Thank you very much, Miro. I would like to thank you personally, the Slovak Presidency and the Slovak people for this historic moment. Sometimes we focus only on what was happening today and tomorrow, and we lose sight a bit of how historic it is that Slovakia is holding the Presidency for the first time and in a very complicated moment for the European Union, for our region and for the rest of the world. If we can judge from these two days of intense work, the Slovak Presidency is already a big success and it is contributing a lot to common positions and moving forward on a series of important files.
I would like to start with the last part of our work. We had an important session with all our candidate countries – not only Turkey, but also the Western Balkan countries that are candidate: Albania, Serbia, Montenegro and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – showing the complete determination of the European Union and its Member States to move forward with the EU integration process. In particular in the Western Balkans, where there have been a lot of achievements recently and a lot of common work on countering radicalisation and terrorism but also on the management of the refugee flows, on economic ties; we discussed together with them that they are great partners for us in our future work.
We had this morning a long session with our Turkish colleague, Europe Minister [Ömer] Celik, who I met also bilaterally last evening. It was for us the first occasion to meet – all the 28 Ministers, myself – together with him and express our full solidarity and sympathy to the Turkish people, to the institutions of Turkey – the deepest respect on how institutions and people came together, also involving the opposition, to defend the democracy against an attempted coup. The European Union was very clear from the very first hours – I would say from the very first minutes – and Miro and myself were probably the first ones to react to that in defence of the legitimate and democratically elected institutions, starting from the Parliament, and we re-expressed today our support to the institutions and to the people of Turkey in a difficult moment.
We understand very well that this can be a turning moment, a turning point for Turkey, also for the European Union and the relationship with Turkey. This is also why we will use the meetings we had today to prepare the High Level Political Dialogue we will hold in Ankara next Friday when I will visit together with Commissioner Hahn Turkey and hold meetings to discuss both bilateral issues, regional and foreign policy issues, but also common issues that require our cooperation.
I would say that the main message that we all shared with our Turkish friend is first of all strong recommitment to dialogue. We need to talk less about each other and more with each other. We need also to listen to each other and understand – also the emotions in Turkish public opinion and in the European public opinion, provoked by what has happened in these last weeks, the coup and the reaction of the reaction to the coup – in full respect, with an open and constructive approach. And this is exactly the process that we have started this morning, I would say in a very positive atmosphere.
We agreed that all previous agreements that we have among us will be continued and respected. The work is ongoing in all fields, be it on visa liberalisation, be it on the upgrade of customs union, be it on the management of refugees flows, but also on economic relations and energy ones. We decided that all tracks of engagement will continue in the coming weeks and months.
We have also tackled some of the issues of concern that you are very well aware of, that are central for all Member States and the entire European Union. We discussed them all openly, constructively, with a reciprocal respect. And it is exactly because Turkey is an important country to the European Union and it is a candidate country to the European Union that we need to be so clear and so open about points on which we might have issues to discuss, namely the issues related to rule of law, the need to have fair trials, some issues related to media freedom and freedom of expression, and obviously the old debate about the death penalty that caused many worries in the European Union’s public opinion.
We reaffirmed – not only us, but also our Turkish friend – that the key point is facing all issues on our agenda. There is no taboo in our dialogue, but we need to face issues in a friendly, open and constructive manner. And I think we managed to do this today. We also, in the same spirit, discussed the Kurdish issue. It is very clear to the European Union and all its Member States that PKK is a terrorist organisation for us. At the same time we all believe that restarting a political process to solve the Kurdish issue, including a dialogue with the HDP, would be a positive development, exactly as it was when President Erdogan started it a few years ago.
We also mentioned the possibility to work together in a constructive way with the Council of Europe, on issues related to the rule of law, and in particular the state of emergency that has been introduced in the country; and I am obviously in contact with the Secretary General of the Council of Europe [Thorbjørn] Jagland to follow-up this work in a practical way. By the way, this issue – the entire EU-Turkey dialogue and cooperation – is relevant to the EU and Turkey not only for our bilateral relations, it is also very much relevant because in many EU countries there are large Turkish communities. So this has been a very intense exchange, dialogue, as I said very constructive and very frank, and I am looking forward to continue it next week in Ankara.
We also had two other points on our agenda. As Miro mentioned, we discussed our contribution as European Union to have a full implementation of the Minsk agreements to solve the conflict in eastern Ukraine. We are seeing in these hours a ceasefire established for the beginning of the school year that is holding. We shared all together the wish that this could constitute a basis for further encouraging developments and we are determined to play our part, especially when it comes to the situation of the population in the east of Ukraine. There is a lot that the European Union can do, also in cooperation with the OSCE.
We also discussed the implementation of the Global Strategy. I presented yesterday to the Ministers very concrete proposals and a very concrete timeline on specific actions we can take forward. There was an overall agreement, a consensus on the fact that this is the right way forward, so I will elaborate them further in detail and present again to the ministers and also to the ministers of defence in the coming days and weeks.
Let me stress that obviously we will look at the entire spectrum of our foreign and security policy, but we paid a specific attention to the field of security and defence where we see space for the European Union to do more, and to do more together. We have the basis for doing this within the existing treaties. We have apparently the political will Member States to proceed in that direction, so I have put forward some concrete proposals to advance in this field very concretely in the coming weeks, and maybe the Bratislava Summit in mid-September could be an occasion on the level of Heads of State and Government to reflect also on these proposals.
I will stop here and leave space for some questions. Thank you.
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Q. Is it realistic that the EU gives visa liberalisation to Turkey? And is there a plan B for the European Union in case Turkey decides to cancel the migration agreement?
As I said, the work is ongoing on all the agreements we have already started to work on in the last months, in a constructive way. This means that we have seen today a reaffirmation from the Turkish side to stick to the agreements we have in particular on the management of the refugee flows. And from our side on the visa liberalisation which is a separate issue, there are clear benchmarks on which we are constantly working on, both from the European Union side and the Turkish side. The work has never been interrupted at the working level over these last weeks. Just the day before yesterday, Commissioner Avramopoulos was in Ankara exactly discussing this issue. The framework does not change, the benchmarks are still there and the work to meet these benchmarks is ongoing. I hope this work can bring results and that we will manage to go ahead in the direction that we politically decided.
Q. On Minsk agreements and the relationship with Russia. Is there a compromise inside – this meaning for example that steps of fulfilling Minsk process might mean that there will be steps of reducing the sanctions, so everything works step-by-step or is the position in this moment more in case not everything is fulfilled, there won’t be a change in the sanctions?
This issue was not discussed among the ministers to that degree of detail. I know that there is a debate in particular in Germany about this option, but this was not a matter we discussed yesterday. Yesterday we focused mainly not on the sanctions issue, but on the implementation of Minsk agreements on the ground and on what the EU can do – apart from the sanctions – to encourage, to push in the direction of a full implementation. Also because, as you know very well, I have repeated this from the very beginning, the real issue for the European Union is not the sanctions in themselves, but solving the conflict. And we should always keep in mind that our objective is contributing to solve the conflict. So yesterday we did this and we did, as Miro was mentioning, an assessment of the state of play, also introduced to us by the Foreign Ministers of Germany and France, [Frank-Walter] Steinmeier and [Jean-Marc] Ayrault. They provided to us an excellent insight on the state of play of the talks and we all expressed our support to the Normandy format, to their work in this format and it was exactly to that aim, to support this process, that we had this reflection yesterday.
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