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

(Source: EEAS)

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Good afternoon,

We have adopted today, with respect to Belarus, the largest package of sanctions, listing 86 individuals and entities, and in particular targeting those behind the hijacking of the plane with Mr [Roman] Pratasevich on board. These measures were coordinated also with Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.

We have also endorsed options for targeted economic sanctions; we will now aim to adopt them swiftly, after the guidance of the European Council.

We also met this morning the leader of the democratic opposition, Ms [Sviatlana] Tsikhanouskaya. We have listened attentively to her assessment of the current situation and her call for the European Union to continue maintaining a determined position.

As conveyed to Ms Tsikhanouskaya, the European Union remains ready to support a future democratic Belarus with a comprehensive plan of economic support of up to €3 billion for a democratic Belarus, supporting those who need help right now through the sanctions [on individuals and entities] decided today, economic to be decided soon, and continuing putting pressure on the Lukashenko regime.

Then we had an informal exchange with the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Fuad Hussein. The country continues facing severe challenges. They are undertaking comprehensive reforms, but the economic and the security situation remain a critical issue.  

We will have the European Union-Iraq Cooperation Council at Ministerial level before the end of the year. We will deploy an Election Observation Mission on the 10th of October upcoming elections. 

We had a long discussion about Latin America and the Caribbean.  

Latin America is one of the regions of the world closer to the European Union in values and support for a multilateral rules-based order. We also remain the most important investor and among the first trade partners of the region. Still, competition from other actors keeps growing and the continent is being rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

I showed a graph to the Ministers, showing that almost everywhere –especially in Europe and Southeast Asia- the pandemic is going down and in Latin America it is rocketing. With only 8% of the world population, it hosts 22% of the contamination. Every day 4,400 people die, half of them in Brazil. 

The social and economic consequences are hard and may lead to further instability. We have to increase our engagement, because it is certainly true that China is providing many more vaccines than any other country to the region. I think that everybody acknowledged the need for the Member States to be more present. Some of them engage on delivering more vaccines to the region. 

The first thing to do is to support the region in the fight against COVID-19, starting by vaccines donations. We need to also bolster the region’s financial resilience to enhance trade relations with the most important countries with whom we have agreements in the pipeline: Mexico, Chile or Mercosur. This will be on our mutual economic benefit. But there is still a lot of work to do in order to put these Association Agreements to the final ratification. The first one should be Mexico, which is finished; Chile, which is almost finished; and Mercosur, which has –as you know- many more problems.  

Finally, we have to continue following closely regional hot spots and support political dialogue as required. In Venezuela, there is a possible political opening. I am sending a technical assessment [exploratory] mission to help consider whether the conditions to send an observation mission for the elections in November are met. What I am doing is just to send a technical mission to assess if the conditions could be met in order to send an observation mission.  

On current affairs we dealt with a lot of things; Lebanon, I debriefed Ministers on my visit there where the political blockage persists, and on my call for the political leaders to take their responsibilities and to form a new government, to implement reforms.

We talked also about Turkey ahead of the European Council [24 and 25 June]. I talked with the Foreign Affairs Minister of Turkey [Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu] in Antalya before I went to Lebanon. We talked about the relationship between [the European Union and Turkey], the Cyprus issue and the preparation of the agreement with Turkey, which will be considered at the next European Union Council.

I also informed [the Ministers] about the Belgrade – Pristina Dialogue, about my discussion with the new Foreign Affairs Minister of Israel [Yair Lapid].

We considered the situation in Tigray, in Ethiopia, where the humanitarian ceasefire has been rejected. Human rights atrocities are alarming, pushing 400,000 estimated people to a man-made famine. We will put Ethiopia on the agenda of the next Foreign Affairs Council.

We also adopted a third round of sanctions on Myanmar, targeting both individuals and state-owned companies. Once again, our measures are aligned with our international partners.

The Joint Communication on European Union-Russia relations has also been raised. Several ministers intervened to prepare the European Council, which will have a strategic discussion on this paper later this week. As you know this Communication proposes, in line with the five principles, to push back, to constrain and to engage Russia, and I hope the European Council will endorse it.

Finally we talked about Iran, the results of the Iranian presidential elections and the ongoing negotiations in Vienna to try to revive the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iran nuclear deal].  

The Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs [Ann Linde] debriefed us on her visit to Yemen and to the Gulf. And Yemen is another topic that will be on the agenda or at least on the current affairs point of the next Foreign Affairs Council. 

I think this is a brief summary of a long Foreign Affairs Council.

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Q. I would like to start with Belarus and the sanctions endorsed today by the EU Foreign Ministers. I would like to ask what is the impact that you expect the sanctions to have, given the fact that already there are a lot of sanctions in place since years on Lukashenko, and he is still in place. What makes you believe that this time it is different and that these sanctions will not exhaust the people and push Lukashenko in to Putin’s arms? About Turkey, you mentioned that it has been discussed, so is the European Union ready to activate the positive agenda on Turkey? On the Cyprus issue, is this announced visit by the Turkish President Erdogan to Varosha a condition that could really take this positive agenda back?

