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First of all, let me thank all our colleagues from both, the League of Arab States and the European Union, all the Ministers and Vice-Ministers, who joined us today in Brussels for an important ministerial [meeting]. It was not the first. I know that there is a long tradition of ministerial meetings between the League of Arab States and the European Union – I remember a very fruitful one, the last one we had, in Cairo a couple of years ago -, but it is the first one that takes place in Brussels and, most of all, it is the first one that takes place in preparation for a summit, because we are going to have the first ever League of Arab States – European Union Summit in Sharm El Sheikh at the end of this month.
The Ministers today had a very fruitful exchange on all the different topics on the agenda. It was a good exchange, very frank, very open and very constructive. I believe we agree on the fact that common ground was there on, I would say, 90-95% of the issues; be it regional crises, where the League of Arab States, the European Union and our Member States have the same analysis and the same positions; be it our support to a political transition in Syria; be it our support for the two-state solution of the Middle East peace process, the recognition of Jerusalem as the future capital of both the state of Israel and Palestine; and our common effort to find solutions to the wars in Yemen or the conflict in Libya, where I am pleased to be together with my friend [Ahmed ABOUL GHEIT, Secretary General of the League of Arab States] from the Arab League together in the Quartet, working to support the UN work on Libya.
These are just some examples of how the European Union and the Arab League are working together on a daily basis in a region that we share. I think the sentence that we heard the most this morning, from both sides, is that whatever happens in the Arab world affects Europeans and that whatever happens in Europe affects the Arab world. So we are – as we say – around the Mediterranean “in the same boat” and we have the responsibility of joining forces to find common solutions to common challenges.
We also discussed something else that I believe is extremely important, which is the opportunity for us to strengthen cooperation in other issues that are not crisis related, be it economic cooperation, trade, investments, opportunities for young people, education. All the work that we can do – and that we are already doing, but that we can strengthen – across the Mediterranean and far beyond that to make sure that our people enjoy better conditions of life.
We will continue to work together in preparation for the Summit and we will try to make sure that the Summit will bring the EU-League of Arab States relations to a different level of even deeper cooperation. And I am personally looking forward to not only working on the preparations of it, but also to attending it in person.
Thank you very much.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I167271
Q. In light of the US plan to withdraw from the North of Syria, Turkey planned to create a kind of security zone in the North of the country: have you discussed this?
On Syria, we did not discuss specific situations inside the country, but I can say that it was probably one of the single issues that came up in all interventions from Ministers this morning. I believe we share on the European Union and League of Arab States sides - among our members - first of all, the willingness to support the full implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions, the strengthening of a political process under UN leadership and I have extended to all our friends the invitation to attend the next Brussels Conference on the future of Syria and the region. As you know, the European Union is working hand-in-hand with our Arab friends, especially from the Middle East, but also with the UN to try and accompany this process. I personally believe that the Europeans and the Arabs have a shared interest in trying to achieve not only peace and security in Syria, but also a sustainable peace and security, which requires reconciliation and a politically inclusive landscape in the country. I am convinced that we could be able to work in this direction together.
Q. Could you explain why we do not have a joint statement that we were expecting? What is the 5-10% that you could not agree on? From the European side, could you tell us who has confirmed that they are going to attend the [EU-League of Arab States] Summit at Heads of State or Government level?
I do not have with me the agenda of the Heads of State or Government from our Member States, but I know that a certain number of them have confirmed already. It is still three weeks to go. I would expect that some more confirmations will come in the weeks to come.
When it comes to a statement, I will be very open and frank and I think my colleagues here can do the same - another element that brings us together across the Mediterranean. We were wondering from the very beginning of the preparation of this ministerial [meeting] whether it would have been a good idea or not to focus our attention on working on a joint statement or a joint declaration, which is something that for some ministerial meetings you have and for some others you do not. We were wondering whether it would have been a good idea or not, exactly because we were not sure that fixing positions that might have had slight nuances with words on paper - not only between us, but within the respective organisations - would have been a wise exercise to be done, or if it was more convenient to focus on substance of conversations - on what to do together, on what areas we need to work more in the future, also in preparation of the Summit - or not.
In the doubt, we asked our senior officials to have this exercise that took them and all of us a lot of time, energy and a lot of political attention. I think it was a good exercise, even if at the end of the day we did not agree on the text. But as my friend [Ahmed Aboul Gheit] mentioned: this is a work that is going to continue in the preparation of the [EU-League of Arab States] Summit. We actually have a lot of common ground. We have not only a lot of positions and analysis that can be shared, but also a lot of wording that can be shared. We did not come to agreeing on a full declaration together, also because - as you know - we are complex organisations on both sides. I can speak for the European Union, but I know that it is the same on the Arab League side.
But we decided that the important thing was that we registered this morning with the Ministers in the room, with the Vice-Ministers in the room, who as my friend [Ahmed Aboul Gheit] mentioned were many - probably many more than we would have expected when convening the ministerial meeting - a broad convergence of views, both on our common priorities and what to do together to advance on these common priorities. Even if this has not come on paper with a written text, I believe that this is a common outcome - ‘heritage’ - that we take together with us, not only for the Summit preparation – obviously this is the next task that I now pass to the President of the European Council on our side - but also on the common work to be done together. Because at the end of the day, I have heard many times in this press room or the other press rooms that it is important to have statements, but even more important is to have a clear idea of what to do together. Sometimes you have statements and then you do not have a common policy.
