European Union External Action

Foreign Affairs Council: Remarks by the High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the press conference

Brussels, 13/07/2020 - 19:10, UNIQUE ID: 200713_16

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Good afternoon to all of you. Our agenda today has been very dense and we discussed many points of current business.

First, about Libya, the situation remains bad. We continue to see blatant violations of the [arms] embargo.

We intend to reinforce the sanctions regime to contribute to a better implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions, which would also increase the effectiveness of our Operation Irini.

On Venezuela, I proposed to convene a Ministerial meeting of the International Contact Group, together with other key actors, to analyse the conditions in which the forthcoming parliamentarian elections will take place. And to send a strong message send to [Nicolas] Maduro’s regime about its latest decision on this issue.

The most important debate was on Latin America and Caribbean. We reviewed the coronavirus consequences and how the EU can support the region and increase our political engagement.

[We also discussed] how to revitalise the political engagement of the European Union with Latin America at a moment when the region is going through such important difficulties due to the coronavirus crisis, which is hitting the subcontinent very much. The number of cases and deaths caused by the coronavirus is extraordinary high in Latin America with respect to its population.

I gave an important briefing to the Council about the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue. The talks are on track again, with agreement on the main elements of the process. [I also briefed them] about the agenda of the next meeting in Brussels this Thursday that will take place in person.

I am very happy to announce that the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue is back on track. The talks have already resumed, with the first meeting [yesterday] and the second one next Thursday with a broad agenda and an agreement about what we have to discuss to get a legally-binding agreement normalising the relation between Pristina and Belgrade.

On China, for sure we discussed the imposition of the draconian national security legislation in Hong Kong. We all have serious questions about its conformity with [Hong Kong’s] Basic Law and with China’s international commitments. 

Our message in this context is two-fold. First, to the people in Hong Kong, [we stressed] the support of the European Union for their autonomy and fundamental freedoms. We will continue to stand by the people of Hong Kong.

To China, the message is that the recent actions change the rules. This will require a revision of our approach and will clearly have an impact on our relations.

I have proposed that we work on a coordinated European Union approach with a mix of actions at EU level and at Member State level.

And, finally, on Turkey we had a long and interesting debate. At the end of it, I presented my conclusions, which were approved by the Council members. It is my conclusions that will conduct and drive my future actions as High Representative/Vice-President of the Commission.

We reiterated that we see Turkey as an important country for the European Union with whom we would [wish] to see our relations strengthened and developing. This should be done in respect of EU values, principles and interests.

There was a consensus among Member States that the EU-Turkey relations are currently under continuous strain. There are worrying developments, in particular in the Eastern Mediterranean and regarding Libya that affect directly our interests. Thus, several serious issues must be addressed by Turkey in order to change the current confrontational dynamic and create an environment of trust with Turkey, which everybody wishes.

But, we stress also that Turkey's unilateral actions, in particular in the Eastern Mediterranean, which run counter to EU interests, to the sovereign rights of EU Member States and to international law, must come to an end.

We recalled the previous Conclusions of the Council of 15 July 2019 on illegal Turkish drilling activities in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Cyprus and the 15 May 2020 Statement on the Eastern Mediterranean and reiterated that the situation that we were confronted [with] at the EU borders in early March 2020 must not be repeated.

We also agreed to call on Turkey to contribute actively to a political solution in Libya and to respect the commitments it has taken in the framework of the Berlin process, including the United Nations arms embargo.

We are doing our part - the European Member States are doing their part, in particular through Operation Irini, which provides a key contribution to ensure the respect of the arms embargo by all actors. We will consider ways to ensure the full effectiveness of the operation, with the aim of preventing escalation on the ground.

An important issue was about Hagia Sophia. The Council has condemned the Turkish decision to convert such an emblematic monument as Hagia Sophia back to a mosque. This decision will inevitably fuel mistrust, promote renewed divisions between religious communities and undermine our efforts at dialogue and cooperation. There was broad support to call on the Turkish authorities to urgently reconsider and reverse this decision.

