Category Archives: EU

EU Commission issues Rule of Law report

Brussels 20.07.2021 Today Commissioner Didier Reynders sent a letter to Poland, asking the government to explain how it applies the interim measures and recent ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union to safeguard judicial independence. “We will not hesitate to make use of our powers under the Treaties” the Commissioner said during his press-conference in Brussels.

The European Commission has today published the second EU-wide Report on the Rule of Law with a Communication looking at the situation in the EU as a whole and dedicated country chapters on each Member State. The 2021 report looks at the new developments since last September, deepening the assessment of issues identified in the previous report and taking into account the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, the report shows many positive developments in Member States, including where challenges identified in the 2020 report are being addressed. However, concerns remain and in certain Member States these have increased, for instance when it comes to the independence of the judiciary and the situation in the media. The report also underlines the strong resilience of national systems during the COVID-19 pandemic. This pandemic also illustrated the importance of the ability to maintain a system of checks and balances, upholding the rule of law.

“The Rule of Law Report is a useful preventive tool that has stimulated needed debate among the Member States and other actors,” Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, said. “The second edition shows that Member States can make progress to address rule of law matters. Yet this has been uneven and there are causes for serious concern in a number of Member States, especially when it comes to the independence of judiciary. Moreover, two journalists were murdered over the past months – this is not acceptable. The report calls for decisive action to improve media freedom and pluralism. Over the next year, we expect the findings of the 2021 report to nourish discussions between Member States as they work to strengthen the rule of law.”

“Over this past year, the 2020 Rule of Law Report has encouraged positive reforms related to the rule of law in a number of Member States” Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders underlined. “Moreover, the Council of Ministers used it to modernise its rule of law dialogue, with regular country-specific debates. I have also debated the report in 20 national parliaments. This year, we have further deepened our assessment, which benefitted from even more outreach than last year. The report can help us to have a real dialogue as a Union, side by side, in an honest and open spirit. This 2021 report, building on the one of last year, will foster this process.”

New heads of EU representations

Brussels 20.07.2021 Today, the Commission has appointed two new Heads of Representation in Paris and Luxembourg.

Ms Valérie Drezet-Humez will start in her new function in Paris on 01 September 2021. Ms Anne Calteux will take up her duties as Head of Representation in Luxembourg, at a date still to be decided. They will act as the official Representatives of the Commission in the Member States under the political authority of President Ursula von der Leyen.

Ms Valérie Drezet-Humez, a French national, with 25 years of experience in the Commission, will draw on her strong policy background, her strategic communication and managerial skills and legal expertise in EU matters. Since 2010, she has been working in the Secretariat-General, as Head of Unit responsible for briefings for the President and Vice-Presidents touching upon all policy priorities and political developments. Prior to that, she headed the team in charge of written, empowerment and delegations procedures in the Secretariat-General where she acquired a deep understanding of the functioning of the Commission while supporting critical adoption to enable Commission decision-making. She started in the Secretariat-General as policy assistant to the deputy Secretary-General and then to the Secretary–General, after leaving the Directorate General for Translation where she was policy assistant to the Director-General, posts where she was exposed to the political and delivery dimension of files. She joined the European Commission in 1995, in the Directorate-General for Environment, where she worked in the industry and environment domain, and in policy coordination, a domain which is key to the current political agenda. Ms Drezet-Humez is a lawyer who graduated from the University of Lyon III where she specialised in EU Law.

Ms Anne Calteux, a Luxembourg national, brings a long experience in the Luxembourg and European diplomacy to her new assignment, which will allow her to effectively manage key political communication and strategic coordination. Since 2016, Ms Calteux has held a number of leading positions where she exercised a high level of responsibility and crisis management, most notably the last one as a responsible to coordinate the COVID-19 Crisis Cell in the Ministry of Health in Luxembourg. As a Head of EU and International Affairs and a Senior Advisor to the Minister in the Ministry of Health in Luxembourg since 2016, she has gathered ample knowledge of EU affairs and policies. Between 2016 and 2018 Ms Calteux headed the Communications Unit at the Ministry which proves her sound communication and analytical skills and ability for overall strategic orientation and management of the Commission’s Representation in Luxembourg. Between 2004 and 2013, she worked in the Permanent Representation of Luxembourg to the European Union, as a Counsellor in charge of public health, pharmaceuticals and social security. Ms Calteux holds a Master of laws, from LLM, King’s College in London, where she has specialised in Comparative European law.

