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European Commission

José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Statement by President Barroso following the European Council, 19-20 December 2013

Press conference/Brussels

20 December 2013

Good afternoon, ladies and gentleman,

Yesterday, I spoke about how a comprehensive EU response can make a difference for Europe and for Europe’s role in the world. Today, we have addressed how we apply that vision to the practical reality on the ground.

First on migration: only two months ago we faced one of the worst humanitarian tragedies in the Mediterranean in recent times, with 350 people perishing off the coast of Lampedusa. I was there and we did not forget what happened.

Through our dedicated Task Force, we have worked out together a comprehensive, balanced and practical strategy to respond to this urgent and complex situation. We have recommended 38 concrete actions.

We have also set aside financial support of up to €50 million, including emergency funding.

Implementation is now the key point. Allow me just to highlight three priorities: First in terms of relations with third countries such as such as Egypt, Libya, Algeria and Lebanon, we need to address the causes of migration and fight against trafficking, smuggling and organised crime. Second, we need to better manage our sea borders with a reinforced FRONTEX. And thirdly, we need to increase our solidarity in terms of resettlement and helping member states under heavy pressure.

One of our most important discussions this morning was on the situation in Ukraine.

For the European Union, as the President of the European Council already stated, the offer of an Association Agreement, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, has always been precisely that; an offer, a proposition. It was never an imposition.

As we stated in Vilnius, the EU remains committed to the signing of the agreement.

Let me tell you that since the Vilnius Summit, I have spoken twice to President Yanukovich. HRVP Ashton went to Kiev to meet him but also all the key players, and a delegation led by deputy Prime Minister Arbuzov had meetings here in the European Commission. But these talks were never followed by a clear indication of a commitment by the Ukrainian authorities to sign the agreement. That is why we believe it was not worthwhile now continuing what could be seen as just a way of keeping a dialogue but without concrete results.

But this doesn't change the EU's position of principle. We want to be very clear that our partners must choose their path freely and of course with their full sovereignty.

We are ready to stand by and support our partners in their reform processes, and once again this is not a process against someone, but rather a project for something. A project for democracy, for prosperity and for stability. Agreements entail commitments on both sides. Our partners need to be committed to reforms. And commitment to our common values should remain an essential condition for any agreement. The continuing protests and demonstrations in the country show clearly where the Ukrainian people stand. They want freedom, they want prosperity, they want stability.

The EU has also stated very clearly – and myself personally, in the conversations with President Yanukovich – that the current tensions in the country need to be resolved politically in dialogue with the opposition and the civil society and that the civil liberties need to be fully respected.

Obviously the situation in Ukraine has overshadowed the fact that there were very important successes at the Vilnius Summit, and once again my congratulations to Lithuania for the excellent work of preparation of this very important Summit. Among those successes, the initialling of the agreements with Georgia and Moldova. It is important that the clear strategic choice of these two countries is not lost. And in fact we have discussed this also today.

Another issue that was today subject of interest of the European Council was Syria.

The humanitarian situation is shocking and deteriorating day by day – as I heard this Wednesday when I met with the heads of the major humanitarian organisations and we signed the largest ever deals to support the work of UN agencies in humanitarian matters, a deal of 147 million euros. The situation is not improving; it is indeed deteriorating in a dramatic way.

The EU continues to spearhead the international efforts on humanitarian aid (over 2 billion since the crisis began), but the scale of the needs is outpacing our efforts. We need therefore to call on other donors to step up their assistance already in the Kuwait conference that will take place next January and to keep up the pressure for a political solution which will be the only lasting way forward.

President Van Rompuy already mentioned the Central African Republic. I just want to pay tribute to the crucial and swift intervention by France, based on the UN Security Council resolution in support of African partners. I announced already the EU support of 50 million euros to the African led military mission. The European Council has been clear that it stands ready to use the relevant instruments under our common security and defence policy to stabilise the country.

All this simply underlines the crucial role that Europe is playing, and must continue to play globally. To punch our weight in the world we need to demonstrate that we have put our own house in order.

As I said last night, 2013 has been a breakthrough year in terms of getting Europe’s economy back on track. The euro is no longer in danger. Reforms are taking hold and this is slowly being felt by our citizens, the markets and our international partners. Yes, we have still very important problems - unemployment remains at an unacceptable level and we need to keep up the pressure to deliver growth measures – but the general economic situation is clearly improving. Europe is acting, Europe is working.

Of course this wouldn't be possible without the commitment of our member states but it wouldn't also be possible without the remarkable efforts of the European institutions and successive Council Presidencies. In this occasion I want to pay a very sincere tribute to the Lithuanian Presidency and especially President Grybauskaitė in particular. Great job, indeed. The groundwork that has been done to enable so many positive decisions to be taken in the last six months is a tribute to Lithuania and to the very competent and dedicate team that was working around President Grybauskaitė .

Finally, let me take this opportunity to wish you all a merry and restful Christmas. I hope to see you in the beginning of 2014 for what I'm sure will be a very interesting and challenging year.

Thank you.

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