These sanctions are designed and implemented in order to change the behaviour of the people sanctioned. This is the purpose. There are sanctions on persons and there are economic sanctions. We do not use economic sanctions at the beginning because we are aware that the economic sanctions affect not only people that we want to sanction – that we target – but also everybody, because they affect the economy. So we have been very careful in taking this decision. Certainly, this is a fourth round of sanctions; I do not exclude to prepare a fifth round, because it is the way we have to influence the behaviour of those responsible for what is happening in Belarus. And also, the economic sanctions, when they will be taken, they will influence their behaviour because they will create damage to the economics of the country. Certainly, there is not a magic wand; but this is the tool we have.

About Turkey and Cyprus, I do not expect the next European Council to go deeper on the issue of the relations with Turkey, because it will be very much engaged on the Russia communication. And, certainly, our relations with Turkey are very much influenced by the Cyprus issue. We will follow attentively the situation in Cyprus, trying to push for the continuation of the negotiations that started in Geneva. Because I think that this is a good occasion to try to look for a solution to the Cyprus settlement.

Q. Regarding the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue, how do you find the results of this last round of talks in Brussels last week? Are you satisfied with the cooperativeness of the new Pristina Prime Minister? Did you speak with President Biden about the Dialogue?

No, I have not had the opportunity to talk with President [of the United States, Joe] Biden about it, but I have been talking with my homologue, my counterpart, the Secretary of State [Antony] Blinken. And I have to say that now there is a very good cooperation between the United States and Europe. There is no longer a competition from the United States side to try to empower themselves on the Dialogue, which is a process led by the European Union. Now we are in a strong cooperation and that is going to help. The Dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade was just a point under current affairs and it took some minutes. I informed about how the last meeting took place and our intention to have another meeting before the summer.

Q. On Iran, the new elected President showed today in his press conference that he is really a hard-line one and he said a lot of things: he will not negotiate the ballistic missile, nor the [presence] of the armed militias in the region. How concerned are you that the new elected President will not be willing to terminate the Vienna talks and then maybe they will fail, because he is putting a lot of conditions? About Lebanon, you said many times that you have options in the European Union, why are you reluctant to take some restrictive measures against those who are blocking the political situation in Lebanon? You were there, are they from many communities or are they from only one camp?

I do not have any reason to believe that the new President of Iran is going to take a different stand with respect to a negotiation that is in the interest of their people and of their country. I do not have any reason to believe it, but let us see.

About taking restrictive measures against anyone, it is not me waking up in the morning and saying “I am going to take restrictive measures”. No, this is a long process that requires unanimity of the 27 Member States. So, Member States put the question on the table as a possibility in order to try to push to deblock the situation in Lebanon and I have been told by the leaders that they should take their responsibility and to try, by all means, to end this political blockage, to form a government and to take the decisions to face the challenges that the country is facing. We will continue discussing about it and see what is happening. This is one possibility that is on the table, but for the time being it has not even been discussed at the appropriate level.

You will have to wait for quite a long. Not quite a long, because we are under pressure, but certainly weeks, in order to take a decision like adopting a set of measures against the political responsibles in Lebanon.

Q. Back to the Belarus economic sanctions: Do you really think that they stand much of a chance of forcing a step forward in this process of trying to secure free and fair elections in Belarus? Do you think that the economic sanctions can achieve that or is there a risk that this will push Lukashenko further in the direction of Moscow?

Look, if we were not convinced that this can help, we would not be doing it. We take this kind of decision because we believe that it can help. If we did not believe it, we would not take it. It is not automatic, it is not sure, but it is a way of putting pressure – and economic sanctions put a lot of pressure. And Ms [Sviatlana] Tsikhanouskaya has been asking us to take still more sanctions, to freeze assets, to affect the state-owned enterprises which are supporting Lukashenko. She provided us with a list of such terms. So, certainly, we believe that we can influence the behaviour.

Q. What are the conditions for sending an electoral observation mission, and to recognise the elections in November? Is your meeting with Jorge Arreaza, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Venezuela, a good sign towards normalisation? With the exception of Spain, Italy, France and Germany, do you think the other Member States care about Latin America?

Latin America is not [often] enough on the political agenda of the European Union, I have been saying that since I came to Brussels and it is not a secret. We talk about €1 billion for Africa to increase the production capacity for vaccines in Africa, we talk about 100 million doses to be donated but we do not precise exactly which is the amount that will be devoted to Latin America.

It is clear that some Member States are very much related, engaged, for historical, cultural, linguistic links with Latin America and others do not have it. This is a fact of life, this is a result of history, but we are a Union, and we share concerns and everybody has to participate in the concerns that some feel more than others. Spain today has launched the idea of increasing donations and I am sure that others will follow.

But you know all European Union Member States, all together, have to participate on a common policy [Common Foreign and Security Policy]. In a common policy, in some items of this common policy some Members feel more concerned than others. But all of us participate in it.

The conditions to send an electoral observation mission are very varied. There are security concerns and political [concerns]. We have to ensure that the people that we are sending can conduct their work in a secure framework, with the capacity to really observe without being constrained. It has to be also a priori a working political system, to have a minimum trust that it is going to be free and fair, of a certain degree of fairness. And this is what the technical team that goes there [does, it] comes back with a report and depending on the report we decide, I decide to send it or not.

And the second question, the conditions to consider an election free and fair well this is the result of the observation. I cannot say before that something happens I cannot qualify something as free and fair before it takes place. But I think it is good if it is possible to have eyes on the ground, to have the possibility of observing. Because in some cases in which we have not sent an observation mission, frankly I think we have regretted it, because in the end we would have been very happy if we could have had our own assessment of the situation.

Link to the video:

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