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Barcelona, 10 October 2019
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First of all, I am very glad to be here again.
If you allow me to start on a personal note, this is the fourth ministerial Regional Forum we have at the level of Foreign Ministers. This is also my fourth and last Forum. The fact that we have managed in these last four, five years, together with Jordan, the Secretariat [of the Union for the Mediterranean] and always the gracious hospitality of Spain, to revitalise the ministerial level of this Union for the Mediterranean is for mr an element of personal satisfaction.
We did it in times when it seemed to be almost impossible to gather around the same table Foreign Ministers of countries that share the same geography but very often do not share the same politics.
I think that this has been an achievement in itself and today’s meeting is yet another demonstration of this. Because the success of this mechanism is that it focuses on common interests, common opportunities and ways in which different players and different stakeholders – not only government but also civil society – can overcome political obstacles and put the people of the Mediterranean region at the centre of our common action.
I believe this Forum has helped us in these years to develop a sense of shared responsibility, knowing that not everything is on the table – I will be very open on that, do not expect from us to solve all the problems of the region. Unfortunately, this region has quite some problems, conflicts and crises but also problems related to the economic development, access to employment, equal opportunities, climate change, environmental issues, South-South trade – one of the main economic impediment of the economic development of North Africa – and the list could continue.
This Forum has been in these years, and has also proven to be in its fourth edition today, a useful tool to address some specific issues, with so many projects we are doing under the label of the Union for the Mediterranean. It has also been a useful tool to create the environment, the political channels, the approach of coming together and listening to each other, that can also pave the way to creating better conditions for solving - where it can be done, in relevant fora – the crises of this region.
We decided today to focus particularly in these coming months on environment and climate change - where you know that the European Union has always been leading, not only with words and political statements but also by example and resources. You know that the incoming European Commission is putting climate change as one of the top priorities if not the top priority of its future actions. It is not for me to elaborate on that but you know that the European Union feels a very strong sense of responsibility in building global alliances to implement for instance the Climate Change Agreement that was agreed in Paris, and to help the global community face this challenge.
We also decided to continue focusing on trade, investment, job creation – in particular for young people and the empowerment of women – economic cooperation, digital economy, research and innovation, infrastructures, energy, civil protection, tourism and the list could continue. So, very practical things that have an impact on the life of so many citizens across the Mediterranean – East, West, North, South – and in the entire European Union.
I mentioned women and youth, let me underline that they are not only the beneficiaries of so many of our projects but they are also crucial to the success of the projects themselves. They are the players and the actors of change around our common sea and this is why the Union for the Mediterranean action puts them most often at the centre of our work.
I mentioned that this is a Forum that facilitates contacts that can create the conditions to better address the crises and conflicts of the region. This is not the Forum that is expected to solve them but it is a place where we reaffirm our principles, our common positions, where we try to build bridges.
In particular during today’s meeting, Ministers have focused so far – and will continue to focus in the afternoon – on three main critical challenges we are facing in the region.
First of all, the Israeli-Palestinian issue, - you know the EU position very well; the situation in Libya and the recent developments in Syria where, I believe, we all expressed very serious concerns about the current developments and the expectation that the situation can improve. Most importantly, that the first positive steps that were taken under UN leadership with the agreement on the Constitutional Committee could be followed-up by the UN Special Envoy [for Syria, Geir Pedersen]. The EU deplores the current military activities in north-east Syria and we wish to see them being stopped as soon as possible. We also wish that they won’t affect the UN work on the political track.
I will stop here, confident of the fact that my co-chair, my good friend Ayman [Safadi], is going to fully complement my remarks with words that I will for sure at 100% share.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-178753
Q. Is the EU talking about an invasion of Turkey into north-east Syria? Is Mr Erdogan’s attitude proving right those who said when the agreement was signed in 2016, that it could be a key in the hands of Turkey that was placing the EU in a very fragile situation?
We have been very clear and united, and speaking quite at an early stage as European Union, with all the Member States about the military intervention that Turkey has launched in the north-east of Syria yesterday. I was actually in Jordan when we got the news of these potential developments.
We already expressed a very firm position, warning that the military action in the north-east of Syria would have created consequences that would have been very heavy from a humanitarian perspective, from the perspective of displacement of people both inside Syria and outside of Syria, in connection with the activities and the achievements that the anti Da’esh coalition has managed to build, because obviously destabilising further this area of Syria could have a potential effect also on the fate of the foreign fighters that have been detained in the centers that are controlled in this area.
So, it could undermine the good progress that has been done on the territorial defeat of Da’esh in this area, and it could also undermine even further the overall balance in the region. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, it could make the work of the UN even more difficult as they are aiming at starting, with our full support, the political negotiations in Geneva to fully implement the UN Security Council Resolution 2254
I hope that this start of my answer gives you the sense that for the European Union it is crucially important to focus on the situation in Syria for Syria itself. There is clearly an impact on the migratory flows, there has been in the past, and this is why we have constantly supported in these years, not only the work of the international agencies and the NGOs, that are assisting the Syrian refugees in Turkey and this is the plan you mentioned that we signed some years ago that does not finance the Turkish authorities but the international agencies that are working to support the Syrian refugees that are hosted in Turkey - exactly as we are doing in Jordan and in Lebanon and in other countries of the region that are hosting Syrian refugees.
