Press Releases EEAS: Operation Irini: Remarks by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the press point

EEAS: Operation Irini: Remarks by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the press point

Good afternoon, buona sera,

I am here today to celebrate the first anniversary of Operation Irini (link is external) and to give credit to the people who have been working, the people who have been behind it, the people who have made it possible.

This visit comes at a time when we see positive developments in Libya. These are really good news.

With the inauguration on Monday of the new Libyan Government of National Unity, led by the new Prime Minister [of Libya, Abdul Hamid] Dbeibah, we are all witnessing an important moment for Libyans.

The new Government was confirmed by a broad majority of the House of Representatives. The new Presidential Council, led by President [Muhammad] Al-Manfi, has been taking their constitutional oath the same day.

Peace and stability in Libya looks like being within our hand’s reach. It is now for the new leadership to reunify institutions and to lead the country towards elections on the 24th of December. All these developments were made possible by the Libyans themselves and they deserve credit for it. Many are providing support – above all the United Nations, but also the European Union.

On the European Union side, we have been actively engaged through diplomatic action on the political process and have provided substantial support on the economic front. I can say that [the European Union has provided] more than €700 million over the past years.

Then, Operation Irini came, one year ago. Through Operation Irini we have been contributing substantially to create a stable environment that will allow for reconciliation and to go forward.

As I said, we are celebrating today one year since we launched this Operation – a particularly difficult one. And believe me, it was an it is, a difficult one. Today I am proud to say that Operation Irini has achieved concrete results despite the difficulties linked to the pandemic.

I am very honoured to have the possibility today here, at the headquarters of Operation Irini, to thank Italy for the important role that has played in setting the Operation and for hosting this headquarters.

Operation Irini has conducted more than 2,300 hailings, close to 100 friendly approaches and 8 inspections. This includes also the seizure of illegal cargos and prevented an illegal export of fuel.

Irini is not only a navy operation. Its assets are ships, but it also has eyes to look at what is happening in the sky and from the space to monitor violations occurring on land and by air.

On doing so, it has monitored 16 Libyan ports and oil facilities. It has also monitored 25 airports and landing strips as well as almost 200 flights that were possibly carrying military-related cargos back and forth to Libya.

All this work, all this information has been reported to the United Nations Panel of Experts in more than 20 confidential special reports, highlighting the violations of the arms embargo on both sides of the conflict in Libya. Just two days ago, the Panel issued the latest comprehensive report acknowledging the good cooperation of Operation Irini and the support that this Operation has been providing to the Panel’s investigations into non-compliance.

And when we say violations, I mean violations by all sides, because there are violations by all sides. The Operation carries out its mandate in full impartiality, in accordance with United Nations Security Council resolutions. Nothing more and nothing less.

Today, more than ever, it is crucial that everyone respects the mandate, which has been granted by the United Nations – it is not the European Union who gave the mandate to Operation Irini, it is a United Nations mandate, we are just implementing it – with the approval of all its Member States.

I want to welcome the fact that Libyans have embarked on the road to peace.

We have a responsibility to ensure that Libyans have full control of their future and can finally live in peace and stability, because their peace will contribute to our peace and their security will be part of our security. So, we are not working only for the Libyans future, we are working for the European future. And we will continue doing so.

Thank you Admiral, thank you General, thank you to all men and women who have been working and making this mission possible.


Q. On the Libyan peace process, of course, the new government is a welcome news that would have been unthinkable in the summer, but there are still repeated violations of the embargo and, most of all, there is a problem with the presence of foreign fighters. How can the peace process be successfully enforced by the international community? Because those foreign fighters are supported by nations, most of all Turkey and Russia, who have an interest to keep and influence Libya? How can it be possible to successfully remove this influence?

The foreign policy in Libya is nothing new. When I came to my job one year ago they [the foreign fighters] already were there. And during the last year the military presence of mainly Turkey and Russia has been increasing and we are not unaware of what is happening there and the important role that Turkey has been doing on the development of the military actions during the last year. For sure without Turkey’s involvement in the war, the situation would be completely different. But we are aware there are foreign troops in Libya, part of the solution for the Libya political process has to be the withdrawal of the foreign fighters. It is not going to happen tomorrow, we have to go step by step, we have first to ensure the ceasefire, we have to look for a monitoring of the ceasefire to ensure that it will last, to give time to the newly politically appointed authorities to do their job. But at the end of the process the Foreign fighters, be it mercenaries, be it whatever you want to call them, have to leave. And I understand that it is not going to happen tomorrow as I said, but it is part of the deal.

In the meantime, we have to support the political process. We have to make the elections scheduled by the end of the year possible, and we have to continue to engage on all fronts. We have to support for example the Libyan coast guards, we cannot let the Libyan coast guards be in the hands of one of the foreign agents and we have to be ready to continue supporting financially the development of the negotiations under United Nations auspices.

This is the way it is. I cannot, I do not have a magic wand to make the foreign fighters leave, but [them] leaving Libya is part of the solution for Libya and I am very much hopeful that this will happen.

Q. You recently spoke about the need to renew the EU-Turkey deal about immigration and you said that according to you it is still a valid deal. What are concretely the perspectives to renew this deal? Because as you know in Brussels there are different views on this because some diplomats say that Turkey is playing the card of immigration with the EU, maybe to obtain some kind of advantages in other scenarios like Syria and Libya. Would you have some more info about the renegotiation of this deal?