The Commission maintains Representations in all capitals of EU Member States, and Regional Offices in Barcelona, Bonn, Marseille, Milan, Munich and Wroclaw. The Representations are the Commission’s eyes, ears and voice on the ground in EU Member States. They interact with national authorities, stakeholders and citizens, and inform the media and the public about EU policies. Heads of Representations are appointed by the President of the European Commission and are her political representatives in the Member State to which they are posted.

Borrell concludes EU DIPLOMATS Council

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”.

MEPs debate Hungary EU budget restrictions

Strasbourg 06.07.2021 The budget conditionality regulation does not require any additional clarification to be applied and rule of law breaches must be addressed without delay, say the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).

“We are now one step closer to finally applying the Conditionality regulation against those breaking the Rule of Law in the member states. With the Parliament’s contribution to the guidelines, we offer the Commission the means and tools to act without hesitation. The regulation is ready to be used”, said the co-rapporteur Petri Sarvamaa (EPP, FI) after the vote.

In a resolution adopted by the Budget and Budgetary Control committees on Thursday with 53 votes 11 against and 2 abstentions, MEPs regret that the Commission has decided to abide by the non-binding December 2020 European Council conclusions and delay application of the budget conditionality regulation.

They stress that the guidelines cannot alter, expand or restrict the scope of the budget conditionality regulation and that, in order to add any value, they must clarify how the legislative provisions will be applied in practice, outlining the procedure, definitions and methodology.
They also call on the Commission to set out a “clear, precise and user-friendly system” for submitting complaints under the regulation.

MEPs call on the Commission to investigate swiftly any potential breaches of the principles of the rule of law “that affect or seriously risk affecting the sound financial management of the Union budget”, by pointing out that “the situation in some member states already warrants immediate action”. The Commission should report to Parliament on the first cases under investigation by October 2021 the latest, they add.

MEPs finally criticise the Commission for having missed the deadline set by Parliament to apply the regulation and adopt the guidelines by 1 June 2021. They welcome the 23 June letter by the President of Parliament saying that if the Commission does not act, the EP will take action in the Court of Justice.

“We have said from the beginning that the guidelines were not necessary, but the Commission put forward its proposal and asked the EP for its position. So here it is. Parliament is always ready to work with the Commission on the rule of law, and in turn we expect the European Commission not to deceive us. It must act swiftly and strongly”, said the co-rapporteur Eider Gardiazabal Rubial (S&D, ES).

French European Affairs junior minister Clement Beaune said on Wednesday he expected a form of sanctions against Hungary over Hungary’s anti-LGBT law.

Beaune also said he was not in favour of kicking Hungary out of the European Union, reiterating earlier comments to this effect from French President Emmanuel Macron.

“I am not in favour of Hungary being kicked out of the European Union”, he told RTL radio.

EU: Slovenia Presidency

Brussels 03.07.2017 Slovenia’s presidency of the Council of the EU: 1 July – 31 December 2021
The priorities of Slovenia’s presidency are driven by its motto: ‘Together. Resilient. Europe.’
The presidency’s programme focuses on four main areas:

– EU’s recovery, resilience and strategic autonomy
– reflection on the future of Europe
– European way of life, the rule of law and European values
– increasing security and stability in the European neighbourhood

The Slovenian presidency of the Council of the EU will strive to actively contribute to strengthening the EU’s resilience to health, economic, energy, climate and cyber crises. Working together, supporting each other and acting in solidarity for the good of each and every European citizen will be key to strengthening the EU’s resilience.​ (Image above: Ljubljana)

EEAS diplomatic appointments

Brussels 02.07.2021 High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Josep Borrell, announced the following appointments for senior positions in the European External Action Service (EEAS) today:

Belén MARTÍNEZ CARBONELL as Managing Director for Human Rights, Global and Multilateral Issues. She is currently Director of Human Resources in the EEAS. She previously served as Head of the Policy coordination Division.

