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Exclusive interview with Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the EU

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Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. SUPPLIED

Exclusive interview with Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the EU

CAMBODIA is hosting the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) and Related Meetings this week with top officials from the US, China, and Russia and other countries in the region slated to attend and to meet with face-to-face with their counterparts on the sidelines.

In this regard, The Post conducted an exclusive interview with Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, about the EU’s prospective on the Russia-Ukraine war, measures taken by the EU, correlated climate change, and Cambodia-EU relations.

Excellency, we understood the importance of Ukraine sovereignty that’s why Cambodian Government as well as other nations have voted at the UN against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, the economic sanction seems to be a triple edged sword. Of course, one edge aimed to Putin-Russia, but the second, and third edge harm EU and the world economic with the record inflations. In your opinion, how long the world have to endure that economic downside?

This is a man-made crisis. The name of the man is Putin and only he can end this. EU Sanctions are aimed to limiting the Kremlin’s ability to continue to finance the war. The economic pressure they create is combined with political and diplomatic pressure to isolate Russia and force it to change its unprovoked aggression against a sovereign country and behaviour of disregard to international law. Of course, they are not cost-free for the European Union and have repercussions also for our partners across the world. However, we as the EU have to stand with the Ukrainian people who are paying the highest price.

Ukraine is our direct neighbour and the Ukrainian people have decided they want to share their future with us, based on principles of democracy and fundamental rights and freedoms. But let me underline that what Russia is doing in Ukraine does not concern only the EU, but it has a direct relevance for any country in the world.

Russia´s invasion of Ukraine has changed the geopolitical landscape of Europe and the world. It contradicts the core principles of international coexistence that are in the UN Charter: the equal sovereignty of states, the peaceful resolution of conflicts and the ban on the use of force in international relations. This is a threat to all, not just to Europe, because what is at stake in the end is the protection of weaker states from more powerful ones that could prey on them.

We all must resist Russia’s attempts to destroy Ukraine and present it as acceptable, because otherwise any country could be at risk of destruction by a bigger or stronger neighbour. I am sure that no country in Asia or in Africa would disagree that sovereignty of nations has to be upheld in line with the existing principles under the UN Charter.

Regarding global economics, let me recall that it is very clear where the responsibility lies for the global inflation and food crisis. Our sanctions do not target Russian wheat or fertiliser exports, and they do not apply outside the territory of the EU. It is Russia alone that is deliberately destroying Ukraine’s agricultural and transport infrastructure and equipment, causing fuel shortages and creating worldwide food supply chain problems through the blocking of Ukraine’s ports and the looting of Ukrainian grain. Russia has been endangering the food security for millions of people across the world. The UN and Turkey-led agreement with Russia and Ukraine to unblock the Black Sea for Ukrainian exports of grains offers an opportunity to start reversing this negative course, but here again it will depend on Russia’s swift and good faith implementation of these agreements.

In this context, the EU remains committed to helping Ukraine bring as much of its grain into global markets as quickly as possible. The EU’s Solidarity Lanes plan has facilitated the export of 2,5 million tons in June alone. We are also working closely with partners such as the UN and G7, to promote a multilateral response to broader aspects of global food security. In this context, from the EU side alone we aim to mobilise over €7.7 billion until 2024 in support of a global response to food insecurity. This includes immediate humanitarian food and nutrition assistance for our most vulnerable partners as well as medium-term investments in food security and sustainable food systems in more than 70 partner countries.

About weapon supply to Ukraine, there are allegations that military grade and heavy weaponry are leaked to black markets. There is a serious probability of such a leak in war circumstances. Do you think that keeping on supplying arms to Ukraine could result in leaking to the hands of terrorists, thus the threat to world security?

Ukraine is currently fighting an unjustified and unprovoked territorial invasion by Russia.

This is not just about Ukraine’s security, territorial integrity and civilian population, as I said, it is about the future of the international rules-based order.

The EU is firmly committed to supporting Ukraine to defend its territorial integrity and protect its population including through the provision of military equipment.

We have set mechanisms to monitor and control that this equipment is used for its intended purposes. It will be subject to strict controls and safeguards, including after it has been delivered. Not only for the current period, but also in the future.

This includes monitoring that the use is in line with international human rights and international humanitarian law as well as possible regular reporting and/or on the spot controls of the status of the equipment.

Of course, generally speaking, risks exist in any war situation that some weapons might be misused, but we trust that Ukraine , while fighting for the survival of their country and their nation, will use every weapon for the purpose that they were provided: they need to protect the lives of their people, of their children, from the invading forces.

About climate change which is an important challenge to the world, will the EU be on track to the Paris agreement on carbon neutrality commitment by 2050, amid sanctions on Russian gas and the energy crisis in Europe?

Yes. There is simply no other choice and the transition is more important than ever. Science tells us it is extremely urgent – and recent extreme heat waves, fires and floods confirm this. The EU has enshrined our ambition into a Climate Law, binding ourselves to make Europe climate neutral in 2050 and we will work to implement our climate ambitions and support the global green transition. The transition will be the basis for future jobs and growth. And for that we work hand in hand with partners from around the world.

