Delegation of the European Union to the United Kingdom

Foreign Affairs Council: Press remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell

Brussels, 25/01/2021 - 18:40, UNIQUE ID: 210125_18

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Good afternoon,

Well, to be the first meeting of the year, we have had a very though, heavy agenda. Let me run [you] through our discussion.

First, we started with Russia and the events around Alexey Navalny. The Council considered the arrest of [Mr] Navalny and crackdown on [his] supporters completely unacceptable, condemned the mass detentions and police brutality over the weekend. We call on Russia to release Mr Navalny and [all] those detained.

I informed the Council about my intention to visit Moscow, attending a long-lasting invitation from [Russian Foreign Affairs] Minister [Sergei] Lavrov. It is going to take place in the first week of February. It will be a good opportunity to discuss with my Russian counterpart all relevant issues, to pass clear messages on the current situation and on the contentious [areas] of rights and freedoms. And also to have a strategic discussion on our relations with Russia, since in March the European Council is going to have a session devoted to this relationship with Russia. I think it is good, before the European Union Council discusses strategically about this relationship, to discuss with our Russian counterpart.

Then, we talked about the situation of the coronavirus [pandemic] and the strategy for sharing vaccines. I am strongly convinced that a fair vaccine distribution around the world is part of the solution, not only for reasons of global solidarity but [also] for reasons of our own health security. We will not be safe, until everyone will be safe.  

We have been exploring ideas and possibilities for Member States to share vaccines with third countries, which is for sure difficult due to the difficulties that some Member States are facing, on their own vaccination process.

We discussed about the upcoming relation with the United States, and the work that we have ahead [of us] with the new administration on a series of key global issues – from climate change to Iran and the JCPOA, [among] the most important, most urgent ones. The Ministers are ready for a new start.

At the end, we discussed all aspects of our relation with Turkey, as identified in the December Council Conclusions, including regarding sanctions. We took note of important messages sent since the European Union Council by Turkish authorities and the gestures offered. We reaffirmed the importance of engaging with Turkey in order to advance in and consolidate our dialogue and cooperation.

Today is the launching of exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey. This is an important step in this direction. I think that the UNCLOS provides a solid basis for addressing maritime disputes, since we are defending international law. This is one example of international law.

It will be equally important to ensure the restart of United Nations-led Cyprus settlement, in the framework of the United Nations process. Talks should start as soon as possible. The European Union is ready to be invited as an observer, as it happened in the past round of talks.

We will accompany closely these developments and we will continue our engagement with Turkey in view of the report I will have to present to the European Council in March, together with the Commission, taking very much into account the December Council Conclusions and how things will develop in the following weeks, from any point of view. At the same time, Coreper will continue their work, according to the Council Conclusions.

We also raised the case of Giulio Regeni. This is a serious matter for Italy and so for the entire EU. We continue to call on Egypt to fully cooperate with the Italian authorities, for accountability and for justice to be served.

One of the most important issues of this meeting has been a video conference with the Foreign [Affairs] Minister of Japan, Toshimitsu Motegi, which reconfirmed that the EU and Japan are like-minded partners in a turbulent international environment – on all fronts. I have to thank Minister Motegi for a very interesting presentation on the Indo-Pacific region situation and [on] political and economic prospects.

We have agreed on looking for a Green Alliance between us, to accelerate our ambitious climate action and green transition, and the increasing strategic importance of the Indo-Pacific region, which makes our cooperation with Japan important and unavoidable.

We shared concerns on escalating tensions in the South China and East China Seas – and also about the situation in Hong Kong. On this last issue, we discussed with Ministers the urgency for Chinese and Hong Kong authorities to respect the rule of law, human rights, and democratic principles.

I also briefly touched the issue of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where I informed the Ministers about our actions to address the situation of migrants, who were forced to sleep outside in freezing temperatures over recent weeks, in front of shelters fully equipped, built and paid by the European Union and that local authorities denied access to these people.

We analysed the situation in the Horn of Africa, where we urgently need to prevent further destabilisation. I fully informed the Ministers about the situation in the Tigray region, in Ethiopia, and also the situation along the Sudanese-Ethiopian border. We will have to put more political pressure in order to settle the dispute through diplomatic and peaceful means.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Finland, [Mr] Pekka Haavisto, will travel as an Envoy of the European Union in order to visit the region in early February, together with our EU Special Representative, Mr [Alexander] Rondos, on the same way that the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Portugal has been visiting Mozambique.

