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As you know, we had a very long day today and intense Foreign Affairs Council where we had four main points on our agenda.
First of all, the situation in Ukraine where we restated, with all the Ministers, the strong support of the European Union to the full implementation of the Minsk agreements; our willingness to accompany and support even more the work of our colleagues in the Normandy format and the work of the OSCE, especially on the ground - we discussed this also with the Austrian Chairmanship-in-Office of the OSCE. And, at the same time, we focused our discussion on the European Union's support to the reform agenda of the country, in particular the efforts that the Prime Minister [Volodymyr Groysman], the President [Petro Poroshenko] and the government are putting into reforming the country when it comes to the social and economic measures and anti-corruption, which for us is key.
The European Union will continue to support Ukraine with a special focus on the delivery of services to the population and trying to make sure that the conditions in the country improve for the people. And, obviously, this requires also a better security situation, and the situation in the east in the last days was definitively extremely worrying for us. So when we refer to the full implementation of the Minsk agreements, we obviously restate our expectation that the fighting stops there and that a process of peace can be started effectively.
The second point we had on the agenda today was the situation in Libya. I would start by saying that the focus that we had today was mainly on the political, the security and the economic situation in the country. We obviously also followed-up on the Malta Summit, where I was last Friday presenting to the Heads of State or Government some proposals on our work to manage the migration through the Central Mediterranean route.
But today the message that comes out of the Foreign Affairs Council is that our work with Libya, for Libyans and with Libyans mainly is going much beyond the issue of migration and the main focus is our political work. First of all, to guarantee inclusiveness, to support the Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan Political Agreement; the delivery of services to the Libyans starting with health and social measures.
We have, as you know, a package of concrete support that the European Union is putting in place in partnership not only with the Government of National Accord but also with the municipalities and we are continuing in this respect all over the territory of Libya – West, East and South. And for us this is going to be very important. This is something that we decided clearly with the Ministers today - I think you will have or you have already the Council conclusions we adopted today. We decided today to engage much more not only with the Libyan interlocutors on the ground, but also with the regional actors, supporting the Tunisian efforts to bring together the regional actors and the neighbours, namely Egypt and Algeria.
But we also decided today to respond positively to the invitation that we have received, the European Union has received, to join the African Union, the League of Arab States and the United Nations, transforming in this way the Troika into a Quartet to try to accompany a process that has to see the political transition in Libya coming to a positive moment and this requires a full positive Libyan ownership.
As I said, and you will find it in the Council conclusions that you will have the opportunity to read, there is a strong support to the Government of National Accord and the Libyan Political Agreement but there is also readiness to accompany changes if the Libyans see the need for that and how, it will be up to them to define. I had already the chance to state in the recent days that it is not for the Europeans or for the international community to decide on the government, or the governance, on the people that will run the country. What we can clearly say is that we recognise the international legitimacy as backed in the UN Security Council resolutions and obviously we see that there is no way in which a military solution can rule and unite a country after so much suffering.
So the European Union is at the disposal of the Libyans to accompany them on the way they choose to try and improve the living conditions of the county, to restore security and make sure that Libya – which is a rich country that does not need naturally economical or financial support - can benefit from its own resources, going directly to the Libyan people.
As a follow-up to the Malta Declaration, obviously the Ministers focused also on the work we will do on the external side of our work on migration in the Central Mediterranean route, aspects related to our work with Libya, and I would like to mention here only three points that I stressed also in Malta and on which Ministers today agreed very much. One is to continue our work with the Southern neighbours of Libya to control better the Libyan Southern border and namely to facilitate meetings between Libya, Niger and Chad. I am convinced that the African Union can play a significant role, also seeing who has become the new President of the African Union Commission, former Foreign Minister of Chad [Moussa Faki Mahamat], this work will for sure benefit from his presence in Addis Ababa.
