European Union External Action

Questions and answers following joint press conference after the 4th EU-League of Arab States Ministerial Meeting

Cairo, 20/12/2016 - 19:50, UNIQUE ID: 161220_11

Questions and answers following the joint press conference after the 4th EU-League of Arab States Ministerial Meeting, by the High Representative / Vice-President Federica Mogherini alongside Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Secretary General of the LAS and H.E. Khemaies Jhinaoui, Foreign Minister of Tunisia

20 December 2016

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 Q. What are we expecting from this fourth meeting? What kind of strategic partnerships are you initiating with the Arabs or what should we be expecting from the European Union at this particular stage that we are all threatened with?

HR/VP. Thank you for the question. As my colleague and friend was saying, we decided today to enter into a new phase of our partnership. It is not a partnership between two regions because we share the same region; it is a partnership between the European Union and the League of Arab States because we understand that we have to face the same challenges and threats and the dramatic events of the last week – with attacks, terrorist attacks here in Cairo, in Jordan, in Germany, the brutal assassination yesterday of the Russian Ambassador in Ankara even if that is not part of our two organisations - tell us that in the region we face exactly the same threats and the same challenges and that the only effective solution to the challenges we are facing can come from an effective cooperation between us.

But also we have a positive agenda to develop because we have our youth to take care of, on both sides of the Mediterranean, we have a common interest in job creation, in creating opportunities for education and equal participation in the society. So what you can expect from the future is an intensified political dialogue among us, the idea of having a summit among our Heads of State and Governments is clearly a sign of upgrading the level of our political cooperation, more sectorial cooperation on specific projects and specific issues. We already do a lot together but this can go through the channels of the League of Arab States and the European Union respectively, so empowering the organisations more, and more coordinated work and positions on the many crises we are facing in the region.

We discussed today mainly our common approach to the Syrian crisis for instance, our common work on Libya or on Yemen or on the-Israeli Palestinian conflict. On all these issues, the Arabs and the Europeans share an interest in solving crises, share most of the time a common approach, I would say a common wisdom and knowledge that comes from the fact that we share the same geography and we understand the mentality and the dynamics of conflicts better. 

So, we decided to upgrade the level of cooperation, the level of political talks to have common actions, coordinated actions, but also, as I said, investing in the positive agenda and this means mainly economic cooperation and cooperation on all different sectors, from transportation to migration, all sectors where we can have intensified cooperation between the League of Arab States and the European Union. We are neighbours, we have known each other for thousands of years, we cooperate a lot bilaterally, single Member States and single Member States, the European Union is doing a lot already with each and every of the countries of the League of Arab States. Just today, with Jordan, we concluded partnership priorities and a compact for instance but this is just one example, we could continue. This is the decision today to intensify and bring to a new phase the cooperation between the League of Arab States and the European Union as such. Thank you. 

 Q. What could the League of Arab States and the European Union do to stabilise Libya? And about the German proposal to send back the migrants to Egypt: have the EU discussed the proposal, does the EU support it or not?

HR/VP. On Libya, I am afraid that the limited time we have will not allow me to go very much into the details, but you will find in the Declaration that we just adopted our common view on our common work on Libya supporting a country that has to find its unity. We can, in the region and through the cooperation between the European Union and the League of Arab States, facilitate and provide the space for the Libyans to find a way of working together, bridging the divergences and the gaps inside the country. Libya is a rich country, that does not need external financial help, but needs for sure to find its way to unity, especially to face the threat of terrorism, which is not something that is made in Libya, but comes from the outside. So the need for unity is something that we all share; facilitating this unity among the Libyan actors is something that can be helped and facilitated by our common work among the League of the Arab States and the European Union. We have been discussing this I do not know how many times together with the neighbouring countries. We consider the European Union as one of the neighbours of Libya and indeed we are.

