased many vessels and brought to justice many smugglers – suspected smugglers - for the time being.
What we have now on the table is this proposal that I will bring to Malta on Friday to, first of all, invest even more in the training of the Libyan Coast Guards to empower the Libyans to manage their own territorial waters and their coast; to work more and more with the UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] and the IOM [International Organisation for Migration] - they are for us the key partners in managing and tackling migration and refugee issues - for them to be able to operate inside Libya and for the sake also of human rights standards. And third element, to work more and more on the southern border of Libya, in the desert, we have done a lot with Niger, increasing the presence of IOM in Agadez, to assist migrants - we see them dying at sea, sometimes we don’t see them dying in the desert, this does not mean they don’t [die]. And we have I think a responsibility and a duty, together with our African friends, to do something there as well. So we will increase our level of cooperation with different actors. starting from the UN system, tying to first of all save lives but also trying to manage a flow that otherwise is exposed of people is exposed to very worrying conditions both in Libya but also before they get there and after. And also in this, we look forward to a strong cooperation with Norway.
Q. Have you ever asked to Libya to contribute on Libya - and Norway was one of the countries that was very active on the bombing of Libya - to ask Norway to give more and more obligations to participate?
A: We discussed the situation in Libya, we decide to work more and more together also on this file. It is true our work in these years has been very intense and very productive I think, especially with the focus on the Middle East but also as I said on some UN-related issues and also Latin America, mainly Colombia as a case in point. We discussed way of working more and more together on Libya, mainly on the humanitarian aspects and on the political transition. I am meeting the Prime Minister [of Libya, Farrez al-]Serraj in three days here in Brussels. I will discuss with him the ways in which we can help more and for sure I look forward to have increased cooperation with Norway as well.