Foreign Affairs Council tries to de-escalate dangerous situations in Belarus and the Eastern Mediterranean Sea

The video conference on Friday with the EU ministers of foreign affairs focused on the situations in the Eastern Mediterranean and in Belarus after the Presidential elections on 9 August. Other urgent issues in the world were only touched upon.

“Today the EU reacted in unity and decisively in defence of EU interests and values, within the Union and beyond our borders,” said Josep Borrell, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. “We will always stand up for international law, democracy, human rights and freedoms.”

Borrell who is on vacation in Spain had announced on Wednesday that he would convene the extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council for Friday afternoon. The meeting lasted longer than expected and ended with a press release but without the usual press conference.

There were speculations that the EU would announce sanctions on Belarus after the fraudulent presidential elections there and the brutal suppression of protests. A number of member states were reportedly in favour of sanctions.

In a rare move, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen twitted before the meeting, “We need additional sanctions against those who violated democratic values or abused human rights in #Belarus.”

“I am confident today’s EU Foreign Ministers’ discussion will demonstrate our strong support for the rights of the people in Belarus to fundamental freedoms & democracy,” she added.

However, following the release by the Belarus authorities of arrested protesters, the Council stopped short of announcing sanctions at this stage against a country which is described as “Europe’s last dictatorship” and continues to receive financial support from the EU.

Instead, the Ministers wanted to send a “strong signal of the EU’s support to the Belarusian population in their desire for democratic change”. They noted the exceptional work of the domestic election observers, whose reporting, in the absence of international election observers, has been crucial in helping to reveal the true picture regarding last Sunday’s elections.

“The Ministers reiterated that the elections were neither free nor fair. The EU considers the results to have been falsified and therefore does not accept the results of the election as presented by the Belarus Central Election Commission.”

The EU intends to put forward to the Belarusian authorities a proposal for EU support in establishing and facilitating a dialogue between the political authorities, opposition and broader society in view of resolving the current crisis. Borrell will begin work on this proposal immediately.

Ministers also agreed on the need to sanction those responsible for violence, repression and the falsification of election results. The work on additional listings within the existing sanctions framework for Belarus will also start immediately.

The Ministers agreed to revert to reviewing EU-Belarus relations at their upcoming informal meeting, which will take place on 27-28 August in Berlin.

In the Eastern Mediterranean, tension between Turkey, Greece and Cyprus has increased in recent days because of Turkish drillings for natural gas in disputed waters and close naval confrontations. The Council summarised the discussion in three words: solidarity with Greece and Cyprus and dialogue with Turkey, aiming at de-escalation of the dangerous situation.

The Ministers stressed that the serious deterioration in the relationship with Turkey is having far-reaching strategic consequences for the entire EU, well beyond the Eastern Mediterranean.

They stressed in particular that, “Recent naval mobilisations by Turkey do not contribute to finding any solutions. On the contrary, they will lead to greater antagonism and distrust. They create a heightened risk of dangerous incidents. Immediate de-escalation by Turkey was considered crucial.

“Issues related to delimitation of maritime boundaries and exploitation of resources therein can only be addressed through dialogue and negotiation, in good faith, in accordance with international law and in pursuit of the principle of good neighbourly relations, and not through unilateral actions and the mobilisation of naval forces.”

A broader discussion about relations with Turkey will also be held at next informal Foreign Affairs Council meeting in August.

The Brussels Times

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