[Remarks by HR/VP Mogherini at the press conference following the informal meeting of Foreign Affairs Ministers (Gymnich)]
We had a very dense agenda, so I will try to go through the different issues we touched upon. But I would like to start by thanking the Austrian Presidency and Karin [Kneissl, Foreign Minister of Austria] personally for a wonderful welcome and hospitality and also very good cooperation and political preparation of this informal meeting of the Foreign Ministers.
We started yesterday with a discussion on the Middle East – the wider region of the Middle East – trying to bring coherence to our approach on the different files of the region.
First of all, on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: we exchanged views on the current lack of process, reiterating our firm position on the need for a two-state solution as the only realistic one. And we focused, in particular, on our support for the work that the UN and Egypt are doing on Gaza. We will pursue this work further, especially in view of the UN General Assembly week in New York in a few weeks’ time and our support to UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees], which we are funding very consistently and which we are going to continue to support, not only for the Palestinian refugees in Gaza, but also for the need to support Jordan and Lebanon in this respect.
We also touched upon the situation in Syria that was actually central to our debates yesterday on the Middle East. First and foremost with a strong message on Idlib: we see the need to prevent and avoid a military action in Idlib that would be a humanitarian catastrophe, we believe. We also discussed ways in which we can increase even more our humanitarian assistance for Syrians, including inside Syria, while still keeping a very clear position on the fact that European Union money for reconstruction in Syria will only come once the political process will be firmly underway under UN auspices. We will have a ministerial meeting on Syria in New York in the margins of the UN General Assembly. And we will work also together with the Austrian Presidency to prepare it well.
Regional dynamics are critical to peace in Syria and we discussed in this context also Iran’s regional behaviour, which is of very serious concern to all of us and that we need to address. We discussed this quite in detail.
At the same time our work continues to preserve the nuclear deal. You might have seen just yesterday the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency], based in Vienna – and the deal was signed in Vienna too – released its 12th report certifying that Iran is still complying with all its nuclear related commitments. This is good news. Our work continues with all the Member States and with other partners in the world, to make sure that Iranians and Iranian citizens can benefit from the economic relations not only the European Union’s Member States, but also others in the world.
The second point on the agenda yesterday was related to the Transatlantic relations, which is a key pillar of the European Union foreign policy. The United States are the closest partners and friends we have always had and that does not change; that continues. There are some issues on which we have clear divergences and we are very clear and frank on this. But there are also many other on which our cooperation continues to be excellent and key for the success of our common work. I could just mention DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] as one example, but there are many others.
We had this morning a good discussion with the Ministers on the Western Balkans. Here, again, I would like to highlight the role of the Austrian Presidency. After the Bulgarian Presidency and before the Romanian Presidency, this gives us a very good framework for defining the work we do with the Western Balkans and in the Western Balkans as a top priority for the European Union.
We touched upon, in particular, the support to the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina that I facilitate. I will host a new meeting of Mr [Hashim] Thaçi [President of Kosovo] and Mr [Aleksandar] Vučić [President of Serbia] next week – exactly one week from now – to continue the work that we facilitate to reach a legally binding agreement.
We also discussed the upcoming elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, hoping that they will bring a result that can be easily and smoothly implemented, so that there is no vacuum and we can continue to work with the authorities of the country on the reform agenda.
And, obviously, we also touched upon the upcoming referendum in Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which has our full support as we have expressed our full support to the agreement that was reached by Skopje and Athens on 17 June on the name issue, a historic agreement that has all of our support.
We also discussed two issues that were not on the agenda, still with the 28 Foreign Minister. One is the situation in Venezuela, where we decided to step up our diplomatic engagement together with the countries in the region to try and encourage the relaunching of a dialogue. We are extremely worried for the humanitarian situation in the country, but also the effect on the neighbouring countries that are receiving massive waves of Venezuelans in their territory. The European Union adopted a package of humanitarian aid of €35 million to support Venezuelans both inside Venezuela, but also in the neighbouring countries and the host communities in the neighbouring countries, focusing, in particular, on nutrition, water, health and the support to the most vulnerable people.
