Check against delivery!
Thank you. I will be very short, because I debriefed you already this morning twice, before and after the European Union-China Strategic Dialogue with the State Councilor/Foreign Minister [of China, Wang Yi]. China was also the main part of the agenda of the Council today. We had an informal session with the 28 Foreign Ministers and the State Councilor/Foreign Minister [Wang Yi]. We have addressed all the different issues that we have on our common agenda in preparation for the [EU-China] Summit and it resonated very much with the discussions we had this morning and on which we debriefed you already during the morning press point together with Wang Yi.
On top of the point on China, we had with the Foreign Ministers a point on Moldova, following the parliamentary elections that took place on the 24 February. We assessed with the Foreign Ministers the state of play, with full respect of the politics of the country and still with the willingness to support the reform agenda in the country and the rule of law and the democratic perspectives there. We have expressed some concerns and, obviously, agreed that we will keep a close eye on the formation of the government and the programme that the government will put in place. It is not for us of to enter into the discussions about coalitions and formation of the government, but it is indeed for us to stay vigilant on the rule of law situation and most of all the implementation of the [EU-Moldova] Association Agreement agenda with Moldova that is for us a key partner in the Eastern Partnership. And we are looking forward to the 10th anniversary celebrations with our Eastern partners here in May.
We also discussed with the [Foreign] Ministers the situation in Yemen. It is particularly important for us to keep the crisis in Yemen on top of our agenda and on top of the international agenda. As you know, the European Union has supported and pushed for the agreement to be reached in Stockholm last December. We attach a lot of importance to its implementation by all sides. We work constantly together with the UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths to support his work in this direction. And just today we held here in Brussels in parallel to the Foreign Ministers meeting theregional dialogue that we facilitate with Iran - the European Union, France, Germany, Italy and the UK [EU/E4 consultations of regional issues with Iran] - which focused on Yemen. We decided to push for, as I said, the [Stockholm] Agreement to be implemented and the situation on the ground to be improved.
I think I will stop here and leave more space for your questions.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-169254
Q. I have heard that some Member States are not happy with Italy signing the Memorandum of Understanding with China. I also heard that some Member States are not happy with the format 16+1 that takes place with China. Was this part of the discussion today at the Council?
You know you will never hear me commenting on the feelings of one or several Member States on other Member States. I represent all of them equally and this is not out of being politically correct, this is simply to protect them all which is part of my institutional role. What I can tell you clearly is that all Member States - regardless if they belong to the 16+1 [format] or they have signed agreements or memoranda with China - have expressed the strong willingness and attachment to a united European Union position vis-à-vis China. I would say that the best way to represent common feelings and positions among Member States is that - if unity of the European Union is always a plus - vis-à-vis China it is an evident self-interest of EU Member States, because none of them has the size, the impact or the power to negotiate anything with China on an equal footing.
Only together we can aspire to good negotiations, be it on trade issues, on investment issues, on security issues or on issues of common foreign policy concern. There is a lot of convergence among Member States on the need to unite and to be consistent on an agenda with China that represents many opportunities, but also some challenges. I have to say that I was particularly satisfied to see that all Member States in our conversation with the State Councilor/Foreign Minister [Wang Yi] were very consistent, very united in their messages, very open and very coherent with the common European Union position that we have adopted.
Q. We understand that several Member States have voiced concern about the lack of progress in Venezuela. I do not know how you see the situation? Given that the government of [Nicolás] Maduro is still rejecting the possibility to hold presidential elections, is there still any room for manoeuvre from the EU side? Is the International Contact Group still a useful tool? How do you see things going forward?
We had a short update today on the work of the [International] Contact Group in Venezuela during the opening of our Council. I actually referred to the work of the [International] Contact Group as the only game in town, the [International] Contact Group being the only existing political initiative that has, first of all, access to all different stakeholders inside Venezuela, in the region and in the international community. This was also the common feeling of the Member States that praised the work of the [International] Contact Group and even encouraged it to move further in terms of, maybe, opening the way for a formal mediation or facilitation that could take place as we advance with the work of the [International] Contact Group.
