Check against delivery!
We have just finished our weekly College [of Commissioners] meeting. I will give you a brief overview of the points we discussed. The College adopted an EU Strategy for continued COVID-19 control measures, which is our contribution to next week’s European Council meeting on that subject. The Strategy sets out recommendations to ensure the pandemic stays under control across Europe for the next few months – and in Christmas times – and until vaccination can begin on a large scale.
It covers a wide scope of areas: from physical distancing to testing, from the protection of healthcare staff to ensuring safe travel, our strategy recommends concrete actions to Member States. My colleague Stella Kyriakides, [Commissioner for Health and Food Safety,] will present this in detail during the press conference that will follow today’s videoconference of Health Ministers.
The College also discussed the European Democracy Action Plan. We have experienced increasing threats and challenges to our democracy in recent years. Now we are taking action to uphold our democratic values and make the EU more resilient to such threats. We also discussed the Strategy to strengthen the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the European Union. We want to make sure the Charter is being applied to its full potential. Vice-President [for Values and Transparency, Věra] Jourová will give a press conference tomorrow to present the details of both these files.
Then, we also adopted an Action Plan to support the recovery and transformation of the media and audiovisual sectors, which are particularly hit by the coronavirus crisis, and they are essential for our democracy, our cultural diversity and also for our digital autonomy. This Action Plan puts forward 10 key actions, in three areas: how to recover the media sector from the crisis; how to support [its] digital and green transformation by stimulating the necessary investments; and how to empower European citizens and companies.
Furthermore, the College, in a very busy day, also adopted a package of measures to modernise European Union justice systems. This package has two main pillars. A Communication on the Digitalisation of justice in the European Union and a new strategy on European judicial training. This will improve our cross-border judicial cooperation and better equip judges and prosecutors for the challenges of this century. We want to make access to justice an integral part of Europe’s Digital Decade, grasping the opportunities of the digital age and at the same time to have safe and ethical boundaries.
At the end of the college President von der Leyen also informed the college for preparation for a budget based on provisions over twelve [..inaudible…] just in case there is no agreement on the next Multiannual Financial Framework and NextGenerationEU. This readout will be followed by a technical briefing on this topic. It is just an information about preparation measures just in case there is no agreement on these two important tools.
The President also gave us a short debrief of the current state of play of negotiations with the United Kingdom.
With this, let me move to what I am here to present today, because it is mainly related to activities of High Representative, the Joint Communication of the Commission and the High Representative, on the new European Union - US Agenda for Global Change.
It is the first formalised institutional message to our partners in the US. About the importance we are putting into our transatlantic relationship and about our suggestions where and how we could move together to make the world a better place. This Communication will feed into discussions by Ministers at the Foreign Affairs Council next Monday and then by European Union Leaders at the European Council later next week.
Everybody knows that the European Union and the US are the two closest partners and allies, bound by values, historical links and shared objectives. There is no more important and more strategic partner for the European Union than the US.
The Agenda formulates priorities for a revamped transatlantic partnership from our perspective and [focuses on] on several areas. Areas where our interest converge, areas where our collective leverage can best be used, and areas where our global leadership is required.
At the core of this Agenda is a united, capable and self-reliant European Union, which is good for Europe, good for the transatlantic partnership and for the multilateral system.
Now, more in detail:
On coronavirus response [we want] to work together for a healthier world. It is an invitation to the US to join the European Union global leadership role in promoting cooperation in response to the coronavirus, reopening our economies and societies as fast as possible, and jointly reinforce and reform the World Health Organization.
Second, Climate leadership. This means working together to protect our planet and prosperity. We want to focus on climate change and loss of biodiversity as the defining challenges of our time.
It is clear that we need a shared commitment to a net-zero emissions pathway by 2050 prior to COP26 next year, and we need to collaborate with the US to propose a climate initiative within the World Trade Organization.
Third, Trade and technology. This is about working together on technology, trade and standards. It is very much needed that we join forces as tech-allies to shape technologies, to set-up norms and to use our regulatory environment.
And finally Global action. Here the focus is on working together towards a safer, more prosperous and more democratic world. It reaffirms the objective of a geopolitical Commission, reflects aspirations to greater strategic autonomy – which is not contradictory to having a strong transatlantic partnership – while strengthening relation with our key world partner. These are the three objectives: geopolitical commission, aspirations to greater strategic autonomy and strengthening relation with our key world partner.
