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Thank you. Good afternoon
Today was the first Foreign Affairs Council that I chaired. You know already that my work ahead will be guided by the three principles: realism, unity and partnership. We need partners, we need to be united and we need to act in the real world.
So I want with the support of the Member States, to give a fresh impulse to the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC). Our meetings must be the place where our collective efforts come together to promote a more effective EU foreign policy.
We have just finished a lunch discussion. It has been long but profitable. We exchanged on our priorities, the work ahead and how to better work together to achieve the objectives of the external action of the European Union on the basis of the letter that I sent to the ministers. I sent a letter to the Foreign Affairs ministers and another to the Defence ministers because I thought that it was better to send a letter than to spend three quarters of an hour with a long oral explanation.
Today in the Council we have been dealing with current affairs – which as you know are the most pressing items on the international agenda.
We have been dealing with the Memorandum of Understanding signed between Libya and Turkey. We discussed this and it is very clear from our discussion that this document raises major concerns. We expressed our solidarity and our support to Greece and Cyprus and we will continue doing that. You know that we already delivered a communication on that issue, I think it was last week, as soon as we knew about this agreement.
On Libya more specifically, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany Heiko Maas has informed the Council about Germany's plan for the Berlin process, which aims at finding a sustainable solution to the situation in Libya. I hope it will bear fruits and I believe we should be able to do more on Libya. We certainly [need] to do more because we cannot claim to be a geopolitical power if we cannot solve problems in our immediate neighbourhood.
We also touched upon Ukraine, and the Normandy-four Summit which is taking place as we speak now in Paris. I think we have a positive momentum that needs to be used. There has been some improvement, some engagement and I hope that today’s summit will be another step towards a sustainable and peaceful solution to the conflict.
I also personally raised Iran because on Friday we had the meeting of the Joint Commission of the JCPoA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] in Vienna, chaired by the Secretary General of the European External Action Service [Helga Schmid], which showed that all participants stand behind the agreement and want to preserve it. This unanimous position is for us very important. I highlighted on a note, just after the meeting, that to keep this agreement alive is a collective responsibility but unless the recent negative trend on the nuclear side is not reversed it will not be sustainable. But the European Union and all participants of the Friday meeting in Vienna are very much standing behind this agreement.
Bolivia. Since the very beginning of the crisis, the European Union has been very active. We have been actively engaged. I want to thank the European Union Delegation and all embassies of European Union Member States for the work they have done. We hope the parties continue to show moderation and complete the transition and reconciliation process by holding elections. Bolivia - as you know - is part of a wider worrying situation in Latin America. Over the last five years, there has not been any high level summit between the European Union and Latin American countries. I think this has to be corrected and addressing this will be one of my priorities during my mandate.
But the most important and most pressing priority for us today is the relations with Africa. In the agenda this was one of the two items. We started the work with the European Union foreign ministers to discuss how we want to shape our relation with our African partners in order to prepare the 2020 European Union - African Union Summit.
We need a comprehensive strategy with Africa. When Europeans think of Africa they think of migration and demography, because they are watching images of people arriving to the European coast and people dying crossing the Mediterranean. For sure, migration is one of the most important issues we have to deal with our African neighbours, but it is not the only one. One thing is clear: we cannot have a strategy for Africa without Africa. This has to be something that responds to an ownership among Europeans, but mainly with the Africans.
The visit of the president of the [European] Commission to Addis Ababa this weekend sends a strong message in this direction. We have to reach out to our African partners and I have been asking foreign ministers to be fully engaged on this. We need a strong partnership in preparing this partnership agreement.
We will have a college-to-college meeting with the African Union Commission in February 2020, as agreed by President Ursula von der Leyen. Then we will have a European Union - African Union ministerial meeting. At the end of 2020, we will have the [EU-Africa] Summit in Brussels. So we have a clear path ahead of us for this important work. And the European Council at his meeting this week – I think it is on Thursday – will also send a clear signal, giving a mandate to the Commission and to the High representative to work on this comprehensive and shared strategy for Africa and with Africa.
The second point on the agenda was human rights. This is an issue that remains a clear priority for Europeans and it will [remain so] during my mandate. It is very timely to talk about it because tomorrow is International Human Rights Day.
