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Brussels, 10 December 2018
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As our time is very short and I understand there is also a press conference following afterwards on the meeting [Accession Conference] with Serbia, I would introduce an innovative approach.
You know the points that were on the agenda, I will recall them. We discussed the Western Balkans and our cooperation there; we discussed the partnership between the European Union and the African Union and our upcoming ministerial [meeting] in January; we discussed the situation in Ukraine including with Foreign Minister [of Ukraine, Pavlo] Klimkin. We had a session on Iran and one on Venezuela.
I would comment on those points when you ask, so we save time and leave more space for your questions.
Q. What was discussion on Iran? Did it move the ball in any direction on future action? Will there be conclusions in January? On Ukraine, Minister [Pavlo] Klimkin said he put four points on the table, various proposals, including some kind of international monitoring in the Sea of Azov. Was there an agreement among the EU to move ahead on any of those? When will we have something new on that, beyond the nine sanctioned Donbas elections people?
There was a consensus among the Member States on the need to keep our overall policy with Iran, starting from the strong interest we all have in keeping in place the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the Iran nuclear deal].
Iran has been compliant with all its nuclear commitments, as the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] has told us again in the 13th report they have issued.
I have met recently both Minister [for Foreign Affairs of Iran, Mohammad Javad] Zarif and Vice-President [of Iran, Ali Akbar] Salehi and conveyed to them the expectation for Iran to continue its full compliance with the agreement [JCPOA], because of security interests, because of nuclear nonproliferation need in the region. The same also goes for our commitment to make sure that the Iranian people benefit from the lifting of sanctions, even after the US decision to re-impose some of these sanctions.
In particular on this point, the E3 [France, Germany, United Kingdom] Ministers debriefed on the state of play of the establishment of the Special Purpose Vehicle. We supported the work they are doing, together with the Finance Ministers of their countries. I would expect this instrument to be established in the coming weeks, so before the end of the year, as a way to protect and promote legitimate business with Iran.
But this is not the only issue we discussed. Our strong support for the full implementation of the JCPOA does not mean that we turn a blind eye on other issues, on the contrary. It is not an impediment for us to express our full support and solidarity to the Member States of the European Union that have seen illicit activities from some sectors in Iran, as it was the case in France and Denmark. This support has been reiterated and work is ongoing as a response.
Most importantly, the full implementation of the JCPOA is also the basis for our regional dialogue with Iran. We have a high level political dialogue, and today we are holding another round of European Union Dialogue - with Iran and with the E4 [France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom] - on regional issues, starting from Yemen on which we have seen some recent positive developments. They have been endorsed by the Iranian Foreign Ministry for the first time ever, expressing support in this direct manner to the work of the United Nations Special Envoy [for Yemen, Martin Griffiths].
This is the result of the dialogue we have put in place with Iran on regional issues, and Iran has used its influence on the Houthis to start discussions in Sweden, under the UN auspices - something we have very much insisted on and supported. We believe that, on the basis of the full and continued implementation of the JCPOA, through dialogue, we could continue to address other issues that are of serious concern for us, including the ballistic missiles, including Syria, including other issues that we want and we are already discussing with Iran.
The full implementation of the JCPOA is not the only thing that is on the table. We continue to invest also in our dialogue to try to solve, or at least move in a positive direction, issues of regional concern that for us are extremely serious.
Q. On Iran, you said you expect the SPV [Special Purpose Vehicle] to be announced in the next few weeks. How is it going to be arranged, where will it be hosted, how will the ownership be structured? Then, the Dutch Foreign Minister [Stef Blok] tweeted that "the EU decided to further develop a blueprint for an EU global human rights sanctions regime." Can you tell us a bit about how the discussion went today and what happens next on that?
I will not share details of the work that is ongoing on the Special Purpose Vehicle. It will be for the E3 [France, Germany, United Kingdom] to announce it at the proper time; they are leading on this. But obviously it will be something on which we are sharing information, not only with our Member States but also looking forward to open it up to third countries that might use it in the future.
Work is advancing well, and I would like to thank both the Foreign Ministers of the E3 countries but also the Finance Ministers and the Heads of State or Government of the E3, because of their constant work and determination to bring this work to a positive end.
When it comes to the Dutch proposal to establish this mechanism, it was raised by the Foreign Minister [of the Netherlands, Stef Blok] today. There was overall a positive reaction; now additional reflection and work at experts level is needed, especially to address the issue of possible overlap with existing regimes that are already in place.
The work will take place at a technical level to see whether this proposal is feasible, if it fits properly with our overall sanction regime system. As you know, we have several frameworks for introducing sanctions, we have to make sure that they do not overlap and they do not contradict each other.