Second, the work inside Libya and here we agreed with the Ministers to increase our work and our partnership with the IOM and the UNHCR, including financing. The European Union is already financing a project of the IOM to assist migrants in the camps. Living conditions in the camps are awful and our main concern is to try and facilitate the work of the UN agencies, IOM and UNHCR to support the stranded migrants and assist them along the route and at sea, we decided to strengthen the work we are doing with Operation Sophia, training the Libyan coastguards and navy, including training on human rights and women's rights, because we see that people who are dying now are not anymore in international waters but in Libyan waters. This is a Libyan responsibility, not a European responsibility, but we can help in saving lives and trying to make this not happen again.
In this respect, I am proud that on Wednesday, the day after tomorrow, I will be able to be on the flagship of Operation Sophia, off the coast of Malta to hand over together with the Maltese presidency, with the Maltese Prime Minister, the diplomas to the first group of Libyan coastguards, trained with Operation Sophia. The second group of trainees has started already the training, so we are now at the second slot of training and I think this will enable the Libyans and the Libyan authorities, to control the sovereignty of their country, including their territorial waters, in a more effective manner.
All of this, and in particular of the European Union's support to Libya, both from a social, economic, security and political perspective, I have discussed this last week with Prime Minister of [Libya Fayez Al] Sarraj and with the UN Special Envoy Martin Kobler, whom I would like to thank for the incredible work he is doing and obviously we will continue to work together with them.
The third point we had on our agenda today was our relations with Egypt, where we agreed with the Ministers on increasing our engagement with the country that is a key regional player, with whom we will work along four lines.
One is to help Egypt face the economic and social challenges. It is a country of 94 million people, half of which are below the age of 25, with a youth unemployment rate around 30%. It is our clear interest to support the economic reforms but also the growth and the jobs creation in the country. So economic cooperation, including measures to protect the most vulnerable, which means social measures and measures to achieve an inclusive economic growth, are and will continue to be at the centre of our cooperation with Egypt. So, first the economic cooperation.
Second, the work on the political track; democracy, human rights, rule of law, the work for an open society are all at the centre of our exchanges with the Egyptian authorities. This will continue to be the case as we increase cooperation with the country and you know that this is particularly important for the European Union.
Third element, we decided to increase our cooperation with Egypt on some sectorial files that are particularly important for both of us.
I just mentioned two examples but we could have many others. One is cooperation on counterterrorism that is starting and we want to intensify and the second is work on migration where we have in principle an agreement to set up a formal migration dialogue between the European Union and Egypt.
Finally, but for me this is the most important point of all maybe, it is to increase our work which is already ongoing on the regional issues. I just spoke about Libya, I will say in a minute a few words about the Middle East Peace Process. Egypt is a key country when it comes to different regional dynamics, it is a key country when it comes to the Arab world, and it is a country with whom we want to work also to try and find solutions being it for an inclusive and effective government in Libya, being it for two States in Israel and Palestine.
This is also why we decided to invite Minister [of Foreign Affairs of Egypt Sameh] Shoukry at the next Foreign Affairs Council and I am quite optimistic on the fact that he can accept our invitation, hopefully the date will be convenient but I guess so.
Last but not least, we had a point on the Middle East Peace Process. As you noticed this issue is very often on our agenda, almost every month. I think this is in itself a relevant thing to do, in a time when we see quite some changes in the consolidated policies of the international community. What does not change is the EU position on the two States, on the settlements, on Jerusalem, and it is useful for the European Union to restate its willingness to work with the international community, within the Quartet, with our friends in the United States, in the UN and in Moscow, with our Arab friends and interlocutors, starting from Egypt but also with Jordan, or the League of Arab States, or Saudi Arabia, to find the way to get to the two States.
I know that this is not the message you will hear most often around the world now but you will continue to hear that consistently from Europe. And this is something that unites all Europeans. I will discuss this, among other things, with our interlocutors in Washington later this week, but also here in Europe the following week for some visits we are expecting also in Brussels.