The US demand for the European Union to take more responsibility for its own matters and this is what we want to do. We need to continue working on our capabilities to enable the European Union to become a stronger global partner, in particular for the European Union-US relations and in complementarity to NATO. We want more cooperation on external affairs, we want to restore and strengthen the global rules based system and multilateralism. We want to make multilateralism great again. And also, to deal with conflicts and challenges all around the world.
We will now invite the European Council to endorse this Agenda for Global Change and it could be then launched at the European Union-US Summit in the first half of next year. This is going to be discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council next week.
Link to the opening remarks Part 1: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-199340
Link to the opening remarks Part 2: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-199726
Q. In the Joint Communication, there is a paragraph about Turkey. Do you think that the European Council of December, that will decide on Turkey and the EU, should delay the decisions in order to be coordinated with the US?
No, the European Council will discuss the issues on its agenda, and it will take a European decision about it.
Q. In relation to the relations between the EU and the US, obviously we have the Iran nuclear deal, something you spoke about in the past 48 hours or so. There has been a lot of talk and speculation that there are moves afoot by Israel and the United States under the Trump administration to try and derail any possibility of Joe Biden coming in and maybe re-engaging with Iran, particularly with regard to the JCPOA. What is your analysis of that? Do you agree with that analysis? And how confident are you that things can improve with Iran and that the Iran nuclear deal can be saved?
We hope that everything will be improved – on all subjects and all issues. We expect that we can build a better partnership – on climate for sure but on the Iran nuclear deal also. We expect that we can approach these issues in a more coordinated way, in a better partnership, with a better understanding of each other’s points of views. That is the call we make in this communication.
Q. I have two questions for you. The first one is on China. The joint communication talks about the dialogue the EU is planning to set up with the US on China. Biden made it very clear yesterday to The New York Times that one of his major priorities is to sit down very quickly with allies to – as he put it – get on the same page for dealing with China. The [EU-US] dialogue [on China] is not in fact up and running in a proper way. How prepared is the EU for that conversation? What is it prepared to put on the table quickly in terms of China to get on the same page, as Biden put it, with the United States? And secondly, just to push you a little bit on Iran. I know you spoke to Zarif yesterday. Did you hear anything from him that suggested Iran is planning to do what its Parliament asked it to do yesterday, which is to seriously escalate its nuclear programme? Or was he more encouraging?
In fact, the dialogue with the US about China has already started. We started it with the incumbent administration and I was especially interested in starting it without waiting for the results of the elections. Because I thought – and my counterpart the Secretary of State [of the United States, Mike] Pompeo agreed with that – that to talk about China, we do not have to wait for the elections. And we started. And I had a couple of a structured conversations with the Secretary of State Pompeo and we decided to launch work at a more technical level. It is in our agenda. We put on the table the issues on which we have to coordinate our point of views, because there were some disagreements, and that is why we need a dialogue among us. Maybe now, on the eve of Christmas and on the eve of the change of the [US] administration, maybe these contacts at technical level will have to be postponed until the new administration takes office. But we already started. We have the agenda on the table. We already identified the issues on which we have to talk. On that, the joint communication does not bring anything new, only to reaffirm our will to continue on this path.
About Iran – yesterday, yes, I had a phone call with the Iranian [Foreign Affairs] Minister [Mohammad Javad Zarif]. We also talked about Iran in the event [yesterday] with Javier Solana and Federica Mogherini to celebrate ten years of the External Action Service. And it was interesting to listen to the point of view of Javier Solana who was representing a group of Foreign Affairs Ministers from different countries who expressed their will and their advice in order to get all members of the JCPOA back to the table and to keep this agreement alive. I have been struggling; I have been working to keep this JCPOA agreement from dying. And we are going to call a ministerial meeting of the JCPOA before Christmas. I think it is the only way to avoid Iran becoming a nuclear power.
Q. I have two questions. The joint communication refers to bilateral trade irritants: I was wondering, particularly in relation to the Section 232 restrictions or tariffs, particularly on steel and aluminium, whether the EU is expecting these simply to be lifted by Washington or whether this is something that will have to be done through or via a negotiated solution? I also wanted to ask about contacts: Vice-President Dombrovskis said a few weeks ago that there had been some sort of initial informal contacts with ‘Team Biden’. I just wanted to know if those contacts had continued and maybe had gone beyond just initial informal contacts.
I think there have just been informal contacts. We are not going to start working with the new administration before the new administration takes office. One thing is to say: ‘Hello, how are you? What are your ideas?’, but it has to be considerate, on the level of courtesy and informality that has to be used during this transition period. I would do the same thing with the people that have been more or less on the radar screen and being nominated to pass the hearings on [in] the Senate and the Congress. You know, we have to take the hearings very seriously; the Americans have their procedures and we have to respect them.