Kristin DE PEYRON as Director of Human Resources. She is currently Deputy Managing Director for Global Affairs in the EEAS. She was previously Head of the Selection and Recruitment Division and Head of the Human Resources Policy Division.

High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell also announced the appointments of 19 new Heads of Delegations of the European Union, who will take up their duties as of 1 September :

Katja AFHELDT as Head of Delegation of the European Union to the Dominican Republic. She is currently Head of the EEAS Mexico, Central America and Caribbean Division. She also served as Head of the EEAS Division for Career, Learning and Development.

Paola AMADEI as Head of Delegation of the European Union to Lesotho. She is currently Advisor to the EEAS Managing Director for the Americas. She formerly served as Executive Director of the European Union – Latin America and Caribbean Foundation.

Paolo BERIZZI as Head of Delegation of the European Union to Uruguay. He is currently Head of Delegation of the European Union to Paraguay. He also served as Member of Cabinet of former Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica.

Gilles BERTRAND as Head of Delegation of the European Union to Colombia. He is currently Chargé d’Affaires of the Delegation of the European Union to Syria. He also served as Head of the EEAS Syria Conference Team.

Douglas CARPENTER as Head of Delegation of the European Union to Central African Republic. He is currently Deputy Head of the EEAS Southern Africa and Indian Ocean Division. He also served as Deputy Head of the EEAS Central Africa and Great Lakes Division.

Dessislava CHOUMELOVA as Head of Delegation of the European Union to Eswatini. She is currently Head of the Demography, Migration and Governance Unit of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission. She also served as policy officer in the Delegation of the European Union to South Africa.

EU leaders address migration

Brussels 25.06.2021 The European Council (pictured) discussed the migration situation on the various routes. While the measures taken by the EU and Member States have brought down the overall irregular flows in recent years, developments on some routes give rise to serious concern and require continued vigilance and urgent action.

In order to prevent loss of life and to reduce pressure on European borders, mutually beneficial partnerships and cooperation with countries of origin and transit will be intensified, as an integral part of the European Union’s external action.

The approach will be pragmatic, flexible and tailor-made, make coordinated use, as Team Europe, of all available EU and Member States’ instruments and incentives, and take place in close cooperation with the UNHCR and IOM. It should address all routes and be based on a whole-of-route approach, tackling root causes, supporting refugees and displaced persons in the region, building capacity for migration management, eradicating smuggling and trafficking, reinforcing border control, cooperating on search and rescue, addressing legal migration while respecting national competences, as well as ensuring return and readmission. To this end, the European Council:

– calls on the Commission and the High Representative Josep Borrell, in close cooperation with Member States, to immediately reinforce concrete actions with, and tangible support for, priority countries of origin and transit;

– calls on the Commission and the High Representative, in close cooperation with Member States, to put forward action plans for priority countries of origin and transit in autumn 2021, indicating clear objectives, further support measures and concrete timelines;

– invites the Commission to make the best possible use of at least 10% of the NDICI financial envelope, as well as funding under other relevant instruments, for actions related to migration, and to report to the Council on its intentions in this respect by November.

The European Council condemns and rejects any attempt by third countries to instrumentalise migrants for political purposes.

EU diplomats focus on Belarus

Brussels 21.06.2021 “Today, at this meeting in Luxembourg, the first thing is to talk about Belarus. We are first going to have a meeting with the Belarus opposition leader, Ms [Sviatlana] Tsikhanouskaya. She will explain the situation in the country; there will be a debate; and then we will approve the package of new sanctions, which is a wide package. I think it is about 86 people or entities. Not only people, but also entities” said the High Representative Josep Borrell upon arrival to the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg.

“Then we will also discuss about the economic sanctions, which will be presented to the European Council at its next meeting. The European Council, as you know, does not take decisions, but gives political guidelines. The economic sanctions, which affect the economy of Belarus, are going to be discussed here today and will be approved after consideration by the European Council.