When you refer to “deal”, you mean the [EU – Turkey] Statement of 2016. I prefer to call it a statement because it was not a deal. It was a way of facing a difficult situation and to save lives. Because thanks to this deal – as you said – or thanks to this agreement between the European Union and Turkey, the flow of illegal migration stopped and thanks to that a lot of lives have been saved.

This statement remains valid and should continue to be implemented. And for this year, 2021, the Statement continues working and we continue providing funding, according to the so-called deal. Now the question is: ‘Will this Statement be part of the next European Union Council that will discuss about the relationship with Turkey?’ – to put that in practical terms. Well, Turkey is in the agenda, we are going to discuss about all issues related with the relationship between Turkey and the European Union.

I have been preparing together with the Commission a report that will be presented to the [European] Council, with all bilateral developments, including on migration, but the Council will not close the process. The Council will give guidelines to continue the negotiations with Turkey. But I am sure that at the end any agreement will have to consider continuing support to the migrants, exiled people that Turkey is hosting on its territory.

I cannot imagine that the European Union stops supporting these efforts because Turkey, you can think whatever you want about other issues, but Turkey is hosting 4 million, or more than 4 million people and the European Union has to support, has to help Turkey to support the burden that these people represent. But I want to stress that most of this support goes directly to the people, to the exiled and refugees which are on Turkish territory. It is not money for the Turkish government; it is money for the people that are being hosted in Turkey.

Q. Are you worried by the new tensions between the USA and Russia and, in particular, what is your reaction to US President Joe Biden calling Vladimir Putin a killer? Do you agree with this term?

I am used to the tensions with Russia, as you know, so nothing surprises me. But if the precise question is about the use of a word by President [of the United States, Joe] Biden, I am not going to answer the question by a yes or no. It is too complex to use a single word. I will try to give an explanation and then you will take your conclusions.

There is sadly a long list of failed – in some cases – and successful – in other cases – assassinations carried out against critical, independent figures in Russia, including politicians and journalists. It is not something that happened just yesterday. When I was President of the European Parliament in 2005, I remember the assassination of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya. And I had a talk with President Putin about it. So, sadly, it is a fact of life that there is a long list of failed [and] successful assassination attempts against independent figures in Russia.

On the cases of Alexei Navalny and Sergey and Julia Skripal, the European Union imposed sanctions on those involved, coming from Russia’s military intelligence and the specific Russian chemical research agency. We have been punishing people coming from the military intelligence and the specific Russian chemical research agency. The Russian authorities also have been carrying out illegal actions in Ukraine and have clear roles in conflicts in our neighbourhood. And the President of the Russian Federation [Vladimir Putin] ultimately holds the responsibility for these Russian specific actions made by Russian authorities, Russian policies and Russian actions.

Q. Italia lleva tiempo pidiendo una gestión conjunta con la Unión Europea de la inmigración. También, [Mario] Draghi [Prime Minister of Italy] ha pedido que la Unión Europea asuma su responsabilidad. ¿Qué puede hacer la Unión Europea en ese sentido?

Well look, I do not know to which sentence of the President of the Council of Ministers, Mr [Mario] Draghi, are you referring when you say that Mr Draghi has asked the European Union to take the responsibilities. Because, the European Union has been taking the responsibilities all the time and will continue doing so.

For sure, migration is a problem in the Mediterranean, not only for Italy. The closer you are to the problem, the bigger is the effect that it has on you.

I mean, migration in the Mediterranean has bigger effects for Italy, Malta, France or Spain than to Lithuania or Latvia, it is evident. That is why the European Union is trying to develop policies that share the burden of migration. In order that, not only the countries on the front line of the migration have to support the consequences of a phenomenon that affects the whole European Union Member States. And that it is not going to finish tomorrow, because it is the answer to the unbalances -demographic and economic unbalances- between Europe, Africa, the Middle East and others.

Yes, the European Union has presented – the Commission has presented – a new Pact on Migration and Asylum that is being discussed by the Member States. And, if agreed, it will be implemented. But now, the ball is in the hands of the Member States who have to decide if they approve this plan or they prefer another one.

In the meantime, the Commission – of which I am Vice-President – will continue developing all efforts in order to coordinate the actions of the Member States to face illegal migration and to make migration a regular process. Because migration is there to last. It is not going to disappear. And we have to convert migration on a process which is regulated to avoid that people lose their lives trying to follow illegal ways of reaching Europe.

Q. Are there any news on the proposal to have a European Union envoy in Libya? You talked about monitoring what is happening in Libya, especially in the field of mercenaries. The United Nations just sent an advanced monitoring mission in Sirte. Do you think that Operation Irini can, perhaps, cooperate with the United Nations in this regard?

The role of Operation Irini is not to monitor the ceasefire. It has a role of controlling the arms embargo. Do not mix different issues. Operation Irini was launched before the ceasefire and has nothing to do with monitoring the ceasefire.

It does not mean that the European Union is not ready to participate and cooperate on the monitoring of the ceasefire. But this is on the hands of the United Nations. If the United Nations requests the European Union’s support, I am sure the European Union and its Member States will be ready to consider this request. But the European Union cannot decide “I am going to monitor the ceasefire”. No, it has to be the United Nations who requests our support. If this is the case, for sure, we will be ready to consider it.

About the Special Envoy of the European Union for Libya. Yes, on the coming days, I will have to present a proposal to the Foreign Affairs Ministers. The problem is that I have several good candidates and I have to choose one. But it will happen soon.

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