I think I have said it very clearly yesterday in the European Parliament that we would make a mistake if we were to now put into question the European Union financing to these humanitarian activities that are supporting the lives of Syrian refugees in hosting countries in the region, in connection with the activities that Turkey is undertaking from a military point of view because this money does not go to Turkey. It goes to the agencies that are supporting Syrian refugees. We have to be careful of not making the Syrian refugees victims twice: once of the war and the fleeing, and a second time of the lack of funding.
Again, look at countries like Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq or Egypt and compare the numbers. I say this in a personal capacity but whenever I hear that the first victim of the refugee crisis is Europe, look around the region and then we will discuss again.
Our position on the military intervention that Turkey is undertaking in the north-east of Syria is clear. We asked Turkey to stop it; we believed the consequences would be extremely dangerous. But again, this is not a connection with the fact that we are continuing to support the humanitarian assistance to the Syrian refugees. I believe it would be a mistake to link the two things.
On the other side, there are other issues that are worrying us a lot. Some of them were also raised today, connected to some of the other Turkish activities in the region, I think of the drilling in the Cyprus exclusive economic zone and other things. I believe it is important to stick to the merits of what we are discussing here, talking about Syria. We ask Turkey to stop this military intervention and we believe it is also in the interest of Turkey to do so.
Q. Après le début de l’offensive de la Turquie, Mr Erdogan envisage de déplacer 2 millions de réfugiées syriens vers la zone de sécurité dans le nord de la Syrie, faudra-il réviser l’accord de 2016 ?
Je pense que la question est assez similaire à la précédente.
Premièrement, les chefs d’Etat et de gouvernement de l’Union européenne vont j’imagine discuter de cette situation lors du Conseil Européen.
Nous avons un Conseil des Ministres des Affaires étrangères lundi au Luxembourg où nous allons parler, non pas du côté migratoire mais de l’aspect du conflit en Syrie avec la présence de l’Envoyé Spécial des Nations Unies [Geir] Pedersen, aussi pour souligner notre soutien au processus politique qui pourrait être possible en ce moment à Genève grâce à sa médiation.
Les chefs d’Etat et de gouvernement vont sûrement discuter des autres aspects dans une semaine à Bruxelles lors du Conseil Européen. Ce que je peux anticiper et ce que le Président de la Commission [Jean-Claude] Juncker a déjà dit hier au Parlement Européen, c’est-à-dire que le soutien que nous sommes en train de donner à la Turquie tout comme aux autres pays de la région qui reçoivent des réfugiés syriens depuis longtemps, va continuer. Nous allons continuer à honorer les accords que nous avons signés – la dernière fois il y a quelques mois lors de la Conférence sur la Syrie [Aide à apporter pour l'avenir de la Syrie et des pays de la région - Troisième conférence de Bruxelles] sur en mars cette année, où nous avons pris des engagements pour soutenir les réfugiés dans la région.
Having said that, President Juncker was also very clear yesterday and I reiterated the same message in the European Parliament already, that if the Turkish authorities expect the European Union to finance any sort of security zone in the north-east of Syria, their expectations are not going to be met. Because the European Union does not finance activities that do not respect fully the rights of the local populations, and definitely does not support the establishment of “safe zones”, especially when they might be targeted at changing the demographic balance of entire regions in a country, following a military intervention that has no legal basis, and most importantly, we do not see any way in which such a safe zone could in the future be based on the criteria of respect of the need for voluntary, safe and dignified return that the UNHCR sets very clearly.
I have said it many more words that President Juncker has managed to say but definitely there cannot be expectation for the European Union to finance any activity in this such safe zone, also because I have personally my doubts that it would be safe.
Q. This morning you have read a terrible report on climate change. Are any specific measures going to be taken to curb climate change? Are these initiatives going to be funded because a lot is being said about the impact of climate change but there are no specific tangible actions on it?
Absolutely so. I speak here for the European Union, but I am sure that this commitment and engagement that I can express on behalf of the European Union will be reflected also in the work of the Union for the Mediterranean that we will share with our partners in the region.
There is not only the concern and the denounce but also the financing from the European Union in particular of most of the climate change initiatives that are leading the way in the world today. I am sure that you can receive a detailed briefing of all the financing of all the single projects that the European Union is already undertaking, not only in the European Union territory but also in the region, and if you are interested in that, also around the world.
The work we have done on climate change has been part of one of, I would say most successful experiments, we have done to expand the scope of the European Union foreign policy.
We raised a lot of skepticism at the beginning but we have asked all our 140 embassies in the world, that are embassies and delegations for the European Union, to work first on the creation of consensus for the Climate Agreement in Paris, but then most importantly for me, to work on the ground with our partners - be it in the Pacific Islands, in the Caribbean, in the Sahel, in Europe itself obviously - to focus on the financing of concrete projects that country by country, region by region are key to mitigate or to face the climate change development.
The responsibility and financing that have an impact on our own investments inside Europe because as the Secretary-General mentioned, the Mediterranean and Europe, as part of the Mediterranean, are part of those that are risking the most out of climate change - think of cities like Venice that with the rise of the level of water risk to disappear - but we also have massive investments on climate change in our partner countries, starting from the region of the Mediterranean but also in very far away regions.
If you are interested, it is public for sure already on the website of the Commission but we can give you a detailed perspective of how many projects, how much financing goes to every single product on climate change. This has been one of the issues of which we have worked the most together with the Commissioner for Climate [Action & Energy, Miguel Arias Cañete].
Link to the Q&A: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-178753