11th Dec 2023

Borrell gives EU four weeks to save foreign policy

  • EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell (r) speaking to Cypriot foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides in Brussels on Monday (Photo:

Belarus sanctions have turned into a "high-voltage" crisis for EU foreign policy, its top diplomat has admitted.

"We can't have another foreign affairs council incapable of finding unanimity on sanctions against Belarus," EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said after meeting EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday (21 September).

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  • Still no reaction from EU after six weeks of state violence in Belarus (Photo: Daria Buryakina for

"It's becoming personal, because I understand clearly that the credibility of the EU and of forging ... a common foreign affairs policy very much depend on this," he added.

The Belarusian regime has been jailing, beating, and torturing thousands of pro-democracy protesters for the past six weeks on the EU's doorstep.

But Cyprus has stopped the other 26 EU countries from acting unless it imposed sanctions on Turkey "at the same time" for Turkish incursions into Cypriot waters, Borrell said.

And other states were not prepared to sanction Turkey yet, in a bid to dial down tension in the eastern Mediterranean, he indicated.

"This is a high-voltage political problem that the European Council will have to solve and I can't tell you how the council will solve it," Borrel said, referring to an emergency meeting of EU leaders on the Turkey situation in Brussels on Thursday.

If the EU leaders do not agree a breakthrough, then Borrell's deadline for EU credibility - the next foreign affairs council, in Luxembourg - falls on 12 October.

The last time there was a violent crackdown in Belarus was in late December 2010.

It was far less severe than this time around, but, back then, EU sanctions, including on Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko himself, were ready and in force by 1 February 2011.

Borrell noted that he "didn't blame" Cyprus for taking a tough line, however.

"If Turkey doesn't change its behaviour - and it hasn't changed its behaviour - toward Cyprus, then we'll have to consider sanctions," he said.

The Cyprus problem dates back to last May, when Turkey first sent gas-drilling vessels and warships into a Cypriot maritime zone.

Turkey also annoyed Cyprus by issuing a naval alert in the run-up to Monday's EU meeting, extending a drilling operation in Cypriot waters until 18 October.

Turkey's approach prompted Cyprus' foreign minister, Nikos Christodoulides, to say the EU had to be "consistent" in its treatment of Belarusian and Turkish violations.

EU "principles cannot be à la carte", he told press in Brussels on Monday.

And even though he was left alone to wield Nicosia's veto, French diplomats have voiced sympathy with Cyprus' point of view, one EU source said.


Meanwhile, EU states also cannot agree if the blacklist of 40 or so names should include Lukashenko, or if they should leave the stick poised over his head for now.

But Borrell repeated that the EU did not see him as a legitimate ruler because he had "falsified elections", in the same way Europe did not recognise Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro.

Blacklists aside, the EU would curb or downgrade high-level meetings with Lukashenko's administration and some member states might shutter embassies in Minsk, Borrell said.

EU foreign ministers also discussed the civil war in Libya, where they imposed visa-bans and asset-freezes on two individuals for human rights abuses and on three entities for arms-smuggling.

The EU stood ready to help the UN try to cement a recent ceasefire agreement, but "nobody has been asking or proposing to send European troops to Libya" to do that, Borrell noted.

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