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

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

Good morning,

Did you have a good weekend? Well, [I did not].

The sad news of the passing of [Alexei] Navalny came to Munich where the Security Conference was taking place.

Today, we will have here with us his wife, Yulia Navalnaya, who will send a message, a political message, about how to support the political opposition inside Russia against Putin’s regime.

You see, during this weekend, many people have been demonstrating in the streets of Russia, in Sankt Petersburg and Moscow, in spite of the repression. Many of them have been detained and sentenced. We have to send a message of support to the Russian opposition and at the same time, we will continue watching how the war is [developing]. It is about two years since Putin launched this war against Ukraine, and he does not look ready to stop it, on the contrary.

So, in both fronts, in the political one and the military one, we have to continue our support to Ukraine and to the Russian people who want to be living in freedom. And to pay an homage to Mr Navalny and in order to honour his memory, I will propose the Ministers to rename our [Global] Human Rights Sanctions Regime with his name and call it the “Navalny Human Rights Sanctions Regime”, in order for his name to be forever written on the work of the European Union in defending human rights.

Talking about human rights, we will discuss about the situation in the Middle East, [about which] I issued a statement this weekend. Unhappily, it was not a unanimous statement. I had to do it on my own, representing the great majority of the Member States – but not all of them – asking Israel not to launch a military offensive in Rafah.

We will also have the United Nations Coordinator for Humanitarian Assistance [and Reconstruction for Gaza], Sigrid [Kaag], who will debrief the Ministers about her work. In the meantime, well, nothing new but only the same bad news: 1.7 million people are being pushed against the Egyptian border.

For the time being, the military operation has not reached a high, but everybody is afraid that this will happen in the next days. The only solution is to free the hostages, and a permanent ceasefire that could allow to look for a political solution.

These will be the two main issues today in our agenda. Sigrid [Kaag] and Yulia Navalnaya will be present both physically in the Council.


Q. Who could be sanctioned because of Navalny?

Yes, Member States will propose sanctions for sure. Against those responsible, well the [ultimately] responsible is Putin himself, but we can go down to the institutional structure of the penitentiary system in Russia. But do not forget who is the real responsible for Navalny’s death.

Q. Mr Borrell, do you consider recognising Palestine as a State?

Well, you should know that the European Union does not recognise [states]. It is not in its capacity to recognise or not recognise [states], it is Member States who have this capacity. Some have already done [it], others may do it, but it is about Member States. It is not a European Union decision.

On the other hand, you know that two Member States have requested to study and to assess if Israel is fulfilling or not its commitments [from] the point of view of human rights respect according with the Association agreement. This is foreign policy. This is something that belongs to the foreign policy and certainly, we have to be involved in that. The Council will have to decide on the basis of an assessment of this situation.

Q. Mr Borrell, you said you have to stop talking and take actions. What kind of actions can be taken in this crucial moment where nobody can stop Israel from starting this operation [in Rafah]?

The only solution is to free the hostages. You cannot expect the military operation to stop if the hostages continue being detained. So, an agreement has to be reached. I encourage all parties, and in particular, I want to thank the great work done by Qatar in order to look for a solution that has to start with an agreement to free the hostages, and immediately after – or at the same time – a cessation of hostilities. This is the political work that we can do: to put political pressure and to insist on the need to free the hostages. I do not see any other step that can be taken without it. But at the same time, we have to continue putting pressure on Israel to make them understand that there are so many people in the streets of Rafah that if they launch a military attack, it will be impossible to avoid civilian casualties – which are already unbearable and will still increase. This, certainly, will need to be against the respect of humanitarian law. That is our message, our strong message. I said that many times. On Friday, I issued a statement. I wanted the 27 [Member States] to be behind it and I was almost there, but not everybody was there.

Q. What is your main message to Georgia before the EU-Georgia [Association] Council? You will meet tomorrow our new Prime Minister.

Yes, I will meet the new Prime Minister [of Georgia, Irakli Kobakhidze].

Q. Your main message?

To encourage Georgia to continue working on the European path. They are doing well, and there is a strong support from the Georgian society. This is a good occasion for Georgia.

Q. The invasion of Rafah is clearly coming by [the time of] Ramadan. Any European plan to avoid a new huge crisis not only in Palestine but even in Egypt?

We have been warning about the situation, not only in Gaza but in the West Bank. Yesterday in Munich, everybody was talking about the war in Gaza. Yes, we have to talk about the war in Gaza but do not forget what is happening in the West Bank, where the violence by the settlers continue. I am proposing Member States to take action, to sanction the violent settlers which are doing what we can call “terrorist actions” against Palestinian people in the West Bank. We are still not there. I still do not have the agreement of all Member States, but I will continue pushing because if we want to keep our credibility, we have to denounce what is happening in the West Bank. The West Bank is boiling, and if they do not let people go to the mosques during the festivities, during the Ramadan, the situation could become still worse. So, let’s see what the Ministers have to say about it.

Q. Se ha revisado ya la iniciativa de España e Irlanda de revisar el Acuerdo de Asociación con Israel?

Pero cómo vamos a haberla estudiado si ha llegado hace dos días, por favor.

Q. ¿Algún calendario de cuándo pasará?

Bueno, primero tenemos que ver el procedimiento a seguir. Está claro que el respecto a los derechos humanos en un acuerdo de asociación es algo que es parte de la política exterior. Y, por lo tanto, le va a corresponder al Alto Representante dirigir el análisis de en qué medida Israel está cumpliendo con sus obligaciones de acuerdo con el Acuerdo de Asociación. Esto no es una cosa que se pueda hacer de la noche a la mañana, pero dos Estados miembros lo han pedido y habrá que estudiar su petición, y el Consejo tendrá que estudiarlo políticamente.

Q. Pero, ¿cree que se podría llegar a una votación?

No lo sé. Claro, no lo sé. ¿Como voy a saberlo? Tendré que estudiarlo primero, ¿no?

Q. ¿Se puede sancionar más a la Rusia de Vladimir Putin después de lo que ha pasado con Navalny?

Siempre hay margen y siempre hay gente que merece ser sancionada. En el caso de Navalny estamos ante una situación distinta de las personas que han sido sancionada por su contribución al esfuerzo de guerra de Rusia.

Pero los ministros lo van a decidir. Lo importante es lanzar un mensaje de apoyo a la oposición política en Rusia. Mucha gente a ha sido detenida este fin de semana en Rusia al participar en demostraciones por la muerte de Navalny. Su viuda [Yulia Navalnaya] estará aquí también con nosotros hoy. Vamos a cambiar el nombre de nuestro régimen de sanciones en defensa de los derechos humanos. Lo vamos a llamar en su nombre, en su memoria. Vamos a ver de qué manera la Unión Europea puede apoyar a los ciudadanos rusos que quieren vivir en libertad.

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