In any case, the political decision for introducing sanctions is always taken at political level by unanimity, and this will not change whatever system we have in place.
Q. On the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue: I guess that all Member States want the dialogue to continue, but there are differences when it comes to the possible outcome of this dialogue, meaning the possible change of borders. What was the message after this debate that you had today on this?
On Bosnia-Herzegovina: Croatia raised the concern about the way how one of the members of the Presidency is elected and they think that not all three ethnic groups are equal there. There was a letter by three former [EU Special] Envoys to Bosnia-Herzegovina written to you, complaining about Croatian interference in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Do you see the interest of one EU Member State regarding a candidate country as an interference in domestic affairs or do you think that this is a legitimate request?
On the [Serbia-Kosovo] dialogue, as you rightly said, there was full support for the dialogue to continue, for the dialogue to come to a positive outcome - and a positive outcome would be a legally binding, comprehensive agreement that would address and solve all issues related to normalisation of relations - all, none excluded.
Having said that, the [Serbia-Kosovo]dialogue does not belong to the European Union nor to the Member States of the European Union. The dialogue is facilitated by me, with the excellent support of the services in the [European] External Action Service, but the dialogue belongs to the two parties. We offer them facilitation, space and advice, but it is up to them to define the agenda, define the speed and the depth of discussions and it is for them to define the outcome of the dialogue. It is definitely not for Member States to say what the outcome should be.
What is relevant for the European Union, and what has been very clear from the very beginning, is that the outcome that we would welcome is an outcome that addresses, in a comprehensive manner, all issues related to normalisation, in a legally binding way, in a manner that respects the principles of international law, of the European Union.
Let me specifically say, this would mean no ethnical divisions among countries. To be even more explicit, this would mean that whatever adjustment the two parties might discuss in the future, it would never lead to ethnically pure countries - sorry to use a disturbing expression, but I think this makes things clear. In any case, there will be a multi-ethnic country on one side and the other. Whatever solution that is and can be mutually agreed by the two sides, it is for them to define, it for them to agree, it is for them to determine; it is for us to facilitate and, obviously, to check whether this is - in case reached, which is not the case yet - in accordance with international law and with the European Union principles.
I am still positive that a legally binding comprehensive agreement on all aspects of normalisation is within reach, but currently there are some difficulties that are quite major ones. I would mention in particular, as I mentioned already publicly before, the fact that the Kosovo government introduced 100% tariffs on goods imported from Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, which definitely goes contrary to the spirit and the letter of cooperation in the region. And obviously, a dialogue takes place in an environment that allows for confidence or at least for respect.
I would expect the government of Kosovo to revoke this decision. The same message was passed by Commissioner [for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes] Hahn during his visit in Pristina recently. But I am still confident that the two sides can fruitfully not only continue the dialogue, but also come to a positive outcome, one that belongs to them and does not belong to any of the European Union Member States nor anybody else in the world.
Bosnia and Herzegovina was a point for our discussion already three weeks ago, in the Foreign Affairs Council. We need to, first of all, encourage political leaders to assume their responsibility to rapidly form governments to take forward the reform agenda. I have seen the unexpected positive steps that Bosnia and Herzegovina has managed to put in place since 2014 to this year; seen in perspective quite remarkable. After the elections it is normal that there is a bit of difficulties. The country has a specific set-up - to use an euphemism - but I am confident that leaders in the country as well as the people in the country can move forward on the reform agenda in a united manner. This is what we wish to see.
We also believe that the election issue in Bosnia and Herzegovina will need to be addressed as soon as possible, finding the right balance - and I understand that this is a diplomatic exercise - between the need to reconcile the country's unique set-up and the European Union standards. I believe and I hope that after the governments are formed and the reform agenda is put again back on track this issue can be addressed in a cooperative manner.
Q. On Venezuela: What about a Contact Group for the crisis in Venezuela? Will the EU recognise a new presidential period of Mr [Nicolas] Maduro [President of Venezuela].
We discussed the situation in Venezuela. In particular, I updated the [Foreign] Ministers on the work we are doing to establish an International Contact Group. I want to stress here again, as I stated already in October and in November, that does not change our policy that is already established on Venezuela, in particular the firm requests and the firm expectations we have in terms of democracy and respect of the constitution of the country, human rights and especially the rights of the political opposition. It would not change our pressure policy in terms of sanctions that have been imposed by the European Union on some of those responsible for violence in the past in the country. The pressure element remains and it is not under discussion.
