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August 1, 2020
July 31, 2020
Thank you very much,
I apologise for being late. That was not out of major divisions or discussions but out of real in-depth conversation on all the points that we had on the agenda, with all the ministers concentrating on the two main political issues that we decided to have on the agenda today: which is on one side Ukraine, and on the other side the Middle East Peace Process. But we also touched upon other issues to which I will come afterwards.
First of all, we started the morning with an informal session on working methods and we have started working on some changes that we will introduce already from next time, a little bit more of informal exchanges, in a more open format with the ministers and with guests – in general Foreign Affairs Council more concentrated on political messages and decisions to orientate our common action, so concentrating more on what we can do rather than on analysing only the issues of the conflicts, and not only concentrating on conflict areas but also on mid-term and long-term strategies for the European Union’s work.
Coming to Ukraine, I guess you have seen already the conclusions we have adopted. The agreement among us is to define our action along three lines. On one side, obviously a major European Union role, as this is clearly a European crisis, concentrating on avoiding that the situation gets even worse from a military point of view, from a socio-economic point of view and from a humanitarian point of view in the East. We will develop our work, especially together with the OSCE, on the security level, but also with other regional organisations like the Council of Europe when it comes to internal reforms, for instance of the Constitution with the Venice Commission.
But the main discussion today was how to re-launch or how to re-engage in a dialogue – given that Russia is for sure part of the problem but it is also for sure part of the solution, of the possible solution to the crisis. How to engage with Russia in a dialogue between Kyiv and Moscow, between Kyiv and the East of Ukraine, between the European Union and Russia, not only on Ukraine but also on a wide series of elements, global and regional issues, and this is going to be one of the issues on which we will go more in depth in the coming months, to reassess our overall relation with Russia.
So, in one line: a major EU political role on the way to find effective means to have a political solution to the crisis, engaging in dialogue with Russia.
Second, the instrument that we have used so far in our policy – not a policy in itself but an instrument – the economic pressure with sanctions that are an effective tool in a broader strategy: and in this view we decided today to have additional listings of individuals, as you have seen, and that will take place with a decision in the next two weeks.
And the third element of the discussion of the action we are going to take is concerning the internal Ukrainian reform path. On one side, asking for the political forces to come with a government, with a coalition government, as soon as possible. We are planning a series of visits, both some of the Ministers and one Commissioner, actually a Vice-President of the Commission was already there last week, another Commissioner is going to visit soon – Commissioner Hahn – and I will pay a visit to Kyiv as soon as the new government is formed.
And I discussed that with Foreign Minister Klimkin in a bilateral meeting we had this morning before starting the Foreign Affairs Council, and we also had the chance of signing – and actually it was my first act of signing in my new capacity – the Status of Mission Agreement for the EU Advisory Mission for Civilian Security Sector Reform that will start officially from December 1, as a clear sign of EU engagement to assist on the reforms.
But apart from forming a government soon, we also made clear that we will ask the new government to commit to reforms internally, as this is crucial to guarantee that European Union support and assistance is there, and we strongly believe that this combination of three elements: attempt to have a political engagement; economic pressure with sanctions; and support, asking for commitment on the Ukrainian side on internal reforms could, hopefully, lead the way to some positive developments that at the moment are not definitely there.
We then had an in-depth discussion on the Middle East, with some orientation for the future work as well. I reported from my visit in Gaza, West Bank, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Jordan, and of my contacts in the last days, most of all with John Kerry and with the actors in the region.
And we decided that we definitely cannot just wait and see. The running of time is an element of desperation in the area that could be extremely dangerous, also for security reasons for Europe. We decided to support new initiatives to re-launch a peace process – the lack of peace process at the moment is one of the causes of violence coming back – and to coordinate on the UN Security Council process on the Middle East and in particular on the initiative to re-launch the process.
We will build on the possibility of having a regional framework, so working not only with the US and not only obviously with the other among all us Europeans and in the UN Security Council but also with some of the key Arab countries that in the region can facilitate the restarting of the process, in particular Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia that initiated in 2002 the Arab Peace Initiative that could be somehow a basis for rethinking of the regional framework.
We then pass to Ebola: we had a briefing from Commissioner Christos Stylianides who just came back yesterday from the countries most affected. He reported on his work in coordinating the efforts of the European Union to face the epidemic and we will come back on that more consistently in December at the Development Foreign Affairs Council and the Foreign Affairs Council also preparing the European Council of December that will take an assessment of the work done so far.
Because among the working methods that we need to change is also better coordination between the different levels and formats of the Council, make sure that the previous ones manage to step in forming the Agenda and the decisions of the European Council itself.
We had then a long and good discussion on the Balkans and on Bosnia-Herzegovina starting from the initiative that some of the Member States were proposing and suggesting in the last months – the last of which was a German/UK initiative but Croatia, Slovenia were suggesting similar things in the last months – trying to take advantage of the fact that just today the State Presidency was inaugurated, we have a new Commission here, so without touching any of the basic principles of our negotiations still we believe that there might be a chance of opening a process on new basis, without touching the conditionality obviously and without lowering the bar in any case. There was in this sense an agreement by the Member States that we should proceed in the coming days on that direction to Sarajevo.
We had also point on Libya, sharing the need for continuous support even in extremely difficult conditions to the work that the UN Secretary General Special Envoy Bernardino León is trying still to work on, to facilitate an internal dialogue so that we could get to one government ruling one country. So no military option and no division of Libya.
Thank you very much, I was not only late but also long. I am ready to answer to your questions.
Questions and answers
1- Question sur l’hypothèse d’un plan de sanctions contre Israël.