All in all, the final conclusion is that there was clearly a broad support for me to explore further paths that could contribute to lowering tensions and reach understandings on issues that are increasingly stressing the relations between Turkey and the European Union.

Also, I will prepare options on further appropriate measures that could be taken in response to the challenges we are facing as a result of Turkish actions, including in the Eastern Mediterranean. In the meantime, work will also continue on additional listings within the existing sanctions framework as requested by Cyprus.

I agreed to report back to the [Foreign Affairs] Ministers at the informal meeting at the end of August, which will also have Turkey on its agenda.

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Q. Could you please tell us in practical terms how closer we are now to opening proper dialogue and proper negotiations with Turkey in order to lower these tensions. Could you be a little more specific on the two distinct frameworks for sanctions and how are those also going to play out? Who else supported them, apart for Cyprus?

Sanctions are always an instrument to achieve a goal, but they are not a policy in themselves. The Council [of Foreign Affairs] considered that there are Council conclusions on illegal Turkish drillings and, at the same time, expressed their will to defuse tensions and make clear that Member States’ sovereignty and sovereignty rights should be respected in accordance with these Council conclusions and international law.

One thing is dialogue and another thing are negotiations. The Council expressed a broad support –I want to be very much precise with the wording I am going to use- to explore further paths that could contribute to lowering tensions and reach understandings on issues that are increasingly stressing the relationship. It is a way of offering to continue exploring ways of reaching understandings.

But, at the same time, the Council has also asked that options have to be prepared on measures that could be taken in response to the challenges we are facing. For sure, there are Council conclusions and on the implementation of these Council conclusions technical work will continue at the technical level on additional listings within the existing sanctions framework as requested by Cyprus.

Q. I wanted to ask whether there is a Plan B in case Turkey moves on and violates the Greek territorial waters. Is there a specific Plan B for this?

We do not want to anticipate a situation in which we could have an increase of tensions. The wording I used is absolutely clear and it is a general answer to all these kind of questions. We are going to explore further paths that could contribute to lower tensions. For sure drillings in Greek waters disputed by Turkey would be something that could increase tensions. At the same time, we will prepare options and further appropriate measures that could be taken in response to the challenges that we are facing as a result of Turkey’s actions.

Q. I would like to ask you a question on the situation in Libya, where the United States’ diplomats are walking on the ground around Libya. Algeria diplomacy is trying to build a new initiative or the ground for a new diplomatic effort. My question is: do you believe that the Berlin conference’s outcome is still the basis for a political solution in Libya? And more specifically, what is the European diplomacy doing nowadays on the ground and in contact with the regime?

For us, the Berlin process is the only possible framework to reach a political solution in Libya. We are continuously reaching out to all relevant actors on Libya, on the ground and from Brussels.

We are in a permanent contact with all relevant actors, maybe some more [contacts] will happen on the next weeks or days. But for the time being, I think we are doing everything we can in order to bring all relevant actors of the Libyan war to act according to the Berlin process, which is the only framework that can bring a political solution to Libya.

Q. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany Heiko Maas over the weekend said there would be initial proposals to be tabled for discussion. Could you give us more details on what was actually discussed, does that include potential arms embargo to the Hong Kong police or does that include suspending extradition treaties with the Hong Kong authorities? What do you think can be done on the EU level as well?

We have agreed today to develop a coordinated European Union response to show support for Hong Kong’s autonomy and civil society. This will comprise both measures at European Union level and also measures falling under the Member States national competence in a coordinated approach. Everything will be done in coordination with Member States and the package of measures will constitute a comprehensive European Union response. Some Member States may already announce national measures as part of this package in the coming days according with our discussions today.

In these discussions some ideas where under consideration. I am not going to list all of them but for example we looked at the possibility to further scrutinise the export of specific and sensitive technologies to Hong Kong. We assessed the implications of the national security law for Member States’ extradition agreement with Hong Kong and travel advice, and looked at possibilities to step-up scholarships for Hong Kong students. And we have also been discussing at European Union level the asylum and migration implications of the national security law, including looking at visa possibilities for Hongkongers, although visa are a competence of the Member States but it has been widely discussed today.

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