Foreign Affairs Council: Press remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell at the press conference | EEAS

Foreign Affairs Council: Press remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell at the press conference

EEAS Press Team

Check against delivery! 

It has been a very long but productive day. 

We started with the Foreign Affairs Council and after, [we had] a joint meeting with Defence Ministers – what we call a ‘Jumbo’ [meeting]. 

During the morning, at the Foreign Affairs Council, once again we discussed with Foreign Minister [of Ukraine, Dmytro] Kuleba via VTC. He briefed [us] about the military situation on the ground – how the war continues - and he passed again a clear message to us: “Look, we need ammunition. We need ammunition and we need it fast.” 

The answer of the Council was clear: Ukraine can continue counting on the European Union.  

And in this regard, I am happy to announce that the Defence and Foreign Affairs Ministers – together - agreed on the proposal to urgently provide artillery ammunition from existing stocks or from jointly procuring, addressing to the industry, and increasing the industrial capacity. This proposal was the proposal that I have put forward together with Commissioner [for Internal Market, Thierry] Breton. And I have to tell you that this decision was made very quickly. 

Everything started at the last European Council with the proposal coming from Estonia. Then, we discussed that at the Informal Defence Ministers Council in Sweden. And in two-three weeks, the agreement has been reached. 

What have we agreed? Three tracks. 

First track: €1 billion from the European Peace Facility for the reimbursement to the Member States who immediately deliver ammunition. 155mm ammunition and missiles if it is requested by Ukraine. This, coming from national stocks or from pending orders – the stocks underway but already ordered. 

Second track: another €1 billion to reimburse joint procurement – once again - of 155mm ammunition and also missiles if it is requested by Ukraine, from the European [defence] industry and from Norway. This will be done through a project led by the European Defence Agency (EDA) or by a lead-Nation’s framework. The objective is to deliver, and to deliver fast. 

And the third track is to increase the capacity of the European industry. 

But about the second track, I want to be more concrete. For now, 17 Member States and Norway have signed the Project Arrangement of the European Defence Agency today. I know that more will join soon. For practical procedures, not everybody has been able to sign today but I think that we will be above 20 Member States participating in this project. So, the project is well on track and contracts should be passed with the industry by the end of May. 

The third track [aims] to increase the capacity of the European defence industry to increase the demand and replenish the stocks of our armies; to produce more; and to reduce production time. And here, the [European] Commission will need to play its role. 

Because we are in a situation which is not, unhappily, the one in which we have been for the last 60 years, where [us] Europeans, we have been building peace through economic integration and common prosperity. Now, like it or not – and certainly, we do not like [it] – we have to face a war in our borders and support a country at war. 

In the last 20 years, since the end of the cold war, [us] Europeans, we have been decreasing our military capacity, that is a fact. We have decreased our military expenditures by two, and according to the figures that I have, we have been decreasing our production of ammunition by four. And now, suddenly, we need to increase it because the environment has changed dramatically. 

Today, the Council has confirmed its agreement on this three-track approach. I can - and I have to - stress how important this decision is. By its ambition: we will work under very tight deadlines, because the purpose is to provide 1 million ammunitions in one year. By the scope: we combine the delivery from existing stocks and joint procurement of new production. By its financial volume: we are talking about €2 billion of reimbursement. Remember that the reimbursement [covers] more or less 55%-60% maximum of the cost, so in practical terms we are talking about an expenditure which is the double of this figure. 

With that, we use the top-up of the European Peace Facility (EPF) that was agreed. And knowing that there will be more needs, not only for Ukraine but for more countries around the world, the Council has also agreed to consider a further increase of the overall financial capability of the EPF by €3.5 billion. I am not saying [that] the Council has agreed on increasing it, but on considering this further increase, which is the first step for that. 

I think this is an extraordinary demonstration of the European Union’s unity and readiness - working hard and swiftly. A clear proof of the European Union ‘s determination behind Ukraine’s right of self-defence. 

We be having to work on other things, on other strands but for today, it was important to have a quick decision. 

I want to thank all my team that has been working hard, very hard, not only during the weekend but since the [Informal] Defence Ministers meeting in Sweden - from the [European] Commission, from the [European] External Action Service (EEAS), from the Member States, [and] from the European Defence Agency. 

