Friday

18th Sep 2020

Borrell hard on Russia in EU hearing

  • Josep Borrell: 'I will take risks. I will assume the risk that my proposals will not be accepted' (Photo: exteriores.gob.es)

The EU should continue to expand in the Western Balkans and maintain sanctions on Russia, its next foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has said.

It should also do foreign policy by majority votes instead of consensus and conduct military operations in order to compete with the US and China on the world stage.

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  • Italian diplomat Federica Mogherini was more softly spoken (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

"My first visit [in the EU post] will be to Pristina. I've never been in Kosovo, for obvious reasons, but my first trip will be there," Borrell told MEPs in his European Parliament (EP) hearing on Monday (6 October).

The 72-year old Spanish foreign minister had never been there because Spain is one of the five EU states that does not recognise Kosovo.

So long as "Russia, India, and China don't recognise Kosovo, [it] will not be a fully-fledged [UN] state", he said.

But that might change if Kosovo and Serbia made a deal to normalise relations in EU-brokered talks, he noted.

"Kosovo and Serbia have to reach an agreement ... and I will do my utmost in order to fulfil this," he said.

"The Balkans and the eastern borders of the EU, they are the main priorities of our foreign policy," he added.

"If we, as Europeans, can't solve a problem in the immediate vicinity, then we can't be a world power", he said.

Borrell's "eastern" priorities included a tough line on Russia, which has tried to harm EU ties with Balkan capitals.

And the best way to counter Russian "expansionism" in Europe was to help Ukraine, which Russia invaded five years ago, he said.

"Ukraine remains central to the strategic challenge that Russia poses," he said.

"Until such time as Russia changes its attitude on Crimea and territorial violations, those sanctions must remain," he added.

Risk-taker

His predecessor in the EU post, Federica Mogherini, a 46-year old Italian diplomat, was softly spoken on Russia in line with Italian policy.

But Borrell, who is, anyway, known for being more brusque, dispelled the idea that southern EU states, such as Italy or Spain, only had migration on their minds.

The EU should, in future, renew Russia and other international sanctions by majority voting instead of unanimity, he added.

It should also agree to conduct peacekeeping missions by majority and tap a €10.5bn fund, the so-called European Peace Facility, to pay for EU "battlegroups" to go into action, he added.

"We should reinforce the EU's ... military capacity," he said.

"The EU has to learn to use the language of power," he added.

"I will take risks. I will assume the risk that my proposals will not be accepted," Borrell also said.

He criticised the US, the EU's principal defence and trade ally, and China, its second-biggest trade partner.

"We have legitimate concerns about unilateral [US] moves that go against decades of cooperation," he said, referring to American president Donald Trump's various rifts with Europe.

And China was "as much a systemic rival as an economic opportunity," Borrell said.

This was "not the world we wanted" but "Europe has to position itself among the growing confrontation between the US and China", he said.

Migration

Turning to migration, Borrell said he had spent most of the summer on the phone trying to agree ad-hoc deals on taking in boat migrants rejected by Italy.

We "cannot afford this situation" and the EU needed a "proper policy" on Libya, he said.

The Spanish socialist attacked nationalism.

Borders were "scars" which were "made by fire and blood ... I don't like borders", he said.

And he described Africa's population surge as "an opportunity" for Europe.

The EU would defend the two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the oldest one on its southern fringe, he added.

But he voiced pragmatism on Israel despite its mistreatment of Palestinians.

"Are we going to break our trade agreements with Israel? ... No," he said.

Borrell went into the hearing as a shoe-in, not least because his nomination was part of a political deal by EU capitals, unlike those of other would-be commissioners.

Apologies

The EP's legal affairs committee also gave him a green light despite his fine for insider trading after he sold shares in a Spanish energy firm called Abengoa before it went bust.

He had sold just 7 percent of his holdings and lost €300,000 on the rest, he noted.

"Someone who does that either has no [inside] information or is stupid," he said.

He apologised for having once made disparaging comments on Spanish colonialist crimes in South America.

"Fair enough," Reinhard Buetikofer, a German green MEP who raised the issue on Monday, tweeted in reply.

Borrell "missed an opportunity" to criticise Catalan independence in his EP remarks, Dolors Montserrat, a centre-right Spanish MEP claimed.

But he did not apologise for this.

"I have to tell you that, as a high representative for EU foreign policy, my task will not be to pronounce myself on the internal problems of each of the countries," Borrell said.

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