The important thing is that, under the request of several Member States, we have agreed to launch the preparatory work for a global sanctions regime to address serious human rights violations, which will be the EU equivalent of the so-called Magnitsky Act of the United States. I was asked on this issue in my presentation at the Parliament last week and today we have decided, with strong consensus, to launch the preparatory work – and the European External Action Service will prepare the documentation for this – in order to prepare the equivalent of this act. This will be a tangible step reaffirming the European Union’s global lead on human rights.
[EU] Member States have also been informed about - and they have showed broad support for it – a new Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy that will be prepared by my services for the next five years. We will present the proposal early next year. As you know, this is a reference document on human rights in the world. It is a document of reference and the new one will continue to be something unique, one of its kind worldwide.
Link to the opening remarks : https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-181519
Q. Considérez-vous le mémorandum entre la Libye et la Turquie comme légal du point de vue du droit international? Est-ce que les deux pays sont souverains pour le signer ou considérez-vous que ce document n’est pas légal au niveau du droit international et que donc l’attitude de l’Union Européenne doit aller au-delà de « Major concern » ? L’Union Européenne est-elle en train de se préparer pour une probable chute de Tripoli entre les mains de monsieur Haftar [Khalifa Haftar].
Je n’ai pas dit que le mémorandum entre la Libye et la Turquie est illégal. J’ai dit que cela nous préoccupe, c’est un document que nous avons connu très tard. Quand j’ai eu l’occasion de discuter avec le Ministre [des Affaires étrangères] Turc [Mevlüt Cavuşoğlu], je ne le connaissais pas encore. Le ministre m’a fait savoir que le document avait été présenté au parlement Turc, donc il était public.
En rentrant à Bruxelles nous l’avons demandé, nous l’avons reçu, nos services sont en train de l’étudier. Mais dans la discussion politique que nous avons eu ce matin il est clair que cela pose des problèmes, des préoccupations majeures à certains de nos Etats Membres, en particulier la Grèce et Chypre, dans la mesure où cette répartition des eaux puisse poser des problèmes en raison de l’existence même des îles grecques et de Chypre elle-même.
Nous sommes en train de l’étudier et nous allons suivre la question de près tout en laissant bien clair que tout accord doit respecter le droit international. Je ne dis pas qu’il ne le fasse pas, je dis que cela relève des préoccupations que nous sommes en train d’étudier.
Q. Il y a suffisamment d’articles, voir des sources d’information qui se prépare à la chute de Tripoli, entre autre les Italiens sont préparés à faire évacuer Mr Sarraj [Fayez al-Sarraj] plus le staff diplomatique de l’Italie. Est-ce-que l’Union Européenne a un plan quelconque pour faire face à la chute de Tripoli ?
Naturalmente que la Unión Europea no tiene un plan para evacuar Trípoli. Como usted se puede imaginar. No somos parte del conflicto y tampoco tengo ninguna referencia de que tal cosa vaya a ocurrir. Trípoli es una ciudad de dos millones de habitantes y cualquier combate en las calles de la ciudad sería algo realmente problemático y grave.
Si me pregunta si tenemos un plan para resolver el problema de Trípoli evidentemente no, porque no es nuestro trabajo, pero sí que estamos en contacto, todo lo que podemos con nuestra delegación allí y la de los Estados Miembros para llamar las partes en conflicto a la necesaria retención para evitar lo que podría ser una situación muy grave como seria los combates en el centro de una ciudad de dos millones de habitantes.
Q. A question, please, about the EU Magnitsky Act. There has been an agreement in principle to, as you say, push forward the preparations for this. How confident are you that this will now become law, given that there are some Member States who still have some reservations? Second, could you just explain why you think this is such an important law to have?
Had there been an opposition from just one Member state, we could not be acting the way we have decided to act, because as you know, it requires unanimity in the Council. So there is a strong consensus.
Some Member States who were opposing have abandoned the opposition and joined the broader consensus. Others may still have some collateral questions and some concerns, but as Chair of the Council, I think it could be considered that [there was] consensus in order to launch the technical process of preparing [the legislative acts] to address [the matter] to the relevant bodies of the Council, in particular the working group on human rights and RELEX. We will prepare all the papers and we will launch the process.
