In Vienna, with our eyes on the Balkans, the Middle East and Iran

In Vienna, with our eyes on the Balkans, the Middle East and Iran

I write after coming back from Austria, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, where I chaired the informal meetings of European Foreign and Defence Ministers. We were in Vienna, the city where three years ago – after years of negotiations – we finalised the nuclear deal with Iran. There could be no better place to start a year, which we will dedicate to a great extent to protecting and strengthening the system of multilateral institutions.

Deals like the one with Iran contribute to Europe’s security, and investing in this kind of “effective multilateralism” is the only way to truly defend the European citizens’ interests.

Austria has decided to dedicate its semester of EU Presidency precisely to effective multilateralism, but also to our work with the Balkans: we talked about both issues with Austrian President Alexander Van Der Bellen (the video is here).

In Vienna we were joined by the Foreign Ministers of the European Union’s candidate countries. We discussed our common work to protect and promote multilateralism, a few weeks before the United Nations’ General Assembly in New York. And we also discussed our continent’s security, together with representatives from NATO and the United Nations.

Cooperation with the Balkans was also discussed in the informal meeting of EU Defence Ministers, together with NATO and the United Nations. With the Defence Ministers we worked on new common projects to strengthen the European Union’s defence: we will launch these projects thanks to the Permanent Structured Cooperation we created last year.

With Defence and Foreign Ministers we discussed the future of Operation Sophia, our naval mission in the Mediterranean: there is still no agreement on the Operation’s new mandate, to be renewed by the end of the year. But all ministers confirmed their strong willingness to preserve a mission that is essential to fight human trafficking and to save human lives. Here is what I told journalists before the Defence Ministers’ meeting and the press conference after the meeting.

With Foreign Ministers we mostly dealt with the conflict between Israel and Palestine, and with the situation in Syria, in a moment when a potential attack on Idlib could spark a new dramatic humanitarian crisis. Later this month we will work on both crises in New York, at the UN General Assembly’s ministerial week.

We also discussed Transatlantic relations, and the crucial months ahead of us in our work with the Balkans: negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo are entering a decisive stage, and next week I will once again host Presidents Aleksandar Vucic and Hashim Thaci in Brussels; and the referendum on the future Republic of North Macedonia will also be held in September.

This is what I told journalists ahead of the Foreign Ministers’ meeting and the press conference after the meeting – where we talk more about the Balkans, the Middle East and Operation Sophia, but also about Venezuela.