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Brussels, 19 November 2018
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Let me start by welcoming a considerable and very welcome group of journalists from Central Asia to this press room. Not by coincidence, as today we had a very positive and very good discussion with the Ministers, starting exactly with our policy on Central Asia. I will chair again the Ministerial [meeting] with my colleagues from the Central Asian countries this Friday for what is a very positive and encouraging part of our foreign policy work.
We often focus on conflicts and crises. Let me say that this [Central Asia] is a point on our agenda that is bringing us good results, with a positive agenda, with a demand for more cooperation with the European Union, with steps that are being taken in Central Asia in the right direction in all different fields. And so we discussed with the Ministers today the strengthening of our cooperation with this region that is very important. And the work will continue in full unity and with full determination to strengthen ties with the Central Asian countries bilaterally and together as a region, and also to encourage the further strengthening of regional cooperation among them.
We also had a point on Bosnia and Herzegovina where the three main messages shared by the Ministers today were: first, an invitation or an appeal for the formation of governments as soon as possible - now that the electoral results have been made official; second, to focus 100% on the reform agenda - which is what the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina and especially the younger ones expect to see – that is also linked to the European Union perspective of the country, next months will be crucial in this respect; and third, to focus on the electoral law reform and addressing the concerns about that.
There is an overall agreement among all Ministers on the fact that we need to keep very intense work with all the political leaders in Bosnia-Herzegovina and we will come back not only to Bosnia and Herzegovina, but to the entire region of the Western Balkans at the Foreign Affairs Council in December.
We then had a point on Yemen, in particularly important times. I discussed this yesterday with the UN Special Envoy [to Yemen, Martin] Griffiths, in a moment where we see some encouraging steps in the direction of the de-escalation. Steps that have been achieved also thanks to the work that we have been doing directly with some of the key players and through the support that we have been giving, together with different Member States, to the work of the UN Special Envoy.
It is too early to express optimism, I believe, but I think it is the right moment to pass a clear and strong message to all those involved in the conflict in Yemen, inside and outside of the country, to consolidate these de-escalation steps, to come to a ceasefire and to engage in political talks on substance led by the UN Special Envoy in the coming weeks. The European Union is fully behind this position and fully working to try and help achieving this result - as I said: consolidation of the de-escalation steps, ceasefire, beginning of substantial talks in the coming weeks.
And obviously, I should never forget this: The European Union is and will continue to remain the main humanitarian donor when it comes to the situation in Yemen. We are extremely worried about the humanitarian situation on the ground and we will continue to do all we can, also here in coordination with the United Nations, to make sure that access is given to humanitarian aid and that it gets to the people in need, which unfortunately are in enormous numbers in the country.
Last but not least, we had a point on Ukraine on our agenda. You know that we are constantly working to support the country, in particular on its reform agenda. I will chair the Association Council together with the Prime Minister of Ukraine [Volodymyr Groysman] on 17 December. That will be another opportunity for us to reconfirm the European Union's strong support to the work he and his government are doing on anti-corruption, economic reforms and social reforms.
But today is also an opportunity to express the full unity of the European Union on the position we have already expressed of the non-recognition of the so-called "elections" that were held on 11 November in Donbas and also our preoccupation over activities in the Azov Sea, which are damaging not only the Ukrainian economy, but also so many vessels that are flying European Union Member States' flags. So these are issues on which we will continue to work with full determination from all our Member States and obviously the European Union institutions and services, including taking appropriate targeted measures in the coming weeks or days.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I163746
Q: On the Azov Sea: Could you please tell us whether the EU is doing something to solve the problem of excessive inspections of vessels and if yes, then what exactly?
First of all, we are passing a clear message to our interlocutors in the Russian Federation that we expect this to stop. And we are also starting measures - in particular the Commission is doing that - to support the affected areas in Ukraine with concrete measures that will be communicated once they become official.
Q: On the Global Compact on Migration: As you know our Slovak Minister [for Foreign Affairs], Minister [Miroslav] Lajčák, is fully supporting this agreement and we have some political fights in Slovakia – and also there are many European countries that are not supporting it. So what is your position, the position of the European Commission, regarding this Compact?
Full support to the Global Compact on Migration - the European Commission has already expressed it very openly, Commissioner [for Humanitarian Aid & Crisis Management, Christos] Stylianides has expressed this on my behalf to the European Parliament just a few days ago – for one simple reason: the Global Compact on Migration is the result, actually, of a demand that the European Union and its Member States raised in the very first place, namely that of having a global approach to migration, a shared one. This Global Compact is the result of inputs and work that has been done by the European Union Member States themselves and reflects largely - if not totally - the European Union’s requests and positions and approaches. I think it would be beneficial first and foremost for our work on migration, so full support to it.
