Delegation of the European Union to Central African Republic

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

Brussels, 20/01/2020 - 20:37, UNIQUE ID: 200120_14
Remarks

Brussels, 20 January 2020

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Today it is the second Foreign Affairs Council of this month, a month [that] began the New Year with many problems.  

As you can imagine we discussed about Libya but as current affairs, it was not a point in the agenda, so there is no concrete decisions but long discussions and information. Yesterday the Berlin conference brought a unique momentum into the efforts of getting closer to a political solution, with this 55-point declaration that was agreed by the strongest international representation I have ever seen because the whole Security Council was there. It is a big success of the German diplomacy, both how the conference was held and the agreement itself.

At the Foreign Affairs Council, 10 days ago, I was given a strong mandate from my colleagues of the Foreign Affairs Council to engage with all actors with the objective of moving towards this political solution. It is important, I want to stress it, that there is still no ceasefire yet, we are in a truce.

But both sides have put forward five names of people who will work on a sustainable cease-fire. This was not possible before the conference, Salamé [Ghassan Salamé, UN Special Envoy to Libya] was asking for the two sides to have these five representatives at the military table of negotiations, now both sides have put forward these five names and these are important steps in order to get a sustainable ceasefire.  

Today we have been analysing the situation after the Berlin conference and how the EU can engage more forcefully. And after analysing the situation and several hypothesis of what can happen the next days, we have tasked the working body of the Council; the Political and Security Committee, where the EU Ambassadors are sitting, to present to the Council concrete proposals on how to implement this ceasefire and enforcing the UN arms embargo.

I hope that this will be ready for the next Foreign Affairs Council, but in the meantime we have to pass from truce to a real ceasefire. Anyway, the situation is much better today than last week.

Nous avons aussi discuté du Sahel. Vous savez que Lundi passé j’étais à Pau, pour le Sommet avec les chefs d’Etat du G5 Sahel organisé à l’initiative du Président français. Nous y avons fait le constat d’une urgence absolue. La situation s’est énormément dégradée. On peut dire que la Libye c’est une sorte de tumeur qui se « métastatise» sur l’ensemble de la région et qui déséquilibre l’ensemble des pays qui sont au bout du Sahara. Pour vous donner une date, l’année dernière 2019, les pays du Sahel ont perdu 1500 soldats. C’est le chiffre le plus haut depuis 2012 – Je ne parle que des soldats, si j’ajoute les civils qui sont morts, on serait aux alentours de 4000. 

De notre côté les pays Européens nous sommes les premiers donateurs, et les principaux partenaires politiques de ces pays. Nous sommes un acteur clé dans le domaine de la sécurité nous avons 3 missions de Politique de Sécurité et de Défense Commune. Le Conseil s’est mis d’accord aujourd’hui pour augmenter cette coopération stratégique.

Il faut absolument faire plus, et ce sera l'objet de la conférence internationale que l'Union européenne va organiser au prochain mois de mars en marge du prochain Conseil européen. C’est le 26 mars, la date est déjà fixée. Donc on aura une conférence internationale et j’espère qu’elle aura le même succès que la conférence de Berlin sur la Libye. Dans cette conférence nous allons revoir la stratégie de l’Union européenne pour le Sahel de façon à pouvoir élargir du point de vue géographique et aussi du point de vue fonctionnel l’étendue de ces trois missions de politique de sécurité et défense commune que nous déployons dans la région.

Nous avons ensuite discuté de comment renforcer la diplomatie climatique. Le Conseil européen au moment où il a pris acte, a adopté le « European green deal » présenté par la Commission, il [le Conseil Européen] a aussi chargé le Haut Représentant et la Commission européenne, donc là aussi moi-même en tant que vice-président chargé des relations extérieures, de développer une diplomatie climatique de façon à ce que notre ambition soit partagée par les pays qui sont de grands émetteurs [de gaz à effets de serre] et qui vont le devenir encore plus dans le futur.

Sans cela nos efforts pour faire face au défi climatique peuvent avoir du succès chez nous mais cela ne suffira pas à l‘échelle globale. L’Union Européenne aujourd’hui représente 9% des émissions globales, même si demain l’on arrivait à supprimer toutes nos émissions il resterait encore 91%.

Donc il faut que la contrainte climatique soit inscrite dans toute l’action internationale de l’Union Européenne. A commencer par les accords commerciaux. Cela ne fait pas de sens de ne pas tenir compte de la contrainte climatique dans les accords commerciaux que nous faisons. Au contraire nos efforts peuvent être insuffisants.

Pendant le déjeuner nous avons analysé la situation sur le processus de paix au Moyen Orient dans le cadre de ce que l’on appelle the wider region of the Middle East. There, the problem of the nuclear deal with Iran plays an important role. I have been informing my colleagues about my meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif [Mohammad Javad Zarif, Foreign Minister of Iran] last Thursday in Delhi, where we had a frank dialogue, including the latest developments around the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]. The Ministers reminded  me that I had a mandate to engage with all relevant actors in the region in order to analyse the situation created after the last events and what can be the future of the JCPOA.