This agreement will put the European Defence Agency in orbit. They will have to deliver on concrete results, on some concrete endeavour. Not just about possibilities, but working on something that has a clear deadline, that mobilises a lot of financial resources, that requires a strong [cooperation] with the industry. This is going to be important for the European Defence Agency to reach a certain degree of maturity on the tasking that the European treaties have given to this institution - this body - which I have the honour to chair. As chairman, not as director, there is a Managing Director or an Executive Director, but all Member States are part of the board of the agency.  

This is about the war effort. But we want also to talk about peace efforts. We support President [of Ukraine, Volodymyr] Zelensky’s peace formula. And we will continue to conduct outreach with Ukraine and our partners, in order to continue thinking that the war one day or another will finish, and then we [will] have to build the peace. And the President Zelensky’s peace formula continues having our support, in order to look for a just peace, not any kind of peace. 

On accountability: I recalled the important decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to issue an arrest warrant against President Putin, in connection with alleged crimes of deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia. And as we have said many times, holding Russian leaders to account for the atrocities they are committing in Ukraine is our collective priority.  

We will continue working on identifying those involved in the deportation of children with the aim of adopting further restrictive measures. Some say that the International Criminal Court is an institution which is unable to make their warrants to be implemented, and since Russia has not signed this international treaty creating the International Criminal Court, they do not have to care. Well, yes, they have to care because with this arrest warrant, President Putin, if he travels to any of the almost 130 states that have signed this treaty, should be immediately arrested. So, it puts President Putin in a completely different position with respect to the international community. 

Then, over the weekend, we saw [that] the Black Sea Grain Initiative extended. It has moved 24 million metric tonnes of grain. Russia has been exacerbating the global food crisis with the blockade of the Ukrainian grain, [I] hope that they will respect the terms of the agreement. And let me remind that we have been contributing substantially to the efforts through the Solidarity Lanes, which was the alternative way of exporting Ukrainian food. 

The second point on the agenda was the worrying situation in Tunisia. Tunisia is a neighbour, is a close partner and what happens there has an immediate impact on us. Not only because it increases migration flows, [but also] because it creates more instability and insecurity in the MENA region, in the Mediterranean. 

So, for us, it is imperative to avoid the economic and social collapse and to support [the] Tunisian people. We cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening there.  

Rule of law, respect for human rights and key, important structural reforms on one side, and on the other side, the finalisation of the programme already agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), that has to be signed by the Tunisian President [Kaïs Saïed], this is indispensable.  

We will continue paying close attention to the situation, and I will ask two members of the Foreign Affairs Council to travel immediately to Tunisia in order to assess the situation and to come back with a report that will guide our future steps. Everything has to be done quickly, because the situation in Tunisia is very, very dangerous. If Tunisia collapses economically or socially, then we will be in a situation where new flows of migrants will come to Europe. We have to avoid this situation. 

We adopted additional listings under the Iran Human Rights Sanctions Regime. This complements the previous sanctions packages adopted in October. We continue following closely the reports on the poisoning of students in the country and the evolution of the nuclear activities.  

Finally, on Kosovo and Serbia. I debriefed the Ministers about the Agreement we reached in Ohrid between Kosovo and Serbia. This is an important milestone in the process of normalisation of relations among them and certainly creates a new status quo in the Dialogue. We will no longer be - I hope - on crisis mode but [focused] on the implementation of the Agreement that was accepted on 27 February. 

These agreements [the Agreement and the Annex] have entered into force with the Statement I issued. It was not a signature for legal reasons, but both parties agreed that my statement was a commitment from their part to fulfil fully the obligations coming from this Agreement and the Annex for its implementation.  

Let me stress one thing: the provisions agreed will be incorporated as integral part of their respective European Union paths – [for] Serbia through chapter 35 of its Negotiating Framework and [for] Kosovo through its Special Group [Committee] on Normalisation. This will be concrete and explicitly part of their commitments on their European paths. We will follow closely the implementation of these agreements. 

Member States have expressed their support and I am initiating the process in this regard. 

Last but not least, it was today one year since the approval of the Strategic Compass. The circumstances have made this anniversary has coincided with this important decision on ammunition and funding our military support to Ukraine, so I am afraid this will shadow the importance of what we have done with the Strategic Compass during the last year. 

I think we can be proud of the progress achieved on the four pillars of the Compass, and we have identified new areas for a further push. You can find the details in the Report. There you will find what we have been doing on the pillars of the Strategic Compass. And certainly, European defence has gone a long way during this last year, following the Strategic Compass’ proposals. 

I want also to thank all my teams, and all the teams of the Member States, who have made it possible. 

And as you know, today we are going to start the Schuman Defence [and Security] Forum. We will bring here to Brussels together our most important partners in the field of security and defence. And this is part of our engagement to build a more comprehensive network of relationships with actors and partners around the world.  

We have partnerships on almost everything, on climate, on digital. We have to build partnerships on the field of defence. Not on the military side, we are not going to build a second military alliance, but there are many dimensions of security and defence which are in our capacity to build. So, I think that European defence capacity is growing [and] developing, and is an important part of my job as High Representative for Foreign, Security, and Defence policy. 



Q. Le quiero preguntar por la reunión que tiene lugar hoy en Moscú entre el presidente chino y el presidente de Rusia, Vladimir Putin. ¿En su opinión que gesto debería hacer la China para demostrar ese papel de neutralidad que ha reivindicado? Y si sigue usted manteniendo la confianza en que China no está ayudando militarmente a Rusia de manera directa o indirecta, y si confía usted en el plan que presentó China para la paz.  

Que pena, siempre me preguntan sobre las cosas que no hemos hecho y de las cuales no tengo suficiente información para poderle contestar con propiedad. Porque yo estaba cerrado todo el día trabajando lo que les he explicado y no estoy seguro de poder conocer bien lo que han decidido tan importantes personalidades como los presidentes Putin y Xi.  

Solo puedo decirle una cosa. No tengo ninguna evidencia de que China haya suministrado armas a Rusia y no tengo ninguna evidencia de que esté planificando hacerlo. No puedo adivinar lo que pasará pasado mañana, pero hoy por hoy, ni yo ni nadie que pudiera tener me ha comunicado evidencia alguna sobre que China – y si China hubiera estado suministrando armas a Ucrania, lo sabríamos, por qué las armas se usan. Por lo tanto, no tengo evidencia de que esa cosa haya ocurrido y no tengo evidencia de que estén preparándose para hacerlo. Lo cual no quiere decir que no tengamos obviamente que estar vigilantes.

El llamado Plan de Paz presentado por China durante la UNGA (United Nations General Assembly), sus puntos, francamente hacía falta un esfuerzo intelectual muy grande para considerarlo un plan de paz. Es más bien una recopilación de las posiciones chinas sobre al respecto, que son de sobra conocidas. Pero no puedo ir más lejos en relación de lo que han hablado porque no lo conozco. 

Q. Vous avez parlé sur le projet d’acquisition d’armements, en disant qu’un tabou était brisé. Est-ce que vous pouvez expliquer en quoi un tabou est brisé ? Est-ce que vous estimez que ce sera suffisant pour soutenir l’Ukraine dans son combat ? Et comment vous voyez la remontée des plafonds pour la Facilité européenne pour la paix ? Puisque l’on va parler de 3,5 milliards [d’euros] supplémentaires et en fait on est aujourd’hui à près d’un milliard [d’euros] par trimestre presque. Est-ce que ça veut dire qu’il faudra à un moment donné se repencher sur cet instrument pour remonter les fonds ? 

Je ne pense pas avoir dit aujourd’hui qu’un tabou a été brisé. Oui, [je l’ai dit] avant mais aujourd’hui, on n’a brisé aucun tabou. On ne brise pas des tabous tous les jours, on fait ça seulement de temps en temps. On avait brisé le tabou de dire qu’on ne peut pas fournir des armes à un pays en guerre. Ça, on l’a fait il y a déjà un an. Et maintenant, ce qu’on fait c’est continuer – avec le même tabou brisé - à fournir des armes. Mais d’une façon beaucoup plus organisée, massive et concentrée. On donne une réponse urgente à une demande urgente.  

[L’Ukraine] a besoin de munitions et des munitions, on n’en a pas beaucoup. Il faut les produire. Il faut partager ce que l’on a. Les États membres vont partager une partie de ces stocks et ils vont le faire dans la confiance que l’augmentation de la capacité de l’industrie européenne va leur permettre de refaire les stocks qu’ils ont et qu’heureusement pour eux, ils ne vont pas utiliser et dont, par contre, l’Ukraine a besoin [de façon] urgente. 