We adopted conclusions on Venezuela, reaffirming the statement approved by unanimity immediately after the elections, marking the consensus on how to proceed in our efforts to help finding solutions to the crisis. Now, more than ever, I call on Venezuelan leaders to think about their citizens and sit down and talk realistically about how to overcome an unsustainable political situation. The Ministers reaffirmed their agreement with the statement that we issued about the role of the opposition and the outgoing National Assembly.

Finally, together with Executive Vice-President [for the European Green Deal, Frans] Timmermans, we had a long discussion on climate and energy diplomacy. [We] are very much aware that advancing towards the end of the fossil fuel era [and] that we have to manage the energy transition, to look for a share and fair climate financing. We will need a lot of resources in order to multiply by five the share of the renewable resources - currently, 5% of the energy consumption at global level. It will require foreign investment strategies.

The European Investment Bank is leading the way, with its climate bank plans. I recently presented a paper together with the President of the bank, [Mr Werner Hoyer]. We will discourage all further investments into fossil fuel based energy infrastructure projects in third countries and support initiatives to phase out fossil fuels here at home.

We will engage mainly with Africa. Africa represents today only 2% of the global emissions, due to the low level of energy consumption per capita. This consumption will have to increase. If we want Africans - which they too are growing in numbers - to have the same level of quality of life, they will have to increase their energy consumption and, at the same time, not increase the CO2 emissions. This will require a gigantic effort and we will have to be standing together with our African partners. Climate will be a key part of our African partnership.

Finally – as you see, I used the word “finally” several times, because there was a long list of issues - we [have] touched [upon] our cooperation with the United Kingdom in matters of common foreign, [security] and defence policy. The United Kingdom did not want to negotiate any structured cooperation on these matters, but we are ready to engage with the United Kingdom on major global issues – be it climate change or working together on the global response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Allow me to highlight some Conclusions [adopted today], to put in practice the concept of Maritime Coordinated Presence. For the first time, we have launched a pilot case in the Gulf of Guinea. This is a Maritime Area of high interest for us, where piracy attacks – it is not yet like the Somalian coast, but there cases of kidnappings - attacks to boats and other illegal activities put at risk important commercial routes and the security of the region. It will be a pilot case for our coordinated presence of our maritime assets.

What does it mean? In practice this means that Member States which are already present in the region will share information, awareness, analysis and promote together international cooperation at sea and [partnership with] the coastal countries to address the increasing security challenges in the region.

It has been a long but fruitful meeting in a moment in which the coronavirus [pandemic] is the most important concern for all Member States. The issue of sharing vaccines is on the table, trying to look for a stronger engagement by the Member States.


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Q. Concernant la Russie, lors de leur arrivée plusieurs ministres ont évoqué la question de sanctions après l’arrestation de M. Navalny et de ses partisans. Est-ce que ce débat a eu lieu, est-ce qu’il a été retenu ? Est-ce que les sanctions restent un outil, au cas où à votre retour de Moscou il n’y aurait aucun développement positif de la part de la Russie concernant le sort de M. Navalny et de ses partisans ? Sur la Turquie, lors du sommet en décembre les dirigeants européens ont annoncé la préparation de sanctions, ils ont même annoncé qu’une liste serait préparée au mois de janvier, est ce que cette liste a été finalisée, est-ce qu’elle existe et est-ce que c’est peut-être par opportunité politique que vous avez décidé de ne pas annoncer quoi que ce soit pour profiter de l’instant annoncé par les autorités turques, c’est-à-dire tous les signaux positifs?

About Russia, some Member States raised the question of which would be a good answer to the situation in Russia with respect to Mr Navalny and the people – about 3000 people – arrested. Some raised this question, others not, but there has not been any concrete proposals on the table. The Council is ready to react as required by the circumstances and to take appropriate actions if the circumstances require it, but today there has not been any kind of proposal – and as consequence any kind of decision – about it.

You say that we take decisions by political considerations. I can assure you that everything that we do is based on political consideration, evidently - about Russia, about Turkey, sanctions, no sanctions, all is considered from the point of view of political considerations, it is our job.