The point on which we are working is the possibility to establish this International Contact Group for which contacts are ongoing in the region and beyond - in Latin America and further beyond - with a good level of interest from some key players that might be ready to join this Contact Group. We are continuing the work. Member States expressed their willingness to see this continuing, in order to establish this Group as soon as possible. Not to start a mediation, because we do not see at the moment the political conditions for a mediation to take place, but to help create the conditions for starting a political process that at the moment is not there. At the moment, there is no political track, there is no place for political exchanges in any way. Obviously, this would need to be meaningful and with some legitimacy or credibility.
But we, Europeans, believe that the absence of any political track could be a dangerous; in our experience pressure, in particular economic pressure - through targeted sanctions that are not addressing the population, but are targeting individuals in the regime - should always be accompanied with a space for dialogue and engagement, even if a very critical engagement. At the moment, we are working to see if there are the conditions to establish this Group, I am rather positive about that – as I said, not to start the facilitation or mediation - but to see if we can help create the conditions for a political process to start.
When it comes to 10 January, yes, we have agreed on a common line among the European Union Member States. I am convinced that this will be a balanced but also very clear signal to the authorities in the country. As you know, in Europe we normally relate to countries and not to governments or authorities - and the many European Union citizens that live in Venezuela have to continue to benefit from consular support from the embassies of the Member States of the European Union - but we will definitely have a very clear policy when it comes to the inauguration itself that you will see in the coming weeks and our position will continue to be very clearly and commonly expressed when it comes to 10 January.
Q: On Ukraine: Can we expect new measures against Russia following the events in the Kerch Strait, and if so, when? When can we expect measures to support Donbas and the South of Ukraine? On the sanctions that were adopted today against nine separatists for their participation in the so-called elections, the fact that there are no Russians on this list might give the impression that Russia did not play a role in these so-called elections.
As you know, the European Union sanctions are always based on sound legal bases and these are in the hands of the Member States for judgment and also for information. The process that we follow is based on information shared by Member States, an assessment that goes through a very severe legal screening and then a consensus on a political level. This was the process that was done for the additional sanctions we have adopted today, also because we want to make sure that all the sanctions we introduce are legally sound and can resist the test of time.
Let me say on our work with Ukraine and in particular our exchange with Foreign Minister [of Ukraine, Pavlo] Klimkin that I had the pleasure to meet also in Milan on Thursday last week, first of all, this is a political gesture from our side. Having him here today is a way for all of us, as European Union and all the Member States, to reconfirm that we as the European Union continue our support to Ukraine's sovereignty, territorial integrity, and our position on the non-recognition of the illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.
Second, as you know, we reacted to the construction and the partial opening of the Kerch Bridge, again also adding restrictive measures already in July against six entities involved in the construction and also with a clear position on the so-called elections in Donbas last 11 November that we consider illegal and illegitimate and that we will not recognise. Again, as you mentioned, we added the listings of nine individuals just this morning.
When it comes to the events on the 25 November, I met Foreign Minister [of the Russian Federation, Sergey] Lavrov last week in Milan and expressed our clear and joint position of the 28 Member States, in particular expecting Russia to release the captured Ukrainian vessels and crew - I would stress particularly the expectation that the crew is freed without any delay – and for Russia to ensure the unhindered and free passage through the Kerch Strait to and from the Azov Sea, in accordance with international law. These messages were clearly passed, not only by me but by all Member States in these days and weeks in a consistent and united manner.
Third element: We, together with the Member States are looking into concrete additional support measures to assist the regions that are most affected by the limitation of cargo traffic near the Azov Sea. You know that for us the sanctions, the restrictive measures are only one part of the pressure. For us, what counts is the practical support we can give to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. We know that there is a lot of need for support, including in economic terms, but also to the reform agenda of the country.
I will be honored and pleased to host here next Monday the Prime Minister of Ukraine, [Volodymyr] Groysman, with whom I will chair the Association Council between the European Union and Ukraine and there we will discuss our support of the reform agenda of the country in a crucial year.
Coming to the specific support for the region most affected by the limitation of cargo traffic near the Azov Sea, we have discussed with Foreign Minister [Pavlo] Klimkin and with Commissioner [for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negoitations, Johannes] Hahn further projects we can finance and we can support to help the region. In particular, we have a newly launched €50 million programme, but also other instruments, including the work that the European Investment Bank can do in this respect. We have looked at different options, very concrete ones, that we will follow up now at the services levels.
I would like to mention also here that our support to Ukraine has been reconfirmed very recently with the first €500 million macro-financial assistance tranche that was just approved and that will soon be disbursed.
Link to the opening remarks: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I165074
Link to the Q&A: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I165075