“Then we are going to have a meeting also with the Foreign Affairs Minister of Iraq, in a lunch with him. The situation in Iraq is also worrisome and we will see what we can do in order to help this country.

“Latin America will be the third issue. Since I am here [in the position of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy], I have been trying to make people understand that Latin America is not on our political agenda enough. The COVID-19 situation in Latin America is really appalling. Frankly speaking, it is decreasing everywhere in the world, but not in Latin America where it continues to increase. And we have to do more for Latin America. There are two Association Agreements on the way and we have to accelerate them. And then, for sure, there is the issue of Mercosur. We are going to take stock of the whole relationship with Latin America.

“There are many other issues on which we have to put our attention: Ethiopia, Turkey. I am coming back from Turkey and Lebanon. In Lebanon, I sent a clear message about the need for the political class to be able to agree on a government, because the country cannot stay without a government in such a difficult situation.

“We will have an overview of the situation in the world, but the main issues are Belarus, Iraq and Latin America”.

EU-Russia relations in focus

Brussels 17.06.2021 “Today we are presenting a Joint Communication from the High Representative and the [European] Commission that responds to an invitation of the European Council of the last 24th of May. This Communication sets out the state of European Union-Russia relations in all their complexity and proposes the way forward – that is an important thing” said in remarks by the High Representative and Vice-President Josep Borrell at the press conference presenting the Joint Communication on EU-Russia relations.

Russia remains the European Union’s largest neighbour and it is an important global actor.

However, the deliberate policy choices of the Russian government – I am talking about the Russian government – over the last years have created a negative spiral in our relations.

To meet the strategic challenge posed by the Russian leadership, implementation of the five guiding principles has given us, the European Union, a purpose and an approach that defends our interests and values.

Time and again, the European Union has demonstrated unity, despite attempts by Russia to divide us. This unity remains our biggest asset and needs to be even more robust.

Under the present circumstances, we believe that a renewed partnership allowing us to realise the full potential of a close cooperation with Russia is a distant prospect.

The European Union therefore needs to be realistic and prepare for a further downturn of our relations with Russia – which are, right now, at the lowest level . This further downturn is the most likely outlook for the time being.

On the other hand, our ambition should be to explore paths that can help to change the current dynamics gradually, into a more predictable and stable relationship.

Today’s Joint Communication proposes to simultaneously push back, constrain and engage Russia. In that order: to push back, to constrain and to engage Russia, based on a common understanding of Russia’s aims and an approach that we can refer to as being a principled pragmatism.

Let us go a little bit more into the details of these three verbs

“First, we must push back against human rights violations, breaches of international law in our Member States and in our neighbourhood, and continue to speak up for democratic values.

“These are matters of direct concern to all members of United Nations, to all members of the OSCE and to all members of the Council of Europe, and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of any country.

As a fundamental part of this, we will continue supporting Ukraine and its territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence. This includes continuing to call on Russia to assume its responsibility as a party to the conflict and to implement the Minsk agreements.

Second, to constrain Russia’s attempts to undermine European Union’s interests. The European Union must become more robust and resilient.

For doing so, we must develop our cyber security and defence capacity, as well as our strategic communication capabilities, by stepping up work on foreign information manipulation and disinformation.

We should continue to strengthen our capabilities against hybrid threats.

We must also use the advantage provided by our energy transition and support the energy security of our neighbours. Our energy transition will affect Russia crucially from the point of view of an energy mix – and, as you know, Russia is a great provider of hydrocarbons in this energy mix.

We also need, finally, to step up support to our Eastern partners and increase their resilience through the implementation of the pending reforms.

Third, but not last, it is important to engage with Russia. It is important to engage with Russia on several key challenges to further defend our interests:

First, you know very well that the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the need for global engagement on public health. The virus knows no borders and the border that the European Union and Russia share is about 2,000 kilometres long.

Second, we should engage in a close dialogue with Russia to combat climate change in the run-up to the COP-26 in Glasgow(link is external) and beyond.

Third, we should also continue to address the more technical engagement with the Russian government on the vast number of economic irritants in our relations.