We are going to have the next ministerial meeting in Ecuador in a couple of weeks from now, for which several countries in the region are showing interest - countries that are not members of the Group but that want to be closely associated with our work and informed about it. The interest around the work of the [International] Contact Group is growing. This does not mean that we are not worried about the developments, in particular let me say that the situation in Venezuela from the humanitarian perspective is extremely worrying. This is why we have established several channels of communication and cooperation with the relevant UN agencies. I discussed last week with the Under-Secretary General of the United Nations [for Humanitarian Affairs] Mark Lowcock a possibility to establish a strong EU-International Contact Group-UN cooperation to make sure that humanitarian aid reaches the people in need inside and outside Venezuela, and through legitimate channels, without any attempt to politicise the delivery of humanitarian aid.
This will be the first focus of the next ministerial meeting. We have technical missions that are present on the ground in Caracas, in Venezuela. This is also quite exceptional, as the International Contact Group is, at the moment, the only political initiative that has full access, or at least the maximum access to different stakeholders, and that is pursuing constantly and consistently an agenda related to the humanitarian aid, but also to the holding of early presidential elections, obviously in close coordination with our other partners in the international community.
We also discussed the situation in Venezuela with the Foreign Minister of China [Wang Yi]. I did the same with my interlocutors in the UN Security Council last week when I debriefed the UN Security Council in New York, and with our partners in the United States, in the Lima Group, in Canada and other countries in the region. I recently had meetings about Venezuela with the Foreign Ministers of different countries in the region and I can say that the contacts are almost daily. The frustration you sense is related to the situation on the ground but in this absence of movements, the International Contact Group is the only thing that gives some hope that things could develop in a better way. But I have seen even more determination from our Member States to invest in its work, and as I said, also an interest from others to create some connection with the Group itself.
Q. Sur la Chine, vous soulignez la volonté des Etats-membres de convenir d'une position commune. Comment qualifiez-vous l'état des discussions actuellement sur la Communication [conjointe] de la Commission et de vos services sur les dix actions qui sont envisagées et sur cet équilibre dans le triptyque coopération-concurrence-rivalité systémique. Compte tenu de la discussion d'aujourd'hui, pensez-vous que le Conseil européen pourra valider cette orientation et ces 10 actions?
Si je dois tirer les conclusions du Conseil d'aujourd'hui, je dirais que oui. Le Conseil européen a bien sûr ses propres dynamiques et nous verrons jeudi soir. Mais les ministres des affaires étrangères ont aujourd'hui exprimé un soutien total. Je n'ai entendu aucun État membre exprimer des réserves ou critiques envers notre approche qui est encadrée par la Stratégie entre l'Union européenne et la Chine adoptée en 2016, le cadre plus stratégique de la coopération entre l'Union européenne et la Chine dans le cadre 2020 qui sera en place jusqu'à l'année prochaine, et récemment la Communication conjointe adoptée la semaine passée, sur mon initiative avec la Commission.
La Communication conjointe représente un cadre équilibré de coopération et négociations pour certains domaines où la convergence n'est évidente mais peut être développée de façon fructueuse, et d'autres domaines où il y a de la compétition et des rivalités surtout dans le cas du système politique - la référence à un système démocratique, respectant les droits de l'homme et l'Etat de droit appartient à notre culture plutôt qu'à celle de la Chine. Ce mélange des quatre domaines qui donnent le cadre d'une relation très profonde, complexe et fructueuse a été soutenue par tous les États-membres aujourd'hui.
Q. Could you tell us what was discussed about Crimea today?
Today, there was no point on the agenda about Crimea, but I did deliver opening remarks on camera with our common position on the non-recognition of the illegal annexation by Russia of the Crimean peninsula and its consequences. It is a consolidated position of the European Union and all its Member States. As we mark this sad and extremely negative anniversary, we decided to put it on the record. But we discussed the situation in Ukraine several times in recent Council meetings and will continue to do so in future Council meetings. I understand a video was produced by the Council services that represents the entire 28 [Member States] position. No Minister took the floor on this but there was full support for me to do this on behalf of everybody, and I guess some of them might have referred to this in their press statements today. There was a general feeling from all of us that such an anniversary deserved not to be ignored from our side and I simply restated publicly our common position that is well known.
Q. Did you talk about the possibility of mediation in the Venezuelan crisis for the International Contact Group? Is that a step forward? Is China interested in supporting the International Contact Group? Last week the [European] Parliament called for sanctions for Nicaragua. Did you talk about that?
No, we did not talk about this point today.