The Ministers of the three countries - Germany, France and United Kingdom - who have asked me to launch the process to solve the dispute about the nuclear deal, have insisted on the fact that the purpose of doing so is to safeguard this deal, not to substitute it by another deal.

Today, I welcome the initiative of some Member States – many of them - France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Germany, regarding the creation of a European-led maritime surveillance mission in the Strait of Hormuz. I want to welcome this contribution to the de-escalation in the region and to ensure a safe navigation environment. I think it is important. It is not a decision of the Council, it is a coalition of the willing - led by France, who took the initiative and managed to gather several European countries in order to create a European-led maritime surveillance mission in the Strait of Hormuz, which is something different from the American initiative.

Finally, in the current issues, we have been discussing the new Turkish illegal drillings in the Eastern Mediterranean, where we received an update by the Cypriot Foreign Minister [Nikos Christodoulides] . We agreed to ask the relevant Council Working Party, RELEX [Working Party of Foreign Relations Counsellors], to take forward and finalise the work on listings of persons and entities involved in these illegal activities in order to implement the decisions taken on sanctions.

 

Q&A

Q. À Berlin, l’une des décisions a été de surveiller l’embargo des Nations Unies. L’UE a une mission maritime pour cela, l’opération Sophia, elle n’a pas de navires depuis quelques mois. Pouvez-vous m’expliquer pourquoi il n’a pas été possible aujourd’hui d’annoncer au public qu’au lendemain de la décision de Berlin on remettait des navires pour faire respecter l’embargo en Méditerranée ? Quel est le problème et pourquoi faut-il changer le mandat de l’opération ?

We are not going to change but to refocus the mandate of operation Sophia, to refocus especially on the issue of the embargo. The arms embargo has to be controlled not only by sea because most of the arms goes through the desert.

There is a very long border between Libya and the neighbourhood countries and we can control the sea but we also have to control the land and the air. It is very important to we revive operation Sophia but to control the arms embargo will require satellite and air tools which for the time being are not included in operation Sophia.

There is an agreement in the Council in order to revive, to refocus operation Sophia but as I said, today the issue of Libya was in the agenda but under current affairs. A decision could not be taken formally and in any case the procedure requires to go through the COPS (Political and Security Committee) and present concrete proposals, one that has been analysed from all the bodies in the Council, in order to implement these kind of decisions.

The political will has been manifested and nobody has been against it. Now we start the process of sending it to the bodies who have to implement it following the procedures of the Council which are quite complex.

Q. If you are refocusing the mandate of operation Sophia you are changing it, I assume that would require a formal change in the mandate. It sounds as if part of it would be expanding what you do but part of it presumably may be taking away from what is done at the moment. Will it require a change in the rules on disembarkation? On Iran, six days ago you received a letter from the E3 triggering the dispute resolution mechanism. As the Joint Commission of the JCPOA explained that is supposed to start a 30 days clock after which further action should start. When did that clock start ticking? The day you received the letter last week or has it not started and if not, why?

About the first question, that is what the working bodies of the Council will analyse. When we say ‘we are refocusing, we are putting the accent, we are giving priorities’ there are many ways of saying that. Some have legal consequences and others just practical consequences. That [is why] we have military advisors, we have ambassadors represented in the COPS (PSC). They are going to study that. The Ministers expressed their political will but they have to follow the procedures and that is what we are going to do during the next days.

I want to stress once again the fact that we are not still in a ceasefire, we are in a truce which is unstable and a truce can be violated several times a day. Let us hope that on the contrary it is going to stabilise and we are going to really go to a ceasefire. Without a ceasefire it is going to be difficult to imagine any kind of stronger engagement of the European Union.

But about operation Sophia the idea is to revive it, to refocus on the arms embargo and that is why we have a lot of advisors from the military and the legal point of view who will work on it in order to give an answer, I hope, at the next Council.

On the concrete steps on the JCPOA the only thing I can say is that we continue to be in touch with all the other participants. We are discussing the way forward. It is not clear in the wording of the agreement how to define the date when the delay starts. And in any case it is part of Annex II which is a part on which we have to work confidentially.

f/u Has it started?

I cannot give an answer to that.

Q. Is the ceasefire a condition to revive operation Sophia or is the ceasefire a condition for considering other options in addition to reviving operation Sophia? Can you be more precise on the timeframe on when you expect a decision  on the next steps?

To revive operation Sophia frankly speaking I do not think that the ceasefire is a necessary condition, because operation Sophia operates in the sea, so whether there is a ceasefire or not there will not be bigger risks for the people involved in the operation. Another risk is any kind of implementation on the ground, which for sure requires a ceasefire in order to have the minimum security conditions.

I cannot exactly say when we are going to revive it because to refocus and to ask people to participate is the work of the military advisors and all the people of the working committees. However logically the ceasefire is not a precondition to revive operation Sophia.

Q. You mentioned the Cyprus issue and the question of sanctions. I take from that that Cyprus has now put forward names. Can you give us an idea of when to expect the final sanctions decision? Do you expect this in time for the next Foreign Affairs Council? And on the topic of sanctions again, can you say what progress has been made with regards to the new sanctions against Venezuela related to the recent events there?