We also discussed Operation Sophia, as we did yesterday with the Defence Ministers. I have seen a strong commitment by all Member States, both yesterday and today. A unanimous commitment to, first of all, continue the Operation that has brought good results and that is in the interest of all to be kept and, second, I have seen a strong commitment to work together and to find practical, operational solutions to the issue of the sharing of responsibility of the management of those who disembark from search and rescue operations. This process will now proceed in the coming days. As I said yesterday, this is going to be a difficult process, but I am positive and optimistic on the fact that we could reach positive results in the coming weeks, in parallel and in coordination with the work that has been done in other fora as a follow-up to the European Council meeting in June and in preparation of the next Heads of State and Government meeting in Salzburg, because there are aspects that relate to internal decisions that are in the hands of Heads of State and Government. We will coordinate closely now in the coming days and weeks to try to find and build consensus on solutions that can allow our Operation Sophia to continue to operate with full predictability and a smooth and practical way to move forward. I also suggested to the Foreign Ministers that the external aspects of migration will be on the agenda of the next Foreign Affairs Council in October.
Last but not least, we had an excellent session with the candidate countries’ Foreign Ministers, just now, on effective multilateralism. This is a very welcome top priority for the Austrian Presidency; this is the very DNA of the European Union. The European Union being the most successful experiment of multilateralism in human history, it is only natural for us to invest in multilateralism both in terms of approach and in terms of institutions in all the different fields, from trade to the UN system. And this is an issue and an approach that we definitely share with all the candidate countries and we have discussed today ways to work together in this respect. So, thank you again and thank you, Karin, for an excellent work we have done together in these days.
Q: On Serbia and Kosovo: what have you heard today from the Ministers of the region – from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, from Bosnia and Herzegovina – about the idea of a land swap? How much concern is there? In the end, if the two sides agree and if the US is now saying that it will not block a land swap, what is it exactly that Europe can do about it?
You know the rules of the game well. First of all – and I do not want to be formal on this –, but I really feel that it is important that, especially in informal meetings like this one, we protect ourselves and we protect those that work with us and with whom we work. This is why I am not going to comment on specific positions that have been expressed behind closed doors.
I want to remind you all that the informal meetings, the “Gymnich” meetings, are ministers-only in the room, which provides us with a certain flexibility to address issues very frankly and very directly and this is the added value of these kind of meetings. So I am not going to say what one Minister or the other has mentioned. And by the way, with the Ministers of the region we have discussed other issues today: we discussed multilateralism and our support to international rules and a certain approach to foreign policy that we share, so we have not discussed regional issues.
But what I can tell you very clearly is this: I have seen around the table in these days a very strong support for the dialogue, for the commitment and the engagement of [Aleksandar] Vučić [President of Serbia] and [Hashim] Thaçi [President of Kosovo] in this delicate phase. I have seen the awareness of the difficulties, which are there and which we have never hidden and which are still all ahead of us, but also the appreciation for the commitment and the determination and for the possibility to finally solve one of the most – if not the most – complicated and painful tensions that are full of consequences for the region itself and that we have in Europe still, only 20 years after the conflict.
So, next week we will continue the dialogue with Thaci and Vucic. It is also my responsibility as a facilitator of the dialogue to protect the dialogue itself and the parties engaged in the dialogue. I would not comment on the specific content of the discussions that are ongoing. I can just tell you this: whatever outcome that is mutually agreed would get our support provided it is –as it is being discussed currently – in line with international law and with the European Union acquis. And you know very well the European history: the European history is based on overcoming and preventing any idea of ethnically pure nation states. I hope this reassures everybody, who is getting nervous on ideas that are floating around. We are working seriously on something difficult, challenging, not impossible, but still not there yet. So I would refrain from commenting on things that are not formally or substantially on the table and try to protect this phase of negotiations that is extremely delicate. As I said, it is difficult and difficulties are clear, but it not impossible, so we continue the work.
Q: On Serbia and Kosovo: Do you think that the plan of the land swap could lead to the recognition of Kosovo by Serbia and is that possible until the European elections next year?
The agreement we are working on is an agreement that would be legally binding and that would solve all outstanding issues. I believe this answers the first part of your question. The second thing is that, yes, I believe that we are all committed to finalising negotiations in the comings months, before the end of the mandate of this Commission. As I said, we are not there yet. It is very difficult, but not impossible.