As you might know, Vice-President [of the United States Mike] Pence is coming to pay a visit to the European Union's institutions on the 20th if I am not wrong. But before that I will travel to Washington later this week and we will have at the margins of the G20 in Bonn and also at the Munich Security Conference and at the NATO defence ministerial other rounds of meetings so we will have in the next twenty days intense exchanges with our counterparts of the US administration on the Middle East and also on other issues including those that we discussed today with the Foreign Ministers.
On the Middle East Peace Process I can also share with you that we decided not only to engage with the United States in this new era, seeing where we have common ground to work together through the Quartet, but also that we decided to start the preparations for an Association Council with Israel, so that work will start. That is going to be a good opportunity, a good tool, to exchange views and hopefully also find common grounds with one of the two parties. We constantly keep our engagement with the two sides, very intense, at all different levels, from Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers and including civil society, that will continue.
I will stop here. I hope I did not forget anything; otherwise I count on your questions. Thank you.
Link to the video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I132970
Q. What exactly would be discussed at a EU-Israel Association Council meeting? Are you concerned at the intensification of the settlements policy that we have seen in the very recent times?
I think that the European Union released the clearest statement when it comes to the expansion of settlements or rather the announcement last 1 February to build further settlement units. You will always hear very clear words from the European Union on this. This is based on our legal assessment: we consider settlements illegal from an international point of view and we consider that they do not help at all, on the contrary they make it more difficult to achieve a two-State solution that is the outcome that the Israeli government still refers to as the end game of negotiations. So we believe that no unilateral step should be taken that could endanger the results of a direct negotiation aiming at a two-State solution. This is a very clear position that the European Union has, continues to have and will continue to have.
When it comes to the Association Council, we decided today to start preparing the Association Council so the exact content and scope of this will be discussed now and decided at 28 by unanimity. And normally what I can share with you is that the Association Council is the institutional moment when the two parties, the European Union with Member States, all of them, on one side and the partner, exchange on first of all bilateral issues. We have a lot of files on which we work bilaterally with Israel, including some issues that are relevant to the Israeli society and also to the European society. And also some of the regional and foreign policy issues and for sure this will be also part of our discussions. I would like to stress the fact that the Association Council is, yes, the formal moment when this takes place and preparations start now, but contacts and exchanges and work continue to be constant both with Palestinian and the Israeli side. I had meetings with relevant ministers, I think exactly two weeks ago in Barcelona at the margins of the Union for the Mediterranean, and constant telephone contacts and meetings so this will continue. It is a regular work that we will carry on with both parties.
Q. Very often we have been told that the European Union is dealing with the relevant authorities on the ground in Libya and the western part of Libya - Haftar – is controlling wide area liberated from Da’esh and other terrorist groups. Why the European Union is not even mentioning on the communiqué of today and allow me a second question that European Union does not like walls, of course, but when it comes to the African migrants, the European Union is building for them – or encouraging for them - camps in a very unsafe country as Mr Sigmar Gabriel [Vice-Chancellor and Foreign Minister of Germany] said this morning.
I would like to thank you, especially for this second question. On the first one, I have no problem in answering it very quickly. I can mention [Khalifa] Haftar obviously but when you see in the communiqué and you hear in my words, our support to the regional and international efforts, including the one that Tunisia is bringing forward, is exactly to facilitate a dialogue between Prime Minister [Fayez] al-Sarraj and General [Khalifa] Haftar. This is a work we support; we see the need for all players in Libya to try and find their common ground to unite the country. We recognise the Government of National Accord as we recognise the legitimacy that comes from the UN Security Council resolutions. This is the basis of our international work always. But we encourage dialogue; we encourage engagement and we encourage coming together and here again the European Union is not there to dictate, or impose or indicate even solutions that are only up to the Libyans to define. But we will always be at the side of the Libyans and of the regional players to accompany any efforts to unite the country and to unite the players that can unite the country.