Bueno, estamos hablando de dos cosas distintas. Las sanciones por lo que ha ocurrido en Venezuela afectan a los venezolanos y las sanciones por lo que ha ocurrido en Chipre afectan a los turcos. En el primer caso, hay nombres sobre la mesa y los Working Parties han sido espoleados hoy por el Consejo [Consejo de la Unión Europea], recordándoles que ese work in process tiene que llegar al fin del process y que estamos esperando que actúen de acuerdo con su responsabilidad y que nos propongan que tomemos las decisiones oportunas de acuerdo con los procedimientos y el mandato que se ha establecido al respecto.

Sobre Venezuela no hay ninguna novedad. Ha sido una discusión en asuntos corrientes, pero allí no hay ninguna novedad operativa, desde el punto de vista de que no ha habido personas que hayan requerido una toma de decisión por parte del Consejo. Otra cosa es que las vayan a haber.

It can happen in the following days. By the way, I would like to announce you that President Juan Guaidó, who has been recognised as the legitimate President of the National Assembly, will be in Brussels and I will meet him on Wednesday.

It may also be of some interest to know that it was the first meeting of the new Foreign Affairs Minister of Spain [Arancha González Laya]. She has started her presence in the Council [Council of the European Union] pressing us for an immediate meeting of the International Contact Group to deal with the Venezuelan issue, which has been a little bit put aside for the last month, because the attention was very much concentrated on the Middle East and Libya.

Q. Basé sur les discussions de ce matin et les contacts que vous avez eu hier à Berlin concernant le soutien que l’UE pourrait apporter pour soutenir l’accord de cessez-le-feu en Libye quand il y en aura un, et l’embargo sur les armes, quels sont les instruments que vous favorisez ? Est-ce une opération d’observation civile, ou plutôt une contribution des Etats européens à une force de maintien de la paix avec des moyens militaires sur place ? Est-ce qu’aujourd’hui vous avez parlé également de ce flux de combattants venant de Syrie, 6000, qui pourraient arriver en Libye et dont 17 personnes, d’après des sources syriennes, seraient déjà arrivées en Italie après avoir atterri en Libye ?

Vous en savez plus que moi, vous savez même le nombre précis. We have been talking about the issue of the arrival of people coming from Syria, former fighters, and not only from Syria but also from Sudan and from other countries in the neighbourhood. This is part of our concern, of the issues that were dealt with in the agreement in Berlin.

All parties involved in the Berlin’s agreement agreed on restraining from any action related to the movement of fighters or arms. Complete truce, no more fighters, no more arms, to keep the situation the way it is, to freeze the situation – that is what a truce is – while we negotiate the final arrangements of the ceasefire.

But yes the arrival of the fighters coming from the Syrian war, not only from there but also from there, is one of the matters of concern that has triggered and accelerated the Berlin process and that made it possible to reach this final agreement.

f/u Concernant la mission d’observation civile ou une force de maintien de la paix, qu’elle est celle que vous pourriez préférer, même de manière préliminaire ?

Il ne s’agit pas de connaître ma préférence, je ne suis pas là pour dicter mes préférences. Il faut d’abord voir de quelle façon le Conseil de sécurité des Nations Unies aborde la question. Il faudra voir dans quel cadre les Nations Unies veulent intervenir. Il y a d’autres acteurs dans la région. Et tout cela il faut l’organiser de manière coordonnée. En ce moment je ne peux pas vous dire.

Toutes les hypothèses sont sur la table mais je dois garder une prudence naturelle, être très proactif dans la préparation des différentes alternatives mais en même temps très prudent, ne pas donner à connaître des décisions qui n’ont pas encore été prises et ne pas convertir des hypothèses en nouvelles.

Q. On operation Sophia, you say refocusing on arms embargo, could this mean in the future Sophia will not have anything to do with migrants in the Mediterranean?

For part of the public opinion in Italy operation Sophia is related with migrants problems and only with that. Nobody has in mind that operation Sophia is also conceived [mandated] to control the flow of arms to Libya. The public opinion reacts according to basic understanding. When you say operation Sophia immediately people think about migration.

I think we have to do an important work in order to clearly state that the revival of operation Sophia is oriented towards a strong need and urgency and a consequence of the Berlin agreement. That is why I am saying refocusing. That is what the working bodies of the Council will decide. But it does not mean that the operation is not going to continue working on migration, but the important thing to make clear is that we are not going to revive operation Sophia for that reason but for the urgent need to control the arms flows.

Q. Will the fight against traffickers stay on the mandate of operation Sophia because that was the original aim of the mission? Secondly will the boat of the mission save migrants as it was foreseen by the international law or will they just pass on?

Operation Sophia is  not only dedicated to migration missions, it has a dual mandate. It is clearly stated that it had to deal with traffic of human beings and with arms traffic. And it did a lot to take control of the traffic of arms. Many ships were seized, many arms were controlled and prevented to arrive to Libya. And for sure any ship in the Mediterranean will abide by international law, [the contrary], is out of the question.

Link to video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-183131