[On Turkey] the Council decided and the technical bodies are still working. The list is not ready but it has not been put aside, the work continues.


Q. I would like to ask the High Representative if there is any possibility for you to visit Turkey soon. What is the message that you received from Mr Çavuşoğlu’s visit and his declaration, of course, and what is the message that the European Union sent to the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Turkey?

It was a mutual message, we talked to each other. I was not on [only] a listening mood, neither Minister [Mevlüt] Çavuşoğlu was in a listening mood [only]. We spoke to each other and we reviewed all the issues that have put a lot of trouble in our relations during 2020 and both parties agreed on the need to overcome these difficulties and look for a better way of sharing concerns, working together and having a better neighbourhood.

I am happy to say today that the irritants that had poisoned life during the last summer and autumn, have been stopped. There are no Turkish boats and there are no drilling activities.

We agreed that both parties will keep this momentum and will use it positively in order to try to reach agreements. Today the Turkish-Greek pre-talks will start or have already started and we hope that by the middle of February or the end of February, the first talks about settlement on Cyprus will also [re]start.

My worry is that we have to keep this momentum. All issues that during 2020 were difficult - Cyprus, the delimitation of waters – all this has to be kept calm in order to allow for a good atmosphere.


Q.  If you go to Moscow next week will you demand to see or speak to Mr Navalny? Is there a sort of deadline when you would consider imposing sanctions, when you want to see him released? By example by the time you visit Moscow?

We do not do things this way. I would be very happy to see Mr Navalny. I will try to keep in touch with the Russian civil society – we do that every day at different levels. But this is a visit to the Russian government and I will talk for sure with the Russian government about all these issues and about [Mr] Navalny also, no problem. There is no fixed date, there is no schedule already fixed to [know] what the European Council will do depending on what is happening, but our answer will depend on the development of the situation.


And if the European Council has to talk about the relationship with Russia in March, I think this is a good moment to go and to talk and reach out to the Russian authorities. I do not share the opinion that when things go bad you do not talk. On the contrary, that is the moment in which talking is even more required.


Q. I would like to ask about Brexit and what was discussed about European Union-United Kingdom relations and, specifically, about the potential downgrade of status of the European Union ambassador to the United Kingdom. Was there any discussion about potential retaliation?

For sure Of course the issue was raised and there is a clear view and unity among Member States. It is not a friendly signal, the first one that the United Kingdom has sent to us immediately after leaving the European Union. If things have to continue like this, it is not a good prospect.

We do not ask for something new, we do not ask for a special treatment. The external status of the European Union is recognised by countries and international organisations around the world. We expect the United Kingdom to treat the European Union Delegation accordingly and without delay.

We have 143 Delegations around the world. Without a single exception, all host States have accepted to grant these Delegations and their staff a status equivalent to that of diplomatic missions of States under the Vienna Convention. And the UK is very well aware of that. 143 States around the world, all of them.

Reciprocal treatment based on this Convention is a standard practice between equal partners and we are confident that we can clear this issue with our friends in London in a satisfactory manner. We will give all facilities in order to look for a satisfactory manner, but we will not accept that the United Kingdom will be the only country in the world that does not recognise the Delegation of the European Union as the equivalent of a diplomatic mission.


Q. À propos de ce geste inamical du Royaume-Uni, est-ce que malgré tout vous estimez vous-mêmes ou les Ministres qu’il serait utile de se coordonner, de se concerter avec Londres voir même avec Washington en ce qui concerne une réaction aux derniers évènements en Russie ? Est-ce qu’il est utile que l’Union européenne agisse de concert avec le Royaume-Uni dans cette affaire et avec les États-Unis ou bien est-ce qu’on peut avancer seuls?

Puede avanzar sola, ya es mayor de edad. La Unión Europea es mayor de edad, avanza sola todos los días en todos los frentes. Pero eso no quiere decir que no esté dispuesta a buscar coordinación y cooperación con los países con los que mantenemos relaciones muy especiales, [con los] que pensamos de la misma manera y [con los que] compartimos los mismos sistemas políticos.

We can advance alone but we would be more than happy to coordinate with the UK and the US. With the US we still cannot because the new administration just arrived, it is still not fully working but be sure that we will coordinate much better than in the past.


Link to the video: