Tue. Oct 4th, 2022
Josep Borrell Fontelles. Photo: Lukasz Kobus, ©European Union, 2022

Brussels, 20 September 2022

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Good evening to everybody. Sorry for being late. The Foreign Affairs Council, you never know when it is finishing.  

We are starting the high-level week in the United Nations. [Today’s meeting is] the traditional informal meeting with the Foreign Affairs ministers, which has provided us with a good opportunity to coordinate our messages and our outreach to explain to political leaders from around the world, which will be gathering here in New York.  

Certainly, it is the most important platform for multilateral engagement to tackle the world’s problems, and we, the European Union and our Member States, will have a very strong presence here.  

Last year, we were talking about Afghanistan, you will remember. Afghanistan was the key issue. This year, Ukraine will be very high on the agenda. It will be unavoidable. There are many other problems, we know. But the war in Ukraine has been sending shockwaves around the world.

It is not only Ukraine who is suffering from this war. Ukrainian people are being bombed with missiles and with guns, and the rest of the world is being affected by the price increase in energy and food insecurity and being affected by – as a consequence – the economic problems. We can say that the war is affecting everybody on earth. It is not only against Ukraine. It is about all of us. And this is what we will try to explain here in New York.  

We want to promote international support for Ukraine. Not because it is our neighbour, and not only because it is our neighbour and our partner. Because we are strongly convinced that [by] defending Ukraine, we are defending the principles that everybody who is coming here to New York has signed [up to]: the principles of international law – sovereignty and independence of countries.

We will continue to explain that to our partners in Asia, Africa, Latin America, who is the real culprit of the growing instability, energy and food crisis. We will demonstrate that the European Union does not forget and remains committed to addressing other challenges and crises in other parts of the world – and there are many. But for us, it is not a question of choosing between Ukraine and the others. We can do all at the same time. We care about Ukraine and we care about the rest of the world. This is what we will do during this critical week, using this opportunity. 

We need to continue pushing back the Russian propaganda and its misleading narrative. Allow me to do so a little bit here, because I want to mention some facts.  

The United Nations’ Grain Deal and our efforts through the [EU] Solidarity Lanes have already led to a decrease in food prices worldwide. Most of the Ukrainian exports have gone to the countries that need them. Look at the data. Look at the statistics: two thirds of the Ukrainian exports have gone to Africa, to the Middle East and Asia.  

So, it is not true what Mr Putin says, that the grain that has been exported from Ukraine has not gone to the people that need it. Two thirds [of the Ukrainian exports have gone] to Africa, Middle East and Asia. 

We would not be in such a situation if Russia had not launched this illegal aggression against Ukraine and blocked Ukrainian exports in the first place. In addition to bombing Ukrainian agricultural infrastructure, destroying and looting Ukrainian grain supplies, now they are flowing. But they will arrive late for many people who have been suffering hunger.  

I want to stress that our sanctions are targeting the Russian war economy, not food or agriculture. Our sanctions apply to the European Union’s citizens and the European Union’s operators. They apply only in the European Union’s territory. None of our sanctions targets the trade of fertilisers between third countries and Russia. Even us, we continue importing fertilisers from Russia, with a limit. So, how could we prevent our fertilisers going to third countries if we are still importing? On the other hand, many operators prefer not to do business with Russia anymore. It is their choice. It is not because they have to, it is because they do not want. This is called overcompliance. They can, but they do not. They could, but they do not want to. Not because of the sanctions, but because of the uncertainties of doing business with a regime that is killing and kidnapping civilians in a neighbouring country.  

Unlike the one who aggravated the global food crisis, we are at the forefront in helping the affected countries to deal with it. We are co-leading the world efforts to face food security. We are doing that on the ground. We do it here with the events that will take place at the UN General Assembly (UNGA).  

We have allocated €7.7 billion until 2024 to address the most immediate needs in this regard. If you have to look at the amount of humanitarian help that we, the European Union and the Member States, have been [providing], we are ranking much, much, much higher than what Russia is doing. This is from the point of view of humanitarian needs, economics, energy and food. But let’s go to the military side of the problem.