La deuxième question : “Est-ce que je compte [sur] de nouvelles ressources pour la European Peace Facility (Facilité européenne pour la paix) ?” J’espère bien que oui. Les ministres ont décidé qu’ils vont en discuter et il y a un top-up de 3,5 [milliards d’euros]. Je ne peux pas vous dire qu’il y a un accord parce qu’il n’existe pas encore, mais c’est évident qu’avec ces 2 milliards [d’euros] pour les munitions pour l’Ukraine, on finit les ressources financières disponibles. Donc si on veut faire plus, il en faudra plus. Je pense que ça sera une question à discuter sans doute au prochain Conseil européen. 

Q. Vous avez mandaté la Belgique et le Portugal de se rendre en Tunisie prochainement. Je voulais savoir quel était le message européen que ces pays devront porter en Tunisie ? Est-ce qu’il y a eu aujourd’hui déjà un accord des 27 [États membres] sur le message européen à envoyer et notamment aussi sur les leviers que l’Union européenne peut utiliser pour promouvoir la stabilité dans le pays ? 

La stabilité du pays a deux dimensions. Il y a la stabilité politique et la stabilité économique.  

La stabilité politique dépend du développement des institutions démocratiques et de façon inclusive. Le président tunisien a développé un nouveau système politique pour le pays qui a reçu un appui mitigé du point de vue du nombre de tunisiens qui sont allés voter – 11% pour les dernières élections parlementaires, moins de 30% pour la nouvelle Constitution. On a besoin d’un développement inclusif.

Et du côté économique, on a besoin des ressources qui ne peuvent venir que du Fonds monétaire international (FMI). Nous, on ne peut pas aider un pays qui n’est pas capable de signer un accord avec le Fonds monétaire international de façon préalable. Le gouvernement tunisien était arrivé à un accord avec le Fonds monétaire international. Le gouvernement a discuté et il s’est mis d’accord avec le Fonds monétaire international. Maintenant, cet accord il faut que le président le signe et le mette en œuvre. Le contraire, je vois mal comment est-ce qu’on peut éviter la situation très grave pour l’économie tunisienne. 

Q. On the Dialogue, while the European Union is expecting the parties to fully implement the provisions of the Agreement, just hours after your Statement, Serbian President insisted that he is not obliged to fulfil those provisions that undermine Serbia’s national interest. So, is Serbia obliged to implement everything fully, including Article 4 which clearly emphasises that Serbia will not object to membership of Kosovo in international organisations? 

The [agreement] has to be implemented according to a certain calendar. Et ce calendrier demande que chaque partie fasse sa part. Il ne faut pas commencer la maison par le toit. Il faut commencer par les choses les plus urgentes. Et il y en a quelques unes qui sont très, très urgentes. Il est dit clairement dans l’Annexe que le Kosovo s’engage au développement immédiat de l’association des municipalités serbes du nord du Kosovo. On va suivre de près de quelle façon les deux parties mettent en œuvre ces obligations qui sont partie intégrale de leurs chemins vers l’Europe. 

Q. I have a question which you have not discussed today on the agenda, but it is of wider importance for your foreign policy, which is the Palestine-Israeli conflict. I would like to ask your reaction of the Israeli Finance Minister [Bezalel] Smotrich who said yesterday in the speech in Paris – and I quote him -: “There is no such thing as the Palestinian nation, there is no Palestinian history, there is no Palestinian language.” I would like to ask your comments on this.  

The comments of Minister Smotrich go, once again, in the opposite direction and certainly cannot be tolerated. I call on the Israeli government to disavow those comments and to start working together with all parties to defuse tensions. It is not the first time that I have to express our concerns regarding the spiralling violence on the ground and we – the European Union – we have constantly advocated for measure of de-escalation, not inflammatory. The latest meetings in Aqaba, and in Sharm El Sheik go in the good direction, but I have to deplore this unacceptable comment by Minister Smotrich. It is wrong it is disrespectful; it is dangerous; it is counterproductive to say this kind of things in a situation which is already very tense.

So, we will continue on our longstanding commitment to the two-state solution with an independent and sovereign state of Palestine living side by side with Israel in peace and security. I am sorry if some don’t like to listen to this kind of things, but this is the position of the European Union. It is not the personal position of the High Representative. It is the European Union position. Maybe some don’t say that so clearly and so loudly, but it is what it is, and I repeat: it is wrong, it is disrespectful, it is dangerous, it is counterproductive in a situation like this to say this kind of things. Could you imagine if a Palestinian leader would have said “the State of Israel does not exist?” What would have been the reaction? 


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Nabila Massrali
Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
+32 (0) 2 29 88093
+32 (0) 460 79 52 44
Peter Stano
Lead Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
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