Q: My question is related to the updated Central Asia Strategy of the European Union that may be adopted next year: what will be the priorities within the framework of this important document? And what are the priorities for the coming ten years? What kind of projects are you planning to implement in the Central Asian region?
Work is ongoing to determine the exact content of this strategy, so it would be too early for me to anticipate it. But what I can tell you is that I have seen today full unity of all Member States on, first of all, the willingness to increase cooperation with Central Asia, to focus on not only issues that might seem more evident and natural, such as connectivity or energy, but also on support to regional cooperation in Central Asia itself. Talking about regional cooperation, I could never forget the work we are already currently doing for instance on water diplomacy that we know is so important for the region, but also the common work we can do in the region itself. I think of Afghanistan for instance. So many of the Central Asian countries can play a fundamental role in trying to support Afghanistan together with the European Union in finding a way to peace, development and security. And I think we will be all together next week in Geneva for the conference on Afghanistan. I think we share the same approach there. So we can work together on issues like that, but also on some of the global issues on which we share the same position.
Obviously, we will also continue to work on human rights, the rule of law and strengthening societies. So I think we are going to have the full spectrum of issues on which I am sure we will relaunch a very intense cooperation. I can tell you that I myself visited the region very often in these last couple of years. This week's ministerial [meeting] will be the second in one year; the last one was just a few months ago in the region. This is one of the files which might not be too much in the headlines in Europe or globally, but it is really a file that is important. Our job is not only to focus on what is urgent or the crises of the day, but also in investing in friendships and partnerships in the regions that demand more cooperation with the European Union and the European Union is ready to respond positively.
Q: There are a number of countries in the EU who would like to have a discussion on sanctions on Iran for its regional role, going beyond the Paris case and the Denmark case. Is that a discussion that in your view needs to wait until the SPV [Special Purpose Vehicle] actually gets up and is launched?
We had today a discussion with the Ministers on two separate issues. One is our full and determined support to the full implementation of the nuclear deal with Iran, including the creation of the Special Purpose Vehicle, on which the Ministers of France, Germany and the UK have debriefed the rest of the Ministers and on which work is ongoing, including with the contribution of the Finance Ministers of these three countries. Work is moving forward and there is full unity of all the Member States, that reiterated today that it is our essential security interest as Europeans to keep the agreement in place.
This does not mean at all that we turn a blind eye on other things that are not covered in any way by an agreement that is - as you know very well - a nuclear agreement. This includes some of the situations in the region. Obviously, when we discussed the situation in Yemen we also discussed the involvement of countries in the region in this conflict. And I think it is no mystery for anyone that we have started since now several months a specific regional dialogue, led by the European Union, together with Iran and with Italy, France, Germany and the UK on Yemen. And this has delivered some results, some of which we are seeing developing in these days. And we will continue to work very closely to discuss with our Iranian counterparts the ways in which they can be part of positive developments on Yemen.
The solution of conflicts requires the involvement of all those that have a role to play or have played a role, and can change that kind of role. So not only we do not abstain from discussing or pointing out other problematic elements of the regional behavior of Iran - by the way, it was also clearly recognised today in the discussion on Yemen that other regional powers have also problematic behaviors in the region - on the contrary, we engage on these issues and in some cases like in the case of Yemen with some results that are starting to show. This shows that engagement is the way, that dialogue is the way.
And the continuation of the implementation of the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] provides us with a good basis for discussions on other files that are not covered by the nuclear agreement.
When it comes to the to the events in Denmark, let me re-state here very clearly that there was full support to the investigation work and full solidarity with the government of Denmark and with the Danish people. What has happened has been completely unacceptable and this was clearly stated by all of us during those days and again today. And the Council will take forward some work to explore appropriate targeted response in light of what has happened on Danish territory.
Q: It is on Yemen: with all of these initiatives to try and get the conflict to an end - did the Member States at all discuss again the possibility of an arms embargo in Yemen? I understand that anyway Member States are divided on this. And in relation to that as well, the German Foreign Minister came in saying that they would impose an entry-ban on 18 Saudis that are linked to the murder of the [Saudi] journalist [Jamal] Khashoggi. He was expecting an EU response to see if it was possible to do this at EU level. Did that happen?
This specific measure was not discussed in the course of our point on Yemen. What we focused on mainly was the humanitarian support we can give on the ground and most of all on the political support we are giving and we can strengthen in these days to the efforts from the UN Special Envoy [for Yemen, Martin Griffiths] to restart political talks and to make sure that not only they can happen, but also that they can happen on substance from day one. So that was the main focus of our discussion. As you know, some Member States have policies - specific policies - on selling arms to countries involved in conflicts. This for the moment stays on the basis of national decisions. And for the time being, it has not been an issue for discussion at the European level.