Brussels 12.07.2021 “We started today’s Foreign Affairs Council with a discussion on the external and geopolitical impact of the new digital technologies. These technologies are crucial for our societies and economies. They are becoming an object and a driver of geopolitical competition and global influence. Certainly, global actors are using these new technologies to manipulate the information environment, to influence our public debates and to interfere in our democratic processes” the EU top diplomat Josep Borrell said, concluding the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels.
As European Union, we need to use our unique capacity as regulatory power, setting global norms and standards to maintain an open system, centred on the rule of law. We want to work together with partners from the United States to the Indo-Pacific, Africa and Latin America.
We agreed with the European External Action Service and the European Commission to continue our work on structuring a coherent digital external policy. For sure, in the months to come we are going to go back to this very much important issue and in order to be prepared for that, at the European External Action Service, we have created a new division to deal with the connectivity and digital transformation issues.
Also, for the first time, the Foreign Ministers discussed the Strategic Compass. It is something that the Ministers of Defence have been involved in on several occasions and will continue being involved in the next informal meeting in September, but today the Foreign Ministers – at their request – have been involved in the discussion about: how to better prepare for future crises; how to reinforce our resilience against threats, for example in the cyber space; how to reinforce our partnerships to meet common challenges; and how to develop a common strategic culture.
I presented to the Ministers the schedule in order to be able, by November, to present a first draft and, by March [next year], to adopt the Strategic Compass. I think that it is a very important initiative. I do not care if it is controversial, I prefer to have controversies [rather] than indifferences and I think that the Foreign Ministers took stock of the importance of this project. Let us hope that by November the Ministers will have a full draft of the Strategic Compass.
Talking about defence and security issues, today we formally established, in a record time, the new European Training Mission for Mozambique. This is the second Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) mission that is being created during my mandate.
It has been done in a record time, in European terms ‘record time’ does not mean very quickly, but it has been done quicker than in any other mission.
The new mission will be a fundamental part of our response to the government of Mozambique’s request to address the crisis in Cabo Delgado, in the northern part of the country, and to contribute to reinforce and re-establish security.
This mission will train selected Mozambican units to help the armed forces in their efforts to bring back safety and security. This commitment now needs to be properly resourced and accompanied by the adequate assistance measures. So, I have been asking the Member States, once the mission has been agreed, to bring, to provide the means, the staff that this mission will require. It is not going to be a big mission, like the one that we have in Mali, but it is important that the people who will go to Mozambique to train Mozambican units will be highly qualified military elements.
We had a discussion over lunch with the new Israeli Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid. You know that the European Union and Israel share deep political, historical and cultural ties.
We had a friendly, open and constructive exchange on our bilateral relations, but also on the situation in the region – especially related to the [Middle East] Peace Process and the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iran nuclear deal] negotiations.
The fact that [Foreign] Minister Lapid decided to follow up on my invitation to attend todays’ meeting, and with this to allow for an exchange with the new administration, shows that we have a chance for a fresh start and for strengthening our bilateral relations. But, these bilateral relations are also conditioned to many issues in which we have differences. And the proof is that the Association Agreement meetings have been cancelled since 2012, [as far as] I remember. It is quite a long time, almost 10 years.
We discussed also the Middle East Peace Process. Here I want to stress very clearly that Israel’s security is non-negotiable. We stand firmly for Israel’s security and condemn terrorism, but at the same time, we expect Israel to offer a political perspective to end the conflict. To find a solution with the Palestinians can only contribute to Israel’s security and we have a Foreign Minister from Israel that has publicly been advocating in favour of the ‘two-state solution’ – which is the solution that we, European Union, are strongly supporting.
A credible engagement, a stronger relationship with Israel needs to revive a path towards peace and justice for Israelis and Palestinians both alike. We remain ready and willing to support both in the efforts to rebuild a meaningful political process. We know that this is not going to be for tomorrow, we know the special composition of the Israeli government, but we have been very interested in listening the explanations of the Foreign Minister and his good will in order to improve the everyday life of the Palestinians and to advance in cooperation and working together towards resuming the holding of Association Council meetings if the conditions are met.
For this, we need, on one hand, to reach a consensus among Member States and, on the other hand, Israel has also to do its part.
After a long discussion with the Foreign Affairs Minister of the new Israeli government, we went to the discussion on Ethiopia.
