Minister Flanagan briefs Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee on Paris attacks, Migration, Syria and Tunisia
Agenda also includes: the Middle East Peace Process, Iran, Libya, EU plan on Human Rights and Democracy, EU-ACP Relations, Eastern Partnership.
Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade
25 November 2015
Foreign Affairs Council
Statement by Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade, Mr. Charlie Flanagan, TD.
Chairman, Members of the Committee,
I welcome the opportunity to address you here this morning on recent developments at the Foreign Affairs Council.
My statement will focus on the Foreign Affairs Council meetings held in July, October, and November. In addition, I will look ahead to the Council meeting in December.
During the period under review a large number of issues have been addressed by the Council on which I will provide an update to the Committee here this morning.
Following this I would be more than happy to address any questions the Committee may have, and hear your own perspectives on the foreign policy challenges we face.
I attended the most recent meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday 16 November, which took place in the shadow of the horrific attacks in Paris. The meeting was an important coming together of EU Foreign Ministers at a critical time to demonstrate both our support and solidarity with our French colleagues, and our unity as a union of Member States in the face on this assault on our citizens and on our value system.
I conveyed the condolences and fellowship of the Irish people to the French Minister for Europe, Harlem Désir, who was present at the meeting.
The Council had a discussion on migration at this meeting, and there was a clear view that the issue of migration cannot and should not be conflated with the appalling acts of terrorism in Paris.
Migration has been a key topic at many recent meetings of the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC). The scale of the migration challenge facing the EU is an enormous one. The conflict in Syria - the biggest driver behind this year’s migrant flows - has led to the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. But the problem is bigger than Syria.
An estimated 60 million displaced people worldwide are on the move, the highest since World War II. They are coming not just from Syria but from such places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza and a dozen or so countries in sub-Saharan and North Africa.
In recent weeks the EU has intensified its response to the crisis. During the FAC last week, my colleagues and I discussed the importance of implementing the decisions already taken in this area. In particular we welcomed the Action Plan agreed upon at the Valletta Summit of 11/12 November. This Action Plan lays out medium and long term policies to address the root causes of migration.
The key deliverable of this Summit, which brought together EU and African leaders, was the establishment of the Trust Fund for addressing the root causes of migration in Africa, with €1.8bn from the European Development Fund and additional bilateral contributions, to which Ireland is contributing €3m.
In addition, there was a Justice and Home Affairs Council on Monday 9 November, while the Valletta Summit was followed by an informal European Council called by President Tusk to assess the progress made by the EU in fulfilling its earlier commitments.
The October European Council agreed that tackling the migration crisis was a common obligation which required a comprehensive strategy and a determined effort over time “in a spirit of solidarity and responsibility”.
The Council welcomed the EU-Turkey Action Plan, a key element of which is addressing migration to the EU via Turkey.
The Council also agreed on new measures aimed at strengthening the EU’s external borders. Third Countries are key players in reducing the volume of migration flows; Turkey in particular, since the majority of migrants currently transit Turkey on their journey to Europe.
Turkey and the EU are working to finalise a Joint Action Plan. At the informal summit called by President Tusk on Thursday 12 November, EU leaders agreed to hold a special summit with Turkey at the end of November. This Summit will take place on this Sunday 29 November.
The migrant crisis resulting from the continuing conflict in Syria has brought a foreign policy issue to European doorsteps in a way that is rarely seen. It has brought home to us how conflicts in the EU’s neighbourhoods can impact on the Union, down to the level of towns and citizens.
The newly formed International Syria Support Group brings together all of the key external stakeholders in the conflict. The High Representative is one of those attending. The coming together in that context of countries that otherwise have little or no direct engagement shows a seriousness of purpose which is essential to the massive challenge faced. They have set themselves ambitious goals, to be achieved in a tight timetable.
Key elements include:
• formal negotiations to aim to start by 1 January;
• establishment of a credible, inclusive and non-sectarian government, and a constitutional reform process, and
• free and fair elections under UN supervision within 18 months
This is in line with the Conclusions adopted at the October Council which underlined “the need to accelerate the work of the entire international community on the political track in the framework of the UN-led process”.