When it comes to migration, I thank you very much for the question, because it provides me with the opportunity to clarify very clearly – sorry for using the term twice - of what we are doing and the intentions and also the results that we are looking for in our work. We have a situation in this moment; when we managed to save 32 000 people only last year in the international waters off the coast of Libya and this is together with the dismantling of the traffickers’ networks, our primary objective: saving lives, protecting lives and dismantling the traffickers’ networks. It is mostly in Libyan territorial waters that last year alone 4500 people died. Libyan territorial waters are not where the Operation Sophia, or the European Union, or an international presence can operate. This is a responsibility of the Libyans, otherwise it would be violation of sovereignty and we know how much it is important and relevant that sovereignty is exercised by the Libyans themselves.
This is why we are working so much in helping the Libyan Coast Guards and Navy and we hope that we manage to be even more outreaching in terms of scope that we manage to cover, but again we already have the second group that has started the training, in order to allow them to take control of their territorial waters and of their coast, in order to do exactly the same things we do in the international waters. First, to save lives and second, to dismantle the traffickers’ networks. This at sea, but we are also doing, as you know very well because I have repeated it several times here, work South of Libya with the IOM. We are financing the presence in Agadez to support, assist and advise and in some cases save stranded migrants that cross the desert before they get to Libya, because we know very well that the security situation and the human rights situation in Libya is awful and so we try to assist the migrants before they get to the Libyan border and you know that the results, if I am not wrong, are of registering a drop from 76 000 roughly of migrants passing through Agadez in last May to 11 000 last November or December. This means that assistance in the desert is starting to pay off.
But then we cannot ignore - and exactly because we care about human rights - ignore the fact that there are migrants inside Libya already. We are not bringing migrants into Libya; on the contrary we are trying to prevent smugglers to bring migrants into Libya or to exploit their desperation. But we cannot close our eyes in front of the fact that there are migrants at this moment trapped in these detention camps in Libya. How do we want to face this situation? How does the international community want to react to that? Do we have the courage to face this? And what is the answer to that? Now, the European Union has identified one way to manage this situation and save the people who are now in the camps; now, today as we speak, women, children. I heard those stories. The only way is to let the IOM, the UNHCR into the camps. This requires the cooperation of the Libyan authorities, the government, the municipalities, hopefully others, the cooperation of the Libyans, it needs some security, which is probably one of the most difficult things to fix and needs financial support.
We are trying to work on all these three things and more than anything else we are working together with the IOM and the UNHCR and the Libyans to try to solve or at least to tackle the dramatic humanitarian condition of the migrants inside Libya. If you don’t do it, what will be their destiny? It will not disappear simply because you refuse to look at it. So, sure, it is a difficult situation, we are taking responsibility for something that is happening not in our territory, but we cannot see these people either dying or living this way without doing anything. This is the work we are doing and we are going to do: trying to bring the UN agencies to do the work that they can do with the proper human rights standards, with the proper international standards in camps that today have no, or almost no, international access or international control. It is going to be a big effort. To me it is a little bit of a paradox that while we try to improve the living conditions, to save lives and to solve a problem that again is not happening in the European Union waters or international waters, or European territory – that you have to ask to another Commissioner - but it is something happening in another sovereign country. We are trying to help because we cannot stand seeing the situation, the human rights situation as it is.
Q. German politicians discussed today a lot about the reception facilities for migrants in Northern African countries but not Libya, was this discussed and do you find it feasible? If IOM and UNHCR go into the camps in Libya would that be then provide a safe and legal way to the EU ?
We did not discuss the presence of camps in other countries in North Africa. My advice would be to be very careful with that, because our effort is to stabilise and strengthen the resilience of countries around Libya, starting from Tunisia, and we need to take care of their fragile, still, economic and social situation, not to mention the security situation. But we did not discuss that. It was not an option that came to the table in our conversation today, nor in the Malta Summit on Friday, nor in the preparation of our works.