Today, the [Foreign Affairs] Ministers have – all of them – resolved to continue helping Ukraine to defend itself. And we will continue using the European Peace Facility to finance weapons deliveries successfully and effectively. We have also continued discussing the proposal to establish a European Union Military Assistance Mission. I can say that the work is underway, and I hope that we will see concrete results soon.  

Let me use this opportunity finally to talk about the situation around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Russia must cease the occupation immediately. We support the establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone, as [IAEA Director General] Dr Grossi proposed in his report following the visit. I want also to use this opportunity to draw attention to the two OSCE staff members of the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine who have been sentenced to 13 years in prison as a result of a so-called legal proceeding in Luhansk. They need to be unconditionally released immediately.  

Finally, this week, we will be looking closely at the issue of accountability, because the reports on war crimes in Ukraine continue building up. These atrocities cannot happen without those responsible being [held] accountable. We will continue supporting Ukraine in this regard, through the Joint Investigation Teams, supporting the International Criminal Court and [through] the EU Assistance Mission to Ukraine.  

I hope that this week will be a week of very intensive work, and at the end we will be closer to solving some of the existing challenges.  

Secretary-General [António Guterres] said: “This is a perfect storm”. And that is right – many crises looming, many problems affecting the world international community. The European Union will continue being an actor that brings security and stability and solidarity to the world.  

Q&A 

Q. I heard what you said about trying to demonstrate that it is possible to pay attention to other crises in the world besides Ukraine at the same time. Can I ask a little more about how you plan to demonstrate that? 

How can we demonstrate that we pay attention to the rest of the world? Well, where was I before coming to New York? I, personally, was in Mozambique and in Somalia. I think Somalia is not Ukraine, no? In Somalia, in the Horn of Africa, the biggest climate change is affecting hundreds of thousands of people. I was there in order to show that we will support them – as I said with these figures. And not only me. All my colleagues in the Foreign Affairs Council and my colleagues from the [European] Commission are engaging with a lot of crises around the world. We are engaged with the crisis in the [South] Caucasus. We are engaged with the crisis in Central Asia. Nothing that happens in the world is strange to us. Certainly, the Ukrainian crisis is the most pressing and immediate problem that we have. But it is not the only one. We know it and we are allocating financial resources and political will to try to help to solve them.  

Q. I was quite surprised that you did not mention Iran and the effort that you made to bring back the JCPOA agreement alive. Now that the window of opportunity is closing, in the EU trying to make any coordination with the countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia, the [United Arab] Emirates and others, in order to deal with the problem in the case of the fall out of the remaining time of negotiations with Iran?  

I have not said anything because there is nothing new. This is one of the problems – which is not Ukraine – in which they have been engaged, and my team, and I want to thank their work. We have been discussing, we have been doing ‘la navette’ [between] the ones and the others. Until the middle of August, the process was converging. And after, the parties made some proposals that were certainly not contributing to look for a final result. But in the last days, nothing has happened and I do not expect that anything will happen during this week. 

Q. Is the opportunity still there? What is the timeline you are putting? You spoke about a few weeks to reach a deal. 

There is a proposal from the Coordinator [of the JCPOA], that happens to be me. There is a proposal on the table, and this proposal will remain on the table. I do not see a better solution than the one that we have proposed, and it is not something that is going to become caduque (elapsed, obsolete).  It is there and I am waiting for the position of everybody around this proposal because – frankly speaking – I do not see any other that could bring to a final agreement. 

Q. Why are you not coordinating with the countries of the [inaudible]?

I am coordinating with the people who are representing the international community.  

Q. Ukraine is understandably a priority but in the Middle East: Syria is still at war, the friends of ISIS and terrorism are still in the background, our allies such as the Kurds are under pressure and the threat of a ‘nuclear Iran’ is still there. Aren’t you concerned that the war in Ukraine is distracting you from crises and issues in your far backyard, which is the Middle East?  

No, not at all. And you are asking this question to someone that, if I count the hours that I have been allocating to this problem – me and my team – by the number of hours that they have been devoting to trying to look for a solution to the JCPOA – believe me, it would be a good result. No, in this case, certainly you cannot blame the European Union for not paying a lot of attention to this problem. Unhappily, for the time being, we have not gotten a final result. We were close to it. We are still close to it. Let’s see what happens in the next days and weeks.  