Fourth, we should strengthen people-to-people contacts, which could include more visa facilitation, especially for young people, academics and work exchanges.

The following item is to continuing supporting – and to be more flexible and creative in doing so – Russian civil society and human rights defenders.

Finally, on the foreign policy front, we should continue to cooperate on regional issues – there are many of them, Middle East, Afghanistan, the JCPOA [Iran nuclear deal] or Libya – and on global issues: counter-terrorism and non-proliferation.

These are the proposals that together with the Commission we have been drafting to take forward our relations with Russia.

We will continue working closely together with our partners in the G7, NATO and other like-minded partners.

We want and we need to drive the relationship in a way that our interests and principles will be better defended and promoted.

This Communication will form the basis for the discussion at next week’s European Council, which is, according to the Treaty, the body that has to provide guidance on foreign policy.

I look forward to the Leaders – the members of the European Council – to provide this guidance in order to steer this, as you see, complex relationship”.

EU towards Belarus targeted sanctions

Brussels 09.06.2021 “…It is certainly the right moment to talk about Belarus. Belarus is again at the very top of the international agenda for the events that everybody knows and the continued repression by Lukashenko’s regime” the EU top diplomat Josep Borrell said, while addressing the Members of the European Parliament.

“This repression has been strongly condemned, as much as the massive human rights violations, which continue unabated since the past elections in August 2020, almost one year ago.

“The recent events are related with the hijacking of a European Union airplane flying between two European Union capitals, and forcing it to land in Minsk, with the intervention of a fighter jet, which is an act that overstepped many red lines. Not only it has jeopardised the security of over 100 passengers, but it has also challenged international rules relating with air transportation. The subsequent arrest of a young Belarusian journalist [Raman Pratasevich] as well as his partner [Sofia Sapega] is an abhorrent act. Their forced confessions on state television is another example of the flagrant violations of basic human rights that Lukashenko’s regime commit. It was certainly awful to watch these images of these people detained, crying and recognising in front of the state television like he has been committing I do not know how many crimes against Belarus. Believe me, it was a shameful image.

“We had to respond decisively against these images, against these facts, and already the day after the hijacking of the Ryanair flight, the European Council met, brought up this issue on the agenda and took decisions.

“The European Council called for additional sanctions, and for the first time they decided to include targeted economic sanctions. Until now all our sanctions [vis-a-vis Belarus] are usually taken on a personal basis, affecting individuals and entities, but not the whole economy of the country. This time the Council requested to take targeted economic sanctions.

“The Council also requested that all European Union-based air carriers avoid overflights of Belarus.

“It called also for adopting the necessary measures to ban overflight of the European Union airspace by Belarusian airlines and prevent access to European Union airports of flights operated by such airlines. And I can tell you that these measures have already been adopted last week and I will give you some details about it.

“Listings of individuals and companies, including those involved in the Ryanair incident, are well on track for adoption and they will be adopted by written procedure in the following days.

“As mandated by the European Council, and together with the Commission, we have started [preparing] targeted economic sanctions as the Council requested. They will be adopted at the next Foreign Affairs Council, I hope that the technical work will be finished and it will be affecting critical sectors of the Belarusian economy. But the final decision belongs to the Member States; I hope they will be united on that.

“In the meantime, we will continue to address the human rights violations in international fora. Let us not forget that there are now, we calculate, almost 450 political prisoners in Belarus. This group includes journalists arrested for simply doing their jobs – informing, students, representatives of civil society and ordinary citizens who protested against their freedoms and rights being taken away by the regime.

“We have been contributing to the establishment of mechanism to hold the perpetrators of human rights violations responsible and we will continue to support the victims and look for the accountability of perpetrators.

“We have published a plan for a €3 billion economic and investment package in support of a democratic Belarus, sending a message of hope and support to the people of Belarus, showing the prospects for a more prosperous country once they come back to a democratic system. This should be a strong incentive for economic development, should the country change. This €3 billion economic plan will support it. This is a way of proving that we stand with the Belarusian people, and we will continue doing so in the future…”

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