Green transition is one of the pillars of our external policy. We have now an unprecedented level of funds programmed for green transition – with a legally binding spending target of 30% for climate in our EU external budget for the coming 7 years and we will continue to lead, together with partners, on initiatives to curb emissions and to increase adaptation. In this respect, we remain strongly focussed on the implementation of the Glasgow COP26 decisions and we support the Egyptian incoming Presidency of COP27 to make further progress. More is needed, in particular, for climate adaptation and finance to support countries in adjusting to a new climate reality – visible both in Europe, Asia and in every other region in the world.

For the EU, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has just triggered an acceleration of the need to reduce our dependency and consumption of fossil fuels. Our overarching policy goal in the long term remains clear, in line with the key message in both our “REPowerEU” projectand the External Energy Strategy adopted in May: the green energy transition is the only way to simultaneously ensure sustainable, secure, and affordable energy worldwide.

The EU has laid out a series of short term measures to reduce fossil fuels demand in the EU. We will also continue to build long-lasting international partnerships and promote the EU clean energy industries across the globe.

With these measures, I can confidently say that the EU is on track to reach its climate goals. We are, in fact, accelerating measures and we will support partners that have the same climate ambitions.

Back to the region, what input do you plan to provide to the upcoming 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting? And what are your expected outcomes?

During my time in Cambodia, I will attend the EU-ASEAN Post-Ministerial Conference (PMC), and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Ministerial Meeting. ASEAN and the EU are Strategic Partners, and the benefit is that we are able to speak frankly about our concerns and explore new areas of cooperation. At these meetings, I will share the EU’s united condemnation of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Russia’s invasion of a smaller neighbour, the targeted killing of civilians, the grabbing of land and resources, the kidnapping of local officials, are all clear violations of the UN Charter, in particular its Article 2, and international humanitarian law. This conflict may seem far away to some ASEAN citizens and governments, but the entire global community is affected when a larger regional power violates the UN Charter and internationally recognised borders, as Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a nuclear power, has done.

I will extend my gratitude to those ASEAN members who have supported EU efforts to end the violence and condemned Russia through UN resolutions and international sanctions.

This is also the time to discuss the impact of Russia’s war on food security. Russia has been trying to escape responsibility for endangering the health and food supply of millions of people around the world, but Russian bombing makes it impossible for Ukrainian farmers to sow, it sets the fields of wheat on fire, it is deliberately targeting agricultural machinery, and is blocking hundreds of ships filled with wheat in the Black Sea.

We will of course also discuss the situation in Myanmar where the military junta continues its campaign of terror and repression. The recent executions of four democracy activists, including a member of parliament, are a shocking signal to the world of the junta’s disregard for the lives and rights of Myanmar’s citizens and their desire for freedom. The EU is considers the situation in the country as grave and strongly supports Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn’s efforts as ASEAN Special Envoy to end the violence and unite ASEAN into taking firm action.

In terms of outcomes, ASEAN and the EU will adopt a new five-year Plan of Action, identifying new areas of cooperation in pandemic recovery, trade, rules-based and sustainable connectivity, climate change, research and security. Connectivity will be a key focus of discussions, as both sides look forward to the imminent signature of the EU-ASEAN Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement (CATA), the world’s first region-to-region air transportation agreement, and an engine of post-pandemic recovery for our airlines.

Can you describe in your opinion the ideal bilateral relationship Cambodia-EU?

The relationship between Cambodia and the EU is difficult to summarise in just one sentence. It is a rich bilateral relationship, involving many sectors of engagement and a wide array of actors from the European Institutions, the Cambodian Government, private sector and civil society, among others. We are also partners in defending multilateralism, something especially relevant in the current international context of growing global challenges. Cambodia is for us a partner in the framework of the Strategic Partnership between the EU and ASEAN, and the EU Indo-Pacific Strategy. Even more this year, when Cambodia holds the ASEAN Chair and will co-Chair the EU-ASEAN Summit in December in Brussels.

Europe is the second export market for Cambodia’s manufacturing industry and preferential access through the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme continues to support external trade and job creation. Our cooperation programme dedicated around €400 million in grants and €450 million in loans (2014-2020), working with the government in support of development policies, in many sectors, and with Cambodia’s vibrant civil society and non-governmental organisations. Our new programme is the expression of a renewed commitment in support of economic recovery and connectivity.

We have a structured bilateral dialogue, including on political relations, human rights and democracy. Our differences in approaches to these questions, including human rights and democracy, are clear and public, we have no hidden agenda. This does not discourage us from discussing them with the Government in an open and frank manner, including on the scenarios that would allow again a full application of the EBA regime. We can only address these issues together, in the framework of our relationship and continue to support all efforts of Cambodia towards building an inclusive democratic society.

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