On the second question, for sure, when the UNHCR manages to operate in the centres and then identifies someone as someone in need and having the right to international protection, then the UNHCR starts a resettlement programme and those persons are resettled, be it in Europe, be it in Canada or in the United States – that I do not know - or elsewhere in the world. But again, here, it is more for the UNHCR to answer. Our way, and I would like this to be very clear, is managing the flows, it is not the wall, it is not keeping people out, it is a different way, it is a European way of managing something that is extremely complicated to manage, putting human lives, human rights and the fight against the criminal organisations first.
And this goes together with a partnership and the cooperation with the countries: countries of origins, countries of transit, and strong partnership and cooperation with UNHCR, IOM and UN system. So it is a completely opposite manner than others that you are seeing around these days.
Q. On Russia's role in the Mediterranean – threat or chance to stabilise Libya? On Egypt : is there a migration compact in the pipeline ?
No, on this question no, clearly not. We have with Egypt partnership priorities discussed. Egypt is one of the countries that fall under the neighbourhood policy instrument we have, sorry this becomes a bit technical but you are from the "Brussels' bubble" by definition so you know what I am referring to, so what we have with Egypt is the effort, the common effort to establish a dialogue that is quite specific but that has instruments that are within the frame of our bilateral relationship which is that of a neighbouring country.
And on Russia I discussed this not only with the Ministers today but most of all with [Foreign Minister of Russia, Sergey] Lavrov on Friday. We discussed mainly about, as I said, Ukraine, Libya, but also Syria that was not on the agenda today. These were the three main issues we discussed. And both on Libya and Syria, we decided to find ways to join efforts and cooperate. We will discuss more at length and in-depth - I believe next week we will have a bilateral meeting - to try to facilitate, as I said, [Khalifa] Haftar and [Prime Minister of Libya Fayez al-]Sarraj coming together. We have a clear point of view, as you know. We fully support the work of Prime Minister Sarraj and the Presidency Council but again we are ready to accompany any process wanted by the Libyans and on the basis of the Libyan Political Agreement and on the basis of the international legitimacy enshrined in the UN system, that could help uniting the country. And if we can work together with the Russians in that respect that can only be a positive thing but we will have to see if and to what extend this could be possible.
Q. Do you already know who and when you are going to meet in Washington later this week? What it will be the main messages that you will convey to them apart from the two-State solution and probably the location of the embassies in Israel.
The location of our embassy is not going to change so I have nothing to report on that.
I think the programme is still in the making. I am going to have meetings for sure in the Congress, the White House and we are finalising the others. But I am sure that my team can share tonight, or tomorrow the information on the meetings that I am going to have, which I don’t have in mind now. But in any case I am meeting General Flynn, [White House Advisor, Jared] Kushner, and several Senators and Congressman, and we are in the making of arranging meetings with [U.S. Secretary of State, Rex] Tillerson and [US Defence Secretary, James] Mattis, either in Washington or in Europe depending on the time management. But as I told you, we have now two weeks and a half: my visit now to Washington will be the first round of visits - not complete; then a second round of meetings in Brussels, Bonn, Munich next week, and then a third element of the visit of Vice-President [Mike] Pence here in Brussels to the European institutions and NATO. So in the next two weeks, I will have a complete round of meetings with my U.S. interlocutors.
And my main message – more than a message, it will be a dialogue hopefully – will be to define common ground, on which files we want to cooperate strongly together; on other files there might be divergences, so I would expect that we would go on the whole list of files and see, on our side, on the basis of the clear EU positions, where our interests and views converge; in what way we can work together, and especially on the things on which for the European Union it is a priority that the international community manages to work together: an efficient UN system, implementation of the climate change agreement, the Middle East, Syria, Libya, Ukraine and I could continue with a few others. So we will have a full range of issues to discuss, but I am particularly happy – I have to tell you – that some of our meetings will take place in Washington, some others will take place in Europe and in Brussels and I particularly value the visit of Vice-President [Mike] Pence to the European institutions. I think this is a very important political sign as well.
Link to the video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I132972