Q. Is there a plan to present a motion against the Nicaraguan government this week? What is your message for all the diaspora from Nicaragua who is here this week also ?  

I am sorry to say, Nicaragua is something that matters a lot for the European Union, and to me personally – you know, I am Spanish. I know very well what happens in Nicaragua and who is ruling this country. But I have to say that today, in the agenda of the Foreign Affairs Ministers, we have not talked about Nicaragua. It does not mean that we do not care about it, but there is nothing I can tell you about [it].  

Q. You talked about food security and the United States is co-hosting a food summit with the European Union and the African Union. What do you plan to achieve from this Summit? Will you have a Declaration? Will the EU make any pledges at the Summit? 

Certainly, we will make pledges. How not? As I said, we are at the forefront of the fight against famine, with measures that affect the immediate, medium and long term. We know that the solution has to come by more autonomy from the countries that suffer food scarcity, but this is a medium-term issue. In the immediate reality, in the coming days and weeks, in some countries – Somalia is a good example – the United Nations will have to declare a state of emergency. And we have to devote all our efforts in order to avoid that thousands of people could die, especially young boys and girls. So, we will make a pledge and we will present our plans; what we have already done and what we plan to do. And we will be – as I said – as active as always. We will be certainly pledging and mastering the conference. But a conference is a conference; the important thing is what do you do in practical terms. And there is no one, apart from the United States and the European Union, who has done more to fight this big problem. But do not forget which are the causes of this problem. The cause of the problem is climate change and the Russian blockade of Ukrainian food [exports]. Two things. 

Q. Can you tell us now how much you intend to pledge? 

No, I cannot tell you now. You have to wait for the pledging.  

Q. As you know, a lot of countries in the Global South are saying that we have to carry the costs of the environmental problems that they did not cause. And many countries did not give the pledges, in the Global South, that they were promised. We saw, for example, Pakistan lately. Could you tell us more, what are you going to do to help in the specific issue for the Global South? On Libya, now we have finally a UN Envoy [Abdoulaye Bathily], a representative to the Secretary General. And after ten months almost where the [UN] Security Council was not able to agree on a representative. Are you optimistic that things will move forward? Are you planning a Berlin Conference (two, three, four)? What are your plans there to move things forward?   

Unhappily, there is nothing new in Libya. We cannot invent every week a new instrument. What we have to try to do is to make our tools – the tools that we already have – work. The United Nations Special Representative has to be nominated – yes, but the United Nations is not me. It has to be working on the ground with a stronger coordination with the European Union. We have our ambassadors there. But, you know the situation in Libya, I suppose you know. There are two governments, each one of them being supported by a part of the international community. And it is quite difficult to work in this situation. We do what we can. And Libya is a rich country – that is the paradox – that is one of the richest countries per capita in the world, according to the immense wealth that they have today. And due to this political instability, it is even difficult to try to support. There is nothing new unhappily, and by the time being, I cannot be very optimistic about the situation in Libya.  

And the Global South, what is the Global South? Who is part of the Global South?  

Q. Let’s talk about countries that are affected negatively by the climate change they did not cause. Let us talk about these ones. 

Well, there are different countries that claim to be part of the Global South. You can find people who are very rich, who claim to be part of the Global South; people who are very poor, that are also part of the Global South. So, it is a heterogeneous set of states. I understand what they mean when they say that they share some geopolitical posture. But I cannot say what we are going to do with the Global South, because they are so different, so heterogeneous, that it is impossible to have a common policy towards all of them.  

Q. You spoke earlier about a proposal being put forward for a military assistance mission to Ukraine. You said work is underway. Could you elaborate a little bit on that proposal and what it might consist of? What is the timeline? 

I hope that at the next Foreign Affairs Council in October we will be able to take a decision, which is quite quick for the European standards. We discussed that at the Gymnich Informal Council just after the holidays, at the beginning of September. If we can bring a proposal to the table of the Foreign Affairs Ministers in October, it would be a really a quick procedure. But you understand it has to be agreed first with the Ukrainians. Which are their needs, and how can we provide a value added to this mission? The work is in progress and they hope that by the next Foreign Affairs Council – because there is no other meeting before – the decision can be taken. 

Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-230226 

Source – EU Commission