About solving these irritants on trade. You know that there are irritants on trade and the joint communication makes reference to it, to point out what the issues are that we will have to engage in our negotiations. We would prefer to have a friendly agreement among us and not to have to go to the World Trade Organisation, which is where you go when you do not agree. But we would prefer to go back to direct talks in order to look for solutions among ourselves, the two parties, bilaterally, and not to have to wait for a WTO settlement. But this is our purpose, our will and this is what the joint communication tries to make clear: we want to engage in order to look for solutions to all our irritants among ourselves.
Q. I wanted to ask you about Mercosur. What is the situation with the ratification of the agreement and what is France's role, as they have been opposed to the agreement.
Well, of course, I am working on this association agreement. The association agreement is something where the High Representative and the Vice-President, who are responsible for these areas, have therefore a crucial role to play. We are very active. And this is not just when it comes to Mercosur, but also in the modernisation of the agreements that we signed quite some time ago with Mexico and Chile. Recently, I received the Chilean Foreign Minister [Mr Andrés Allamand] who was present in Brussels. I have also had contact with our friends in Mexico. The negotiations are less advanced compared to Mercosur and so there is not an agreement there either. But we are perfectly aware of the problems raised in France, but also in other countries. This agreement needs to be ratified by all national parliaments, regional parliaments, and the European Parliament. We are of course in contact - my colleague Mr Dombrovskis and I - we have been speaking with Brazil and all of those countries to see how we can ensure that the agreement, which has been discussed for years and years, will finally reach a good conclusion, so that then it can be ratified. That is the current situation. And we are working on it.
Q. I read in Politico that the goal of the EU-US tech and trade Council is really to squeeze China out of the global tech trade. Is that the right description of its purpose? And you talked about multilateralism: why just talk to the U.S. bilaterally instead of including China, Japan, Korea, which are also major players in the technology sector?
To get China out of the international trade? What a crazy objective. How could we imagine to take China out of the international trade? No, for sure not. We want to level the playing field. We want to have an agreement on investment. We want to ask for reciprocity. These are all subjects that are under discussion right now – without waiting for the new administration in the US – in our bilateral talks. But the purpose is not to exclude China from international trade. We need China as part of international trade.
Q. Quels vont être les effets de ce nouvel agenda que vous proposez sur la Stratégie Union européenne-Afrique ?
C’est évident qu’il faut travailler sur l'Afrique comme n'importe quelle région du monde avec une coordination plus étroite avec les États-Unis. Mais il s'agit d’un agenda, ce que l 'on a proposé aujourd'hui, pour les rapports bilatéraux entre nous et eux. Évidemment cela a des conséquences sur le reste du monde, mais ce n’est pas une proposition de géopolitique tous azimuts pour dire que ce que l'on va faire dans toutes les régions du monde. Dans l'Afrique, la présence européenne est beaucoup plus forte que celle des États-Unis, du point de vue des investissements, des rapports commerciaux, et même de l’héritage culturel et politique. Mais nous avons besoin de travailler dans un partenariat plus étroit avec les États-Unis, là où il y a des conflits – je pense, en ce moment toute la Corne d'Afrique, mais aussi l'Afrique centrale et le Sahel. Mais on est bien conscient qu'il y a des problèmes en Afrique de nature sécuritaire et que c'est à nous Européens, de s’en occuper en priorité.
Q. I have a question about the EU-US Trade and Technology Council that was mentioned in the Joint Communication this morning. I wanted to know if it has been already discussed with the US or is it for now only a proposition from the EU, since it seems like quite a big step for the cooperation?
It is our proposal. We have not discussed it yet. First, we have to get a comprehensive agreement between all European Union institutions. [The joint communication] is from the Commission and the High Representative, but there are the Member States that will talk about it at the Foreign Affairs Council next week [7 December]. And then, there is the European Council, who has – at the end – the highest political guidance on the most important topics. And this is one of the most important ones. But I think it was important that the Commission and the High Representative together have put on the table a comprehensive approach about how we understand and envisage our relationship, our new partnership with the US. And then, we will start talking about all the issues in this communication, knowing that time has been passing by. The last years were a bumpy road and we are not going back to the way we were five years before. In the meantime, there has been Brexit, there has been the rise of China – many things have happened. We have to look to the future to project our partnership on the world the way it is today and facing the challenges of today and tomorrow.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-199341