Brussels, 12 December 2016
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Thank you very much.
Very briefly because our time is very limited today. I will back in the press room in a while with President [of Colombia, Juan Manuel] Santos who is joining us straight from Oslo and Stockholm after having received the [Nobel] Peace Prize.
So I will just mention the issues we discussed with the ministers today.
First of all, Africa. We have decided all together to increase our engagement with all of Africa on many different strands of work really investing in a partnership that is strategic for us Europeans. And next year, it will be for the European Union, an African year with a summit coming up in November and the G20 German Presidency and the G7 Italian Presidency focusing on Africa. We will make sure that our increased work with the continent, and especially with a focus on youth and women, will be strategically carried out from all of us.
I also updated the ministers on the implementation of Migration Compacts that I will present to the Heads of State and Government on Thursday at the European Council. We have seen positive trends, some first results so I will share the same assessment with the European Council later this week.
We then had a long exchange on Syria where the situation is clearly not positive nor encouraging – to use a euphemism – and we reaffirmed the unity of the European Union on our focus, in particular on the humanitarian track. I said on the last days and I will repeat it here: the European Union is the one that is together with the United Nations delivering and trying to deliver humanitarian aid to Syrians – both inside and around Syria.
Still we do not have access to Eastern Aleppo and we urge those who have the responsibility to guarantee access to Eastern Aleppo to allow the humanitarian aid to the civilians. The protection of civilians is the priority for us. But also the work we are doing with the regional powers and players to try and start a political process. For us, it is still very evident that the military dynamic on the ground will not bring an end to the war; it will not probably defeat Da’esh in itself. We will need to have a political transition, some form of power-sharing in Damascus to put an end to the war and this is the focus of our political work with all the regional players.
I discussed this last week with both [U.S. Secretary of State] John Kerry and [Foreign Minister of Russia] Sergey Lavrov and obviously constantly with Staffan de Mistura [UN Special Envoy for Syria] as our work is to support the UN in this moment. As I said we will continue with the ministers welcoming President Santos in ten minutes from now, so I stop here and I will be back in the press room in a hour or so.
Q. On Syria and the humanitarian initiative, you talked about it as being a test of Russia's willingness to be constructive. Is Russia the main reason why it has not happened? About the unity on Syria, frankly this is not the sense that we have. Were there any calls for sanctions on Russia over the Syrian conflict?
No, we did not discuss at all sanctions and there was no Member State asking for additional work on sanctions.
Second, you find the European Union's unity not only in my word but also in the statements I do on behalf of the European Union. You know very well, knowing from inside the “Brussels bubble” that whenever I do a statement on behalf of the European Union, that has been carefully drafted by all the 28 Member States and we did the last exercise of this kind just a couple of days ago. So, you find our unity every time we speak and more than that every time we act because I just finished at the end of last week the full round of talks with the regional players at ministerial level. I talked with all the ministers of the region, from Lebanon to Saudi Arabia, from Iran to Jordan or Turkey and in that action, in that diplomatic effort, you find the action of the European Union, and all its Member States united.
All my contacts with the regional players, and Russia and the United States and the United Nations are happening on the basis of a mandate I clearly received from Foreign Ministers, Heads of States and Government in the European Council and happening on the basis of a common position we have determined on which we are working, on the basis of which we are working with our partners in the region. So, you find the unity of the Europeans and of the European Union not only in our statements but also in our diplomatic action and also in our humanitarian action.
There is clearly a responsibility that lies first of all in the regime's hands that has the primary responsibility of making it possible for all Syrians to be reached with humanitarian aid.
Indeed, there are places that have not been accessible to humanitarian aid on the ground, especially Eastern Aleppo, but I would like to stress that some two millions people in Syria have gained access to safe water, sanitation. And thanks to our support in Syria and the humanitarian aid the European Union has provided, some 850.000 people have received food, one million people in Syria have received essential items and shelter – still out of our humanitarian work – and 350.000 children have been covered by child protection programmes. So this is just to give numbers of the humanitarian work the European Union has managed to do inside Syria together with our partners, being them international NGOs, UN agencies. You know that the humanitarian aid that the European Union provides is always channelled through actors that are working on the ground.
But indeed, now the priority is the protection of civilians and in particular in Aleppo – not only Aleppo because it is not the only part of the country where the situation is very serious, I would say dramatic. But our work is constant, sometimes not very visible, that is why I believe it would bring some hope and some recognition also for the humanitarian actors if this could be reflected in the media as well, but we will continue because as I said in Rome some ten days ago, the European Union will never, never consider it as an option to abandon civilians. Our priority is to protect civilians everywhere and in particular in these days in Aleppo and in all Syria.
Link to the video (remarks): http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I130770
Link to the video (Q&A): http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I130771