Middle East Peace Process
The Middle East Peace Process appeared on the Council’s agenda in July and in November, and it is expected to be discussed again at next month’s meeting. Conclusions were adopted in July. That period has also coincided with a significant upsurge in violence, primarily in Jerusalem and in Hebron, but also spreading to other areas.
In common with others, I deplore any resort to violent attacks on civilians. I have condemned any use of violence, encouraged calm and de-escalation and urged positive leadership on the issues that may be contributing to individuals adopting such a dreadful path.
While I appreciate the frustration of those who see no political end in sight, it does not justify resorting to violence. However, any security response to the violence must be proportionate.
Just ahead of the November meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, the Commission published an “Interpretative Notice on indication of origin of goods from the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967”, also called, in shorthand, the guidelines on labelling of goods from the settlements.
I was one of those who called for this notice to be published and I welcome it. However, I want to be clear that it does not represent sanctions on Israel. It involves no new law; instead, it is a tool to ensure that consumers can make informed decisions.
The agreement reached on Iran at the beginning of July was a very significant achievement, and was welcomed by Foreign Ministers at the Council meeting in July.
Significant potential hurdles in implementing the agreement, in both Iran and the USA, have been surmounted. To date, reports from the IAEA and others indicate that the steps required to implement the agreement (principally actions by Iran in relation to its nuclear activities) are being carried out as intended.
It remains the assessment, therefore, that the agreement is on schedule to be fully in operation early in the New Year, at which stage most of the nuclear-related international sanctions on Iran will be removed.
Libya is currently in political limbo as it continues to transition towards democracy and stability. It was discussed at the July FAC, when it seemed that the disparate factions were beginning to approach agreement, although the General National Congress (GNC, in control of Tripoli) remained largely outside of the process.
Following UN Special Representative Bernardino Léon’s announcement of nominees for the Government of National Accord the week before, Libya was added to the October FAC agenda. Council Conclusions were adopted supporting the progress made by UNSR Léon and encouraging the various parties to endorse the peace agreement. The EU stated that it would work in close partnership with the GNA, once formed, and that it was prepared to offer immediate and substantial support.
However, since then little progress has been made. The Agreement remains unsigned as the factions continue to debate, in particular, the composition of the Presidential Council. Libya is again on the agenda for the December Council. Bernardino Léon was replaced on 17 November by UNSR Martin Kobler, to whom I wish every success in this new role.
I emphasise my support of the position stated repeatedly by the EU, namely that there is no military solution to the Libyan crisis. Only a political settlement can achieve peace and stability for Libya and its people.
At the July Council meeting, I spoke directly with PM Essib and FM Baccouche to underline Ireland’s support for Tunisia’s transition to democracy and the need to counter the terrorist threat to Tunisian political and economic reform.
I also made clear that our absolute abhorrence of the murder of three of our citizens in Tunisia would strengthen our solidarity with the people of Tunisia, who have also suffered greatly from the impact of terrorism. The EU has already made clear its commitment to supporting Tunisia in its development towards a prosperous, secure and democratic State.
The core issue is how the EU can strengthen Tunisia in tackling the threat of extremism, strengthening democracy and the rule of law, supporting stability and prosperity for the Tunisian people. This will be an ongoing effort.
Our task is to work through the EU with the Tunisian authorities, whose own legitimacy must also be strengthened. It is for us to engage with them, and work collaboratively to address our shared needs and interests. That was the clear consensus among EU Foreign Ministers and equally importantly, with the Tunisian authorities.
EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy
I welcome the adoption of the second EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy for the period 2015-2019 at the Council on 20 July 2015, following on from the first plan adopted in June 2012. The Plan will help increase EU effectiveness in promoting and protecting human rights worldwide at a time of increasing violations and abuses.