You know that the situation in the Tigray region has never been as bad, despite of the ceasefire announced by the government of Ethiopia. What we are seeing in Tigray, what we are afraid Trigay is going to suffer, is a serious humanitarian crisis, with almost 1 million [people] – 850,000 [people] at risk of famine, and ongoing use of violence against civilians and rape as a weapon of war. The ceasefire is a positive step, but what is happening today is that the Tigray region is being cut-off from the rest of the world by destroying critical infrastructure of transportation, and this, as I said, could bring to the region the risk of mass famine.
We, at the European Union, the Commission, will organise an [humanitarian] air bridge to try to bring support to the region, but you can imagine that we cannot solve the problem of a famine affecting 850,000 people. It is something that is out of our capability, it will require the mobilisation – for this almost 1 million people, 850,000 people – of the United Nations agencies, and to ensure humanitarian access. We are ready to support the population, but we call on the Member States to provide donations as a clear sign of European Union solidarity.
[We should focus on these priorities:] To consolidate the ceasefire, the withdrawal of foreign forces from Ethiopian territory. To stop Human Rights violations. And to launch a reconciliation and national dialogue in order to preserve the integrity and political unity of Ethiopia, which remains a clear strategic objective.
Finally, we should be ready to use restrictive measures where we believe they are justified and necessary in advancing these goals. I believe that the situation in Ethiopia would certainly require that we consider this possibility along all options at our disposal. This option, the option of restrictive measures – to my understanding – must be on the table.
With ministers, we also addressed the situation in Afghanistan. The fighting is having a grave impact on civilians. The number of civilian casualties has grown 23% in the first semester of this year. We condemn the increasing targeted attacks against the Hazara community and other religious and ethnic groups.
The Ministers have unanimously urged the Taliban to engage in substantive and inclusive peace negotiations. We also call on countries of the region and the broader international community to play a constructive role in support of the Afghan peace process. I will be reaching out to many of the regional actors in the conference I will be attending in Tashkent, in Uzbekistan(link is external), in the coming days, where we expect the attendance of the President of Afghanistan.
On Lebanon, it seems to me that Europeans are more concerned with the search for a political solution to the country than the Lebanese politicians themselves, which is quite strange. After my visit to Lebanon, the political stalemate persists, the economy is imploding and the suffering of the people of Lebanon is continuously growing. They need to have a Lebanese government in order to avoid a crackdown of the country, fully able to implement the reforms and protect its population. This is in the interest of the Lebanese people, from all confessions and political orientations.
The Ministers reached a political understanding that a sanctions regime against those who are responsible for the situation should be established. In light of the preparatory technical work, the legal acts will be worked on and a decision will be adopted by the Council in order to create this new sanctions regime without delay. I can say that the objective is to complete this by the end of the month. I am not talking about the implementation of the regime, just the building of the regime according with sound legal basis.
On Belarus, the repression by the regime continues. Over the last few weeks, we have seen large-scale bulldozing of the independent media.
We have expressed our full solidarity with Lithuania on the expulsion of their diplomatic staff. We are following closely the situation at the Lithuania-Belarus border, where there are reports that the regime is now sending migrants to the Polish border too.
We call on Belarusian authorities to stick to their international commitments and obligations. We took already a number of restrictive measures and we are ready to consider further response to this behaviour. To use migrants as a weapon, pushing people to the borders is unacceptable and that is what is happening in the Lithuanian and Polish borders.
Finally, Cyprus. We are concerned about developments on the ground in Varosha. The European Union, through the President of the Commission [Ursula von der Leyen] and the President of the European Council [Charles Michel] has repeatedly reaffirmed the status of Varosha and called for the Turkish authorities not to create a situation, which could be against the United Nations decisions. The status of Varosha is set out in relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions, and it is important, as the two Presidents have directly addressed to the highest authorities in Turkey, to refrain from provocative actions.
Our priority is to focus on getting the Cyprus settlement talks [to restart], that is what we are working on, trying to avoid any kind of trouble, trying to avoid to get trapped in a negative spiral again. Our wish is to work on the settlement of the Cyprus issue. The Ministers today also rejected the two-state solution in Cyprus and on that we are firmly united. Let us hope that we are not going to have, on the following days, reasons for the calling of an extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council”.