Press Releases Foreign Affairs Council (Development): Press remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell upon arrival

Foreign Affairs Council (Development): Press remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell upon arrival

Today, as always, [we will discuss] Ukraine and Gaza [and] other crises also. We have to look at what is happening in Africa, in particular, in Sudan.

But the main issue today will be to discuss the Ukrainian Plan, presented by the Ukrainian government, in order to see how the reconstruction and the reforms have to go hand in hand.

But as I said many times, maybe it is more important to avoid destruction. The best thing [to do so that] you do not have to reconstruct, [is] just to avoid destruction. And at the moment, Ukraine is being destroyed, is being bombed. The electricity system is being absolutely destroyed.

We have to continue supporting Ukraine, first militarily – well, yesterday, we did that at the conference for the defence industry [EU-Ukraine Defence Industries Forum] and today, we will see how do we mobilise the €50 billion to support Ukraine’s reforms and to support Ukraine as a country working.

The other issues which the Ministers will discuss is the situation in Gaza and our cooperation with the Palestinian Authority.

I think time has come for retaking the support to UNRWA. The [European] Commission paid a first tranche, waiting for the Colonna report. Now, the Colonna report is there, I do not see any reason for not starting again the full payments to UNRWA.

Yesterday, I got a letter from [UNRWA Commissioner-General, Philippe] Lazzarini, asking for this [funding] to be restarted and I hope – I am sure – that the Ministers will support it. In fact, all Member States have re-started the support to UNRWA. Once and again, UNRWA is a critical institution for the support of hundreds of thousands, of millions of people.

The idea of cutting funding to UNRWA has no basis. The report [led by Catherine] Colonna is clear about that. So, Member States have retaken the support to UNRWA, restarted the payments which were put on hold. This, we will discuss and at the next Foreign Affairs Council too.

And also, the support to the Palestinian Authority. It is a critical moment in the West Bank, and we are asking the Palestinian Authority to make reforms. We have to continue with the financial support. There are more than 200,000 Palestinian people who lost their job. The West Bank is a boiler, it can explode at any moment.

And last, the last sad news is that there is not an agreement for a ceasefire. Hamas accepted, Israel rejected and the land offensive against Rafah has started again, in spite of all the requests of the international community – the United States, the EU Member States, everybody asking [the Prime Minister of Israel, Benyamin] Netanyahu not to attack Rafah.

In spite of these warnings and these requests, the attack started yesterday night. I am afraid that this is going to cause again a lot of casualties, civilian casualties, whatever they say. There are 600,000 children in Gaza. They will be pushed to so-called “safety zones” – there are no safe zones in Gaza.

The Ministers will discuss about how to increase our support but at the next Foreign Affairs Council, the political dimension of this crisis will be, once again, taken into consideration.



Q. Are you considering for the European Union taking any action after this attack on Rafah?

Well, today it is the Ministers of Cooperation. It is the Foreign Affairs Ministers to discuss. But certainly, the situation is very much worrisome. I cannot anticipate the humanitarian losses that this will create. It is clear that, the will to continue the war will produce another great humanitarian crisis, still bigger than it is already. Let’s see how we can try to mitigate the consequences of this situation. 

Q. You said yesterday that the European Union should and can do something to avoid it. Should we understand it as you will propose sanctions against Israel?

This is not the place to discuss about sanctions. This is about cooperation and support. Let’s see [at the] next Foreign Affairs Council.

Another thing, important thing, is the inauguration of Putin. After a lot of discussions with Members States, I sent a message to all of them saying that in my understanding, the right thing to do is not to attend this inauguration. My advice was not to do it and I think that most of the Member States will not attend. I think it is the right thing to do. In the end, Putin is someone wanted by the International Criminal Court. At the beginning, there was a discussion about Member States [on whether] we had to attend, not to attend, at which level – Ambassadors, Chargés d’affaires.

But for me, the position was clear. It was going to be very difficult for the Ukrainians and for many people around the world to understand that we consider Putin someone indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), responsible for the war in Ukraine, elections that we contest because they were neither free nor fair elections, and then to attend the inauguration, it would be a clear contradiction. My advice to the Member States was not to attend, and I hope that many of them, most of them, will follow this indication. But each Member State is fully sovereign to decide to go or not to go. I hope most of them will not go.

Q. Señor Borrell, ¿Cree que se tendría que retomar la petición de España e Irlanda de revisar el Acuerdo de Asociaciones? ¿Es el paso que debería de dar ahora la Unión Europea? 

Until now, as far as I know, the President of the Commission [Ursula von der Leyen] has not answered the letters from Spain and Ireland. You know that I presented the issue to the [Member States in the] Foreign Affairs Council. They refused to call for an Association Council meeting with Israel in order to ask for explanations. I continue working on that. The Special Representative for Human Rights [Olof Skoog] is in touch with the United Nations Special Representative to see the situation in the ground. I will go back to the Council to present the report, the analysis. We are not on the ground. We do not have the information. You know what you know through the press, but there is no press. How many journalists have been killed, [and now the] Al Jazeera offices [in Israel] have been closed. So, who knows what is going on in the territories, besides the press’ information? Well, the United Nations. The United Nations have the capacity to evaluate the situation there. We are in touch with them, and certainly, what is happening in Gaza, sooner or later, the International Criminal Court will have to say something.

And by the way, I fully condemn any kind of intimidation to the International Criminal Court. Enough is enough. Some statements threatening the International Criminal Court and threatening to retaliate against the Palestinian Authority if the International Criminal Court is deciding whatever it has to decide, are fully rejectable. When the International Criminal Court indicted President Putin, we applauded. So, either we respect the International Criminal Court or not. And [if] we respect the ICC, it has to be in any case, on any occasion, with respect to anyone. So, stop trying to intimidate the judges of the ICC.

Q. So, do you expect some of the ICC soon?

I do not know. I do not expect anything. The only thing I am saying is that the judges have to be able to do their work without [anyone] putting [them under] pressure, and without intimidation.

Q. Mr Borrell, you have been in Jeddah, and you listened to the Arab counterparts there. With Mr Blinken, you discussed the Middle East and Gaza. Did you have a clear peace plan presented there? Do you have this kind of plan?

Look, at the moment, there is not, unhappily, the possibility of starting to discuss about peace plans. What we have to do is continue working for a ceasefire, the release of hostages, and then, the start of a political process. I think that the next Foreign Affairs Council will be important for that.

Thank you.


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