The Action Plan covers a wide range of issues; however, the increasingly vicious attacks on religious minorities, particularly in the Middle East, are a cause for serious concern. Members of minority religious communities, including those of Christian, Muslim and Baha’i faith, have been subjected to appalling levels of violence, discrimination, and harassment.
Ireland has been vocal in this regard, and pressed for the inclusion of a specific action on the freedom of religion or belief, which is reflected in the Action Plan.
I am also particularly concerned with the increasing attacks on civil society in several countries and the parallel harassment of human rights defenders. Ireland worked within the EU to ensure that these concerns were included in the Action Plan.
The EU has commenced consideration on a possible successor framework to the Cotonou Partnership Agreement which covers the EU’s relationship with the African Caribbean and Pacific group of countries.
Given the focus of our aid programme, Ireland attaches great importance to our relationship with the African Caribbean and Pacific countries. Eight out of nine of our programme countries are in sub-Saharan Africa where poverty remains most persistent. The EDF, which allocates over 90% of its funding to programmes in Africa, complements our aid focus.
I believe that the upcoming expiration of the agreement in 2020 provides an excellent opportunity to take a close look at the ACP-EU partnership and to assess whether the Cotonou framework is still the most appropriate model for the EU’s engagement with the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of countries.
In this context, we must be open to all ideas, taking into account the recently agreed 2030 Agenda which, given its universal nature, provides a new approach for a strategic and equal partnership with the ACP countries.
The Council meeting in October stressed the need to keep an open mind at this stage of the process. A Staff Working Document is expected by spring 2016 and this will serve as a basis for further discussions both in Council and with ACP partners.
Ireland looks forward to constructive negotiations which will benefit all partners in the strengthening and evolution of our relationship post-Cotonou so that we can find the most appropriate and effective way to deal with the common challenges and opportunities ahead.
Chairman, Members of the Committee,
I would like now to turn to the upcoming December Council meeting. The agenda for this meeting is not yet confirmed; however, the High Representative has indicated that the Middle East Peace Process, Libya, Iraq and the Eastern Partnership may feature.
The Eastern Partnership (EaP) was due to be discussed at the November Foreign Affairs Council (FAC), when the HRVP was expected to report on her recent trips to Ukraine and Georgia and discuss the situation in Moldova.
Ministers were also expected to discuss broader developments in the EaP region, particularly in light of commitments made at the Riga Summit. Due to a full agenda, however, particularly following the terrorist attacks in Paris on 13 November, this discussion was postponed until the December FAC.
In relation to Ukraine, the security situation in the east of the country has greatly improved in recent weeks with a significant reduction in violence since a new ceasefire was agreed on 1 September. The position remains fragile however, and I am concerned at reports of an increase in incidents along the contact line over the last two weeks.
I commend the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission for its impartial reporting on the ceasefire and pull back of weapons, as well as the role it plays in facilitating the restoration of vital infrastructure, prisoner exchanges and demining operations.
The respite in violence has provided a platform for progress on the political track. While this progress is welcome, we cannot lose sight of the fact that key elements of the Minsk Agreements remain to be addressed. These include the withdrawal of all foreign troops and equipment from eastern Ukraine and the restoration of Ukrainian control of its border with Russia.
For this reason, it is vital that the positive momentum that we have seen in recent weeks is maintained and that work to implement the remaining parts of the Minsk Agreements is treated as a priority by all involved.
The discussion will provide Ministers with an opportunity to assess the implementation of Ukraine’s national reform programme. I visited Kyiv in July and at meetings with Foreign Minister Klimkin and others in Government and Parliament I was greatly impressed by Ukraine’s resolve to address the many challenges the country faces and its determination to offer a better future for its citizens.
I underlined the importance of continuing on the reform path and assured those whom I met of the EU’s and Ireland’s continued support for their transformation efforts.
Chairman, Members of the Committee,
Thank you for your time and your patience in allowing me to review what I think you will agree has been a very varied and diverse agenda which the Foreign Affairs Council has faced over recent months.
I would be happy to address any questions that you may have and look forward to hearing your own perspectives on these issues and others which you might wish to raise.