Venezuela also was not a formal point on the agenda. I just updated the Ministers on the state of play of our work in the International Contact Group. Mediation is not part of the mandate of the [International] Contact Group. The mandate is, as you know, to establish contacts inside the country and outside of the country with all relevant stakeholders, to create the space and the environment for a democratic and peaceful outcome of this crisis and to address the very urgent humanitarian needs of the population.
This is exactly what we are doing, but we have always said if that would bring the situation to a stage where mediation would be imaginable, feasible and useful, we would be more than happy to facilitate a mediation - not taking this as a role for the [International] Contact Group, but it is not a mystery, many other actors and players, starting from the UN Secretary-General [Antonio Guterres] to others, could successfully and usefully play that role, if the conditions are in place. We have always assessed the conditions not to be in place at the moment. The situation is still extremely tense, but again, our purpose is to open up the space for a political, democratic and peaceful outcome of this crisis. If the conditions for mediation will be in place one day, also thanks to our work, that would be a good result but we are not there yet.
With China, we discussed the situation. We clearly have different points of view regarding the holding of early presidential elections, this is not a mystery - but we have, I believe, after having talked with the State Councilor Wang Yi today, some convergences on the need for an outcome to be peaceful, first of all, and for the crisis to find a sort of multilateral outcome. I believe that, in general terms, with China, we do tend to agree on the fact that multilateral setups for addressing regional or international crisis are a good way to address situations. Here I do not want to speak for China, I can only speak for the European Union. I think there are some points of possible convergence to be explored in the future. The need to come out with a peaceful non-violent, non-military outcome of the crisis, that is for sure a point of reference.
Q. One question on an issue that is not on the agenda but since the end of March is approaching. It is on [EUNAVFOR MED, operation] Sophia. What will happen in twelve days? Do you think that this mission will be renewed or will it be the end? Since apparently there are still disagreements between Italy and the other Member States.
This issue was not, as you said, on the agenda. But again it is not a mystery, I have said it repeatedly and publicly, in the absence of an agreement obviously, the Operation will have to be closed. I still hope that an agreement can be found, but I do not see a particular movement in this direction. I simply see things as they are today. If there is no further development in a positive direction as of the end of March, the Operation will end its activities with all the consequences that this would bring with it, unfortunately.
Q. Sur la situation au Yémen, quelle appréciation faites-vous de l'accord de paix qui a été conclu à Stockholm? Quelle est la nature des obstacles qui empêchent la mise en exécution de l'accord de paix?
L'accord de Stockholm est pour nous un accord très important, auquel nous avons beaucoup travaillé avec beaucoup d'autres acteurs internationaux et de la région. C'est un accord fragile mais très important et nous sommes complètement convaincus que la communauté internationale, et bien sûr, l'Union européenne et tous les États membres de l'Union européenne doivent faire tout ce qu'elles peuvent, ensemble avec leurs partenaires dans la région et dans la communauté internationale, pour pousser à une mise en œuvre complète de l'accord.
Ce n'est probablement pas à moi de vous dire quels sont les obstacles pour la mise en œuvre. C'est plutôt une question à poser à l'Envoyé Spécial des Nations Unies [pour le Yémen, Martin Griffiths] et je ne veux pas entrer dans son domaine de responsabilité. Je peux partager avec vous le fait que nous sommes en train de passer différents messages, très clairs, premièrement aux parties du conflit et aux différents acteurs régionaux. Nous sommes aussi en train de passer des messages qui viennent de certains de ces acteurs pour l'Envoyé Spécial des Nations Unies [Martin Griffiths] pour essayer de renforcer et de soutenir le rôle de médiation qu'il a et qui pour nous est essentiel.
Notre soutien aux Nations Unies est toujours fait en sorte que nous ne nous substituons pas à leur travail mais nous essayons de les soutenir et cela est exactement ce que nous sommes en train de faire, nous ouvrons des pistes de communication, nous essayons de faire pression ou d'encourager les différents parties et les acteurs régionaux, et encore une fois ce ne est pas à moi d'indiquer quels sont les obstacles. J'ai surtout l'impression que de toutes les crises régionales que nous avons maintenant, la crise au Yémen est peut-être, sur le papier, la plus facile à résoudre. Je pense qu'il faut beaucoup de courage, de confiance, de construction de la confiance et beaucoup de volonté politique pour sortir de cette crise mais ce n'est pas impossible à faire.
Link to the Q&A: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-169255