Il n’y a pas de plan de ce type. J’ai vu un article d’Haaretz qui fait référence à un document de travail et le publie. Il s’agit apparemment d’un document de travail interne demandé par les États membres il y a quelques temps, je dirais durant le mandat qui a précédé le mien, mais qui ne forme qu’une hypothèse de travail technique. Ce n’était pas sur la table des ministres aujourd’hui. Ce n’était pas du tout au cœur de notre discussion. Le cœur de notre discussion d’aujourd’hui sur le Moyen Orient était plutôt de voir comment engager un processus positif avec les Israéliens et les Palestiniens pour relancer un processus de paix, et non d’isoler ou sanctionner quoique ce soit, mais, au contraire, de remotiver vers le chemin du dialogue et de la paix.
2- Sur le dialogue avec la Russie et une éventuelle visite à Moscou.
Le point a été soulevé pendant la discussion aujourd’hui. Plusieurs ministres m’ont demandé de le faire. Je le prends comme un signal positif de la volonté d’ouvrir un dialogue, qui par ailleurs n’a jamais été fermé. Je me souviens, quand j’étais dans une autre capacité, d’avoir participé à Milan à un rencontre à laquelle a participé non seulement des chefs d’État et de gouvernement mais aussi le président de la Commission européenne et le président du Conseil européen. Le lien, l’ouverture au dialogue entre la Fédération Russe et l’UE était déjà ouvert. Je pense que cela sera utile. D’autre part, à Brisbane, le Président Juncker a rencontré le Président Putin.
Maintenant, au-delà du fait de se parler, il s’agit surtout de savoir bien de quoi nous nous parlons. Il conviendra de préparer sérieusement l’agenda d’une visite et y aller s’il y a des conditions réelles pour une discussion politique qui peut mener vers des pas positifs sur l’Ukraine et aussi peut-être des pas positifs sur d’autres dossiers que l’on partage et qui sont des préoccupations majeures pour la région.
3- On the December European Council discussing further economic sanctions against Russia.
If you allow me, we are here to comment on the FAC that has just concluded with conclusions. And that’s fine; that is very good for me to brief you on that and to receive your questions. On the other side, commenting on eventual conclusions of the European Council that is about to come in more than one month would be a little bit beyond my capacities and my possibilities. I do not expect that today we can think of something like that.
4- On MEPP and full implementation of existing legislation of settlement products.
On the Middle East Peace Process, it means that we will continue to implement the policies that were agreed on, but as I explained, the core of our worries and of our efforts is and will be not to react to negative steps, but to engage in positive processes and the worrying situation is, that the less we have political positive processes, the more we risk to have negative steps on the ground, so we have to break this vicious circle with some positive elements that at the moment are desperately lacking.
5- Sur la Reconnaissance d’un Etat Palestinien.
Nous avons commencé à discuter de cela même si cela relève bien sûr de la compétence des Etats Membres; sur ce point, la responsabilité n’est pas la mienne. Mais nous avons partagé la nécessité d’au moins échanger, entre nous, entre les ministres, les informations sur les démarches de parlements nationaux, les éléments de réactions des gouvernements à ce sujet et commencer à donner, non pas des réponses communes mais de partager les grandes lignes d’action sur ce sujet.
6- Sur les missions EUBAM Rafah/EUPOL COPPS.
J’ai visité les missions quand j’étais dans la région il y a une semaine. Il ne s’agit pas d’une question de temps, je ne dirais même pas de une question de ressources, parce que je pense que sur ce domaine, les Etats-Membres seraient prêts à donner les ressources humaines et financières qu’il faut. Le problème principal, ce sont les conditions politiques sur le terrain. Il faut que les points de passage soient contrôlés avec la coopération des autorités palestiniennes. Si nous n’avons pas l’Autorité Palestinienne sur place capable de contrôler les points de passage, ce sera difficile pour une mission européenne de travailler sur le terrain. Dans mes conversations, que ce soit en Israël ou avec les Palestiniens, c’est le point le plus délicat: à savoir, les conditions politiques, et ce même avant la sécurité, sur place, pour que cela puisse se passer avec un interlocuteur légitime, crédible et efficace sur le terrain à Gaza.
7- On Ukraine and new impetus for a dialogue with Russia.
That’s why I said that before deciding if it’s useful to go to Russia for me, first of all, I would need to prepare, definitely, no, but apart from that, we need to, in case, check if the conditions are there for the meeting to be fruitful and to prepare that kind of meeting, but the decision has not been taken yet. It was an element for discussion that was raised by some Ministers, quite many Ministers, and that I accepted as a possibility to explore, in particular after a further discussion among the Member States in the next, probably, meeting or few meetings of the Foreign Affairs Council on the overall strategic relation between the EU and Russia, not only on Ukraine but also on several other issues.
8- On the recognition of the Palestinian state, I stated already several times, including in Israel and in Palestine, that to me the real point is not so much the recognition of a Palestinian state, but what can we usefully do to have a Palestinian state, because you can have the recognition in several Member States without things changing radically and dramatically on the ground.
Or, on the contrary, you could have a wave of pressure that could lead to some positive results, or not, depending on the kind of process that is open or not. So again, I think that our main focus should be, and as a European focus for sure, because this does not lie in the European Union capacity to recognise a State so, it’s for the Member States to take the decisions, but to me the main focus is what kind of steps forward do we can put in place forgetting to having a Palestinian state living next to an Israeli State in peace and security. What is the road map of political actions that we manage to put in place for reaching the objective? The objective is not the recognition of the Palestinian State. The objective is the Palestinian state. And we should not mix the two levels but this is a discussion that for sure will be ongoing also in the format of the ministerial meeting because as I said it’s a matter of national decisions but we decided that also that as it is a matter that concerns us all, we will try to share a vision and coordinate a bit already from now.