What emerged today, I think, are common analysis, common positions and common ideas on what to do together on the different sectors from the economic, trade and investment side, to the different crises we have around our region, to work together in a much better and much more coordinated manner. I hope and I believe that Ministers and obviously us will take it from here and not only deliver something to the [EU-League of Arab States] Summit, but also and mainly deliver some common work on the ground when it comes to the war in Syria, when it comes to Yemen, when it comes to Libya, when it comes to job creation for our youth, when it comes to our joint priorities.
Q. As I understand there were some problems on the EU side, when it comes for example to migration, where my country [Hungary] also played a role. The problem is that there is a disagreement about how to put the Global Compact on Migration into the document and Hungary was opposing it. How will you find a way out of this? Will the Global Compact on Migration be missing from the statement that you are working on?
It will be very brief. You will never hear from me any comments or speculations about single Member States' positions inside the Council, on this or on anything else.
Q. Nous avons vu ces dernières heures une cascade de positions qui vont dans la direction de reconnaitre la légitimité du chef de l’opposition vénézuélienne. Peut-on parler d’une position européenne commune ou des divergences persistent-elles encore? D'autres disent que l'UE ne fait que suivre le pas de Mr Trump dans ce sens.
There is a common European Union position on Venezuela and we have expressed it very clearly and together - all the 28. I conveyed this message some 10 days ago, and again just a couple of days ago, when I was addressing the press at the end of the ministerial meeting we had in Bucharest, on Thursday and Friday, so a few days ago. That position is very clear and consolidated over time. The European Union and its Member States have never recognised as legitimate the presidential elections that were held last year. We did not participate - none of us - at the inauguration of [Nicolás] Maduro on 10 January. We recognise the National Assembly as the legitimate institution of the country and we recognise the role of its President [Juan Guaidó]. This is clear, this is a common position.
As you know, the European Union also has some targeted sanctions in place against some elements of the regime that have been in the past responsible for violations of human rights or the rights of their citizens. This is a clear position that then is completed by the decision we have taken together with our Latin American friends and partners to establish an International Contact Group that will have its first meeting at ministerial level next Thursday 7 February in Montevideo. I am grateful to President [of Uruguay] Tabaré Vázquez for hosting us, together with some of the Latin American countries that are also part of this Contact Group, to try to find - and here I underline both elements - a democratic and peaceful solution to the crisis in Venezuela, both democratic and peaceful. We stress, as Europeans and I believe as Latin Americans also do in this moment, the need to have both elements of this equation in place.
As far as the recognition of either states or institutions is concerned - as you know very well - it is not among the competences of the European Union to recognise either states or institutions within the states. We have a consolidated position on this, it is in the competences and in the prerogatives of Member States. In these hours you are seeing Member States that are making use of these national prerogatives and announcing their recognition for the institutional role of the President of the National Assembly of Venezuela. This is among the national prerogatives, and not among the European Union prerogatives; otherwise we would have different courses of decision-making also when it concerns other countries. But there is a common European framework within which we are acting together, both in terms of pressure, but also in terms of dialogue.
I will be pleased to be in Montevideo personally, the day after tomorrow, together with Ministers from EU and Latin American Member States, to try and contribute as far as we can to a peaceful and democratic outcome of this crisis.
Do you think it is going to make your job easier when you go to Uruguay? Do you have any confirmation if Mexico is finally going to join the International Contact Group, as I understand that this is really a key country that can actually help, if there is going to be any effort or any chance and hope at getting this International Contact Group doing something? Will you finally also include the Vatican? I understand that President Maduro is quite interested in including the Vatican as well.
We have not consulted [Nicolás] Maduro on the composition of the [International] Contact Group, but we have consulted the Vatican. You can imagine that, also given my national background, this comes quite natural. But most of all, given the important role that the Vatican diplomacy has, not only in Venezuela, not only in Latin America, but also in so many other countries, starting from Africa and elsewhere. We have constant dialogue and cooperation with the Holy See on many of our diplomatic initiatives.
The decision we took - deciding together with them - is to keep them as well as others, like the United States, Russia and China as the other P5 members, or other countries, including European countries that are not part of the European Union, like Norway or Switzerland, closely associated to our work, but not members of the [International Contact] Group, also to have a size of the [International Contact] Group that allows for meetings to be convened quite easily and to have, I would say, an easy-to-manage format - not too big.
When it comes to the participation of Mexico, I have discussed this several times over the last couple of days with the Mexican Foreign Minister [Marcelo Ebrard]. We have coordinated positions and exchanged views very often in these last ten days and I would like to thank him for this. At the moment, Mexico is not part of the [International Contact] Group but I understand that there is a close coordination between Uruguay and Mexico on this issue. This, obviously, is part of our considerations.
As far as the first part of your question was concerned: to tell you the truth, I have stopped long ago to ask myself whether something helps my job or not. I simply do my job in the best possible manner and that is it.
Link to the Q&A: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I167273