Well, it is important because we have some methods of this kind to deal with violations of another issue, cyber security, for example. And I think that to have a tool like this that gives across the board a method of reacting with an approval by the Council in general terms, gives us much more strength and much more capacity to react in front of serious human rights violations. We are talking about serious human rights violations. And many Parliamentarians where asking for that. And I put the question on the table of the Council of Ministers and there was enough consensus to go ahead.
Q. I have two questions. My first question is on Russia and Normandy, which you mentioned. I want to be clear on what your position is. Is it your position that if there is some progress, significant progress in the talks in the coming weeks and months, that we could look at easing the economic sanctions. Or is it your position that easing the economic sanctions can only happened when there is the full implementation of the Minsk accord. My second question is on Iran. You put out a statement yesterday, which was quite strong, very critical, you talked about the unacceptable actions of the Iranian authorities in response to the protests. You have talked about today about all of the tools the EU has at its disposal to show its power. The Iranian nuclear deal does not prevent the EU imposing sanctions for human rights reasons. So was the statement yesterday just more words or an indication that you are willing to do something about the Iranian response to the protests?
Look, the important thing is not my position, my personal position is irrelevant. The important thing is I am here, not on an individual basis but with the Council. We have had a meeting of the Council, what I can tell you is the result of our discussions and our agreement.
About Ukraine, we have not done anything else than receive information about the prospects of the Normandy format meeting. There has not been any other consideration or position. Let’s see what is happening there, but it is clear that nobody is thinking of taking out sanctions without getting the results on the issues that motivated those sanctions. But today in the Council, we have just received information about the prospects of the meeting that is taking place today.
About Iran, do not mix things. One thing is the repression, unconstrained repression that is taking place in Iran and which we strongly condemned. Yesterday we issued our communication not of the High representative but by the 28 Member States – and you know very well which is difference – with a strong condemnation of what is happening in Iran from the point of view of human rights abuses.
Another thing completely different is the Iran nuclear deal, where I recognise that from Vienna came good news. On this fragile situation the news could be considered good because all people participating in the meeting were standing firmly behind the agreement. It does not prevent us from putting sanctions if it is [necessary] from the point of view of human rights abuses, it has nothing to do with the nuclear deal.
f/u That is exactly my point. It does not prevent the EU doing it, but the fact of the matter is that since January 2016, the EU has not imposed any human rights sanctions on Iran. Your statement was strong yesterday. Are we at a situation, has enough bloodshed happened that that is being considered?
El tema no ha sido puesto sobre la mesa del Consejo. This issue has not been taken into consideration in the Council.
Q. On Iran, you warned Iranian authorities two days ago about what has happened but a lot of people have said that it was too late, two weeks after what happened in Iran. Does it really not have any impact on your negotiation on JCPOA?
No. Both things are completely different and separate.
Q. I want to ask you about the discussion on Israel Palestine today and specifically the concerns among some Member States that the EU is not being sufficiently proactive, that there is a danger of Israel moving towards annexation of parts of the occupied territories, that there is a danger that they will block Palestinians from voting in the East Jerusalem constituencies, in the election. Is there a possibility of EU getting its act together on the situation in the Middle East before it deteriorates again further?
There are a certain number of issues, which are very much divisive on foreign policy, and it is one of them. Among European Member States, the recognition of the Palestinian state or the situation in Middle East is something, which is very much dividing. Maybe because of that is not an issue which is often taken into consideration on the agenda of the Council.
But today, some Member States, Ireland in particular has raised the question, has informed us about the visit of the Foreign Affairs Minister to Palestinian territories and also to the Israeli government and has shared with us the concern that you mention about the prospects of the future situation of the Palestinian territories, in relation also with the decision taken by the United States on the legality of the colonies and some fears that they can continue taking decisions on this in this way.
Certainly we are in a difficult period in the Middle East Peace Process. We continue holding our position, that is to say a negotiated two-state solution. But for sure if we want a two-state solution we need to help and encourage both parties to enter a serious and credible negotiation. And this is not the case – really, it is not the case.
Recognition is not an EU competence. It is a responsibility of individual Member States. But we continue, as European Union, supporting a two-state solution. And what we have decided is that in January, we will devote one point of the agenda to deeply discuss the situation in Middle East and of the Middle East Peace Process.
Link to the Q&A: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-181520