Stockholm, 10 October 2016
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Thank you very much Margot [Wallström, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden]. I will make it very short. Just to say that I am very pleased, not only to be here in Stockholm but also of our daily common work.
You said it yourself: Sweden is not only an active and loyal member of the European Union, but one of the most active ones. Let me start by saying that not only working with you personally, with the Prime Minister [Stefan Löfven], with the Defence Minister [Peter Hultqvist], with all the colleagues is a pleasure, it will also be a pleasure and a very important common work as Sweden will take its seat in the UN Security Council next January. You have a clear multilateral approach and you have shown this very clearly in helping us shaping the European Union’s Global Strategy.
Our discussions today were focused on the implementation of the Global Strategy that we have just started, together with all the Member States, and this is one of the reasons why I am making my visit here today to discuss not only with the government but also with the Parliament and with the Foreign and Security Policy Community here in Sweden about how to move on the implementation of our new foreign and security policy in the European Union.
We also discussed at length, as you said, the situation in Syria, preparing our next Foreign Affairs Council on Monday and obviously the European Council just a few days afterwards.
I also had the chance of discussing with the Prime Minister the state of play of implementation of our policies on migration, the external part of it, the Migration Compacts - which are in their implementation phase and maybe I will stop here and allow for questions. I am sure they will cover, help us cover the main issues we discussed.
Q. On the state of play of the migration agreement with Turkey.
A. As far as we see it, it is working. I was myself in Ankara in the beginning of September, to discuss not only this but also all a wide range of issues we have with Turkey. Our relations with Turkey do not limit themselves to the issue of refugees and migrants. We also discussed plenty of other things, including the situation in Syria and the Cyprus settlement issue. But as far as the agreement is concerned, for the moment it is holding, it is working. For us it is essential, and I would like to stress it here - as I stress it also always when I am in Ankara - that this is implemented in full respect of international laws, human rights’ rules and standards of the European Union, of the international organisations. This is for us essential, and this is why we are working to implement this agreement, together with the UN agencies, especially the UNHCR and others.
Q. On the suspended talks between the US and Russia – what can the EU do - and on Aleppo and the humanitarian crisis there.
A. Let me start with the last one first. Because of the situation in Aleppo – and not only in Aleppo, all over Syria - after a conflict that has gone on for far too long, any conflict is even one day far too long but in this case we are really looking at a dramatic situation there, the European Union has put forward a proposal, an urgency proposal on the humanitarian side of the situation. We worked in this last week with UN agencies and international NGOs to bring medical aid inside East Aleppo and allow medical evacuation of the wounded in East Aleppo. I have talked about this not only with the UN Secretary General, also with another half-compatriot we share, Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy, but also have talked about that with Sergey Lavrov and with Javad Zarif, the Foreign Ministers of Russia and Iran, to see if, on the ground, we can allow at least some humanitarian relief in Aleppo.
Obviously the European position is very clear, we would need a cessation of hostilities, we would need an unhindered humanitarian access all over Syria. We never accept humanitarian access to be conditioned to political or military evaluations but with the images and the stories we hear from Aleppo first and foremost we have to act to bring humanitarian assistance in. So I still hope that, even in the current stalemate from the political and the military point of views, some common ground in the international community to allow some humanitarian relief in Aleppo and around Aleppo will be possible.
The words of Jan Eliasson [Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations], well you have a very wise compatriot, probably he was foreseeing already that the Security Council would have faced some difficulties as it has indeed experienced over the weekend in finding a common ground. To me, it has been very sad to see the Security Council in such a stalemate and especially Russia using its veto on a resolution that was backed by so many members of the UN. It is indeed extremely important that we preserve the political space for dialogue and diplomacy.
The European Union has been from the very beginning last year very supportive of the creation of the International Support Group for Syria, exactly because when we say that there is only a political solution to the crisis in Syria we mean it. And if you mean that there is only a political solution, you have to create the political space for talks. This requires good will, from all sides, and there are plenty of question marks about that in these days. But that also requires patience, I would say even stubbornness and the European Union has proved to be resilient in this respect. We are working to prepare, as you remembered, the Foreign Affairs Council when I will discuss with the Foreign Ministers some options that the European Union is studying, I will not anticipate that today, to try to facilitate that political space to be preserved.
Because the worse political thing that can happen now is that the political space for a political solution closes definitively and the voice is only the one of the arms. This is something we cannot allow. I believe that this is the same approach that the EU and for sure the United Nations share, and the EU is ready to do its part on the diplomatic and political and channel as well, as I said, on the humanitarian one that is, in these hours, the most urgent one.
Q. On Turkey visa liberalisation and on a possible similar deal with Libya.
A. No, Libya is in a completely different situation than Turkey. In Libya we have a security situation that is far from normal and the work we are doing with Libya in this moment is, first of all, to try and support the institutions building, the state building I would say, in a country that is still very much divided. We are trying to support with all different means Prime Minister al-Sarraj and also the unity of the country around the institutions that can be recognised by all the Libyans – this is the priority number one. On the number of migrants and refugees who are already in Libya, we are working with the IOM and the UNHCR to make sure that living conditions and human rights are properly respected which indeed is a matter of deep concern for us. As you know, we have a military operation in the Mediterranean Sea, Operation Sophia, that is working as dismantling the networks of smugglers of migrants but also saving people at sea. So, no similar deal with Libya for sure.
When it comes to the visa liberalisation, the European Commission has determined a certain number of criteria, benchmarks. It has always been a merit-based process, as it is always for every country that negotiates visa liberalisation regime with the European Union. It is up to the Turkish authorities to see if, when and how they would be ready to work to implement or meet these benchmarks. The benchmarks are there and are not going to change so now we are in this process of discussion with the Turkish authorities. Obviously the situation is not operating in a vacuum in the sense that Turkey has faced a deep shock in the middle of July with the attempted coup, so obviously also on their side things require more time and more reflexion when it comes to, especially, the need to change the anti-terrorism law. But again, the process is ongoing, talks are constructive for the moment, but the criteria will not be changed so the European citizens can be assured, and the Member States in the Council also, that criteria will not be modified and we have to make sure that they are all met before we go towards visa liberalisation. But you have a former Commissioner who also knows a lot!
Link to the video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I127412