For what concerns migration: we have not discussed any particular country-specific situation. We have touched upon the need to cooperate on many different issues including migration. Our approach in the European Union is a partnership approach, which means that we have an interest - as we have done with many of the countries in the League of the Arab States bilaterally - to sit down together and see how we can first of all save lives, protect the human rights of the migrants. We see too many people dying still in the Mediterranean. We see also too many people still dying in the desert. This is why we have a duty, a responsibility. If I can paraphrase: the responsibility to protect; the responsibility to protect the lives of the migrants and this means also fighting and dismantling the traffickers’ networks; this means also managing in a sustainable manner regular channels of migration and discouraging and stopping irregular migration. First of all for the sake of the living conditions of the migrants themselves who are most of the time experiencing slavery systems in the traffickers' networks. So there has not been a specific debate today about the situation of specific countries but an overall intention and I believe you will find it reflected also in our common Declaration to work more on this together as we want to work more on everything, but in a sense of partnership; understanding how to manage together a phenomenon that is complex and requires our cooperation because we have a shared responsibility, as I said, first of all from the humanitarian point of view.

 Q. You have provided all support for fighting Da’esh in Sirte. Why didn't you provide support too to the Libyan military forces under Haftar? Don't you believe that there is some sort of exaggeration with respect to the Sophia’s operations in the Mediterranean to fight irregular migration? These migrants are fragile and are in need of help and they escape war and destruction in Europe. Don't you believe that you need strict confrontation with respect to these operations? Thank you.

HR/VP. Let me be very serious on the issue of Operation Sophia. Because I heard too many stories, in Lampedusa and elsewhere in the South of Italy, of women raped, people coming in chains from Libya to Europe and before entering Libya across the desert. This is why I am proud to be the High Representative of the European Union that has started a European Union operation at sea to save lives. Where two years ago we did not have a European presence to save lives, today we have and together all Member States are contributing to save lives at sea. This is something to be proud of, not something to be ashamed of. Having said that, I believe we have a common responsibility. Europeans and Arabs; Europeans and Libyans. And I would add for the South, Europeans, Arabs and Africans to avoid these human tragedies. We can only do one part of the work at sea, most of the job has to be done at land and for this we need cooperation.

The work that Operation Sophia is doing is to dismantle the traffickers' networks. We are talking about criminal organisations, we are talking about organisations that are making money out of the desperation of people, in some cases women and children, in some cases children that are still to be born. You know why Operation Sophia is named Sophia, because one of the ships hosted a mother who gave birth to a baby who was named Sophia. And out of the name of the baby, we called the operation to give this sign of hope and attention for life. But we do not have to be naïve: the smugglers are making money out of the desperation of people. We have a joint responsibility in informing first of all the migrants of what they are going to face, dismantling the traffickers' networks and we can do this together.

In parallel to that, we take our responsibility working on regular channels of migration, but we have the responsibility to clearly tell our African brothers and sisters that going through the smugglers' networks is dangerous, can cost their lives, can cost the lives of their children, even of the children who are not born yet, and that we have to stop this humanitarian tragedy of our times. So this is why it is a common work we are doing with the Libyan authorities - now Operation Sophia is also training the Libyan coast guards - because we want the Libyan authorities to take control of this flow and to try and dismantle the criminal organisations that are making money out of it.

We are not as the European Union providing military support inside Libya. We are working in a limited manner on security sector reform but as you might know, - otherwise we can provide you the information - we are not a military player on the ground.

Q. How do you explain the fact that there was a lower level of representation at today's meeting, does that mean there is less interest in the the meeting ?

HR/VP. I perfectly agree ( [with the League of Arab State Secretary General, H.E. Ahmed Aboul Gheit] and I would only add that out of the 28 EU Member States, 22 were represented by Foreign Ministers or deputy Foreign Ministers. Sometimes not even in our internal meetings this happens. Normally it does but it can happen that you do not have the political representation for all the time and always. So, to my experience this is one of the meetings that has been more successful both in terms of political participation, input and the constructiveness, so I would like to thank the Secretary General [of the LAS, H.E. Ahmed Aboul Gheit] and the Tunisian Presidency for the excellent cooperation and, if I can, also our respective teams that have done a tremendous work. This is also a good basis for continuing the work on implementation. I share the views of the Secretary General.