This week High Representative Josep Borrell visited three very different countries – each with its own challenges – where the EU is working with partners to build a better present and future. Iraq, Libya and Tunisia are all strategic partners where the EU has invested throughout the years to help governments and partners on the ground deliver for the benefit of the people.
Throughout the visits, the High Representative met with authorities and civil society representatives as well. He reaffirmed the EU’s continuous engagement, he listened to the challenges, and discussed how the EU can best support them.
First stop Iraq
The High Representative’s mission started with his first visit to Iraq, where he met with the leadership both in Baghdad and Erbil. The visit – aimed at supporting the country’s stability, sovereignty and prosperity – came at an important moment. It took place just a month before parliamentary elections in the country, and a week after the Baghdad conference on 28 August, where the Iraqi government brought together regional leaders to promote regional de-escalation and dialogue.
“The European Union is determined to support these regional efforts with all the instruments and I am personally committed to work on the follow-up of this important conference,” said Borrell talking about the Baghdad conference. “I want to recognise the important role that Iraq plays as a constructive bridge-builder in the region,” he added.
Two more important news captured the attention of the public.
First, during his visit, Josep Borrell announced that the EU Advisory Mission to Iraq (EUAM Iraq) will be opening a new office in Erbil. The EUAM already provides advice and expertise on civilian security sector reform to the authorities in Baghdad. This, together with other initiatives will help address a security situation that, unfortunately, remains complicated.
“Just last week we have had to regret another deadly attack in Kirkuk,” the High Representative said after his meeting with the Iraqi Foreign Minister. “There is no place for terrorism or rogue elements, including Da’esh, in a sovereign country. There are also acts of violence and harassment against political activists, journalists and human rights defenders. All these critical aspects of the security situation have to be addressed, especially as early parliamentary elections are approaching in October,” he added.
The High Representative also announced that the EU’s first ever Electoral Observation Mission in Iraq is already operational. The mission, deployed upon request of the Iraqi authorities, will support efforts to prepare genuinely free and fair Iraqi-led, Iraqi-owned elections that are inclusive, credible, and participatory.
“We want to continue supporting Iraqi democracy, follow the preparations of the October polls with great interest and upon Iraqi request are deploying an EU Electoral Observation Mission”, Borrell stated.
The High Representative was particularly impressed by the determination and courage of the Iraqi youth and vibrant civil society. In his bilateral consultations and in his meeting with civil society representatives, Josep Borrell said that the EU is keen to support the ambitious socio-economic and governance reform agenda demanded by the Iraqi people. Since 2014, the EU has provided more than €1.3 billion in financial cooperation to Iraq.
The High Representative also visited Erbil, where he notably met the President of the Kurdistan region of Iraq Nechirvan Barzani, Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, Foreign Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir and the former President, Masoud Barzani.
“It would be impossible to visit Iraq without paying strong attention to the Kurdistan region”, Borrell said.
The High Representative stressed the importance of the Region, and of its good cooperation with the federal authorities, for the stability and prosperity of Iraq. He commended in particular the Region’s invaluable contribution to the fight against Da’esh.
During the visit, the High Representative also had the chance of visiting the treasures of Mesopotamia on display in the Baghdad museum and the Citadel of Erbil, which is being restored by UNESCO with EU funding. The EUAM also assists the Iraqi government in recovering stolen artefacts.
Second stop Libya
In Tripoli, where he arrived on 8 September, High Representative Borrell held meetings with Foreign Minister Mangoush, as well as with the President of the Presidential Council Mohammed Mnefi and Vice-President Moussa al Kouni. He also exchanged with UN Special Envoy Ján Kubiš.
The High Representative commended the important progress achieved in Libya in the past year, during which a ceasefire was put in place, political institutions unified and a road map to the December elections was set up.
“I think that there is no time to lose to approve the necessary legislation, go to the parliament, and start the necessary preparations,” said High Representative Borrell underlining the EU’s firm commitment to continue supporting the Libyan authorities in their efforts to organise the 24 December presidential and parliamentary elections.
The High Representative stressed the importance of renewing the legitimacy of Libyan institutions, reaffirming Libyan sovereignty and stabilising the country for all its people. He reaffirmed the EU’s continuous support to contribute to the implementation of the ceasefire and the withdrawal of all foreign forces and to help the Libyan government in the security sector reform, including through the EU Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM). He also raised ways to increase cooperation with Operation Irini, to keep monitoring the respect of the UN arms embargo with his Libyan interlocutors.
“We are ready to put in place an extensive capacity-building programme to help Libya strengthen its institutions, at central and local level if requested,” said the High Representative in his remarks to the press.
Final stop Tunisia
“I wanted to listen to the different components of Tunisian society as well as the authorities, in order to better understand the situation in its complexity,” the High Representative said in his remarks to the press in Tunis on Friday.
The High Representative visited Tunisia at a critical moment for the country, to express the EU’s commitment to a very important partner.
In Tunis, he held meetings with representatives of the main political parties and the civil society. He also met with President Kais Said.
While underlining respect for Tunisia’s sovereignty, High Representative Borrell recalled the importance the EU attaches to Tunisia’s democratic foundations and the respect for the rule of law and fundamental rights.
The High Representative stressed the importance of leading the country towards the restoration of institutional stability while preserving these democratic foundations and remaining attentive to the aspirations of the Tunisian people.
“In the coming days, I will share these messages and my analysis with my European counterparts […] And it will ultimately be based on the actions and concrete measures that will be taken in the coming weeks that we will define how we can better support and accompany democracy, stability and prosperity in Tunisia. Because that is our will and the goal that drives my visit to Tunisia.”