Euronews sits down with the President of the European Council Charles Michel to discuss the challenges facing the EU, future enlargement, support for Ukraine and the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The war in Ukraine continues to shake the European Union and neighbouring countries seeking to join the European project. Sources of tension are multiplying, as we’ve recently seen in the Caucasus. Faced with these challenges, Member States are looking for diplomatic, political and business solutions. To discuss these threats and challenges, Euronews spoke with the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, in The Global Conversation. Grégoire Lory, Euronews:“New military action has taken place close to the European Union. Azerbaijan launched a lightning military offensive on Nagorno-Karabakh. What is the priority today?”Charles Michel, President of the European Council:“The question is a shocking one because there was a mediation process underway and the use of violence must always be deplored. And what’s important now is to be very active on the humanitarian front. And we are very committed to supporting Armenia, which is hosting a very large number of refugees who have left the region where they used to live, in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. On the other hand, we must remain politically and diplomatically committed to ensuring that there is a clear reaffirmation of respect for Armenia’s territorial integrity.”Grégoire Lory, Euronews:“You’ve been involved in this mediation over the last few months. Was the attack a result of a failure of European diplomacy?”Charles Michel, President of the European Council:“I think that when you’re involved in diplomacy and mediation, you know that it’s not an exact science. And so I think that this mediation, which is being conducted in parallel with others, notably with the United States, has enabled progress to be made, exchanges of prisoners for example, progress in terms of understanding how we could improve connectivity in this region as a factor in stability for the future. Progress has also been made on texts aimed at one day having a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan, a peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan. But having said that, there is no doubt that we immediately regretted this military action. I am extremely disappointed by this decision taken by Azerbaijan, and I have made this very clear to President Aliyev.”Charles Michel rejects the idea that the EU turned a blind eye to preserve its gas agreements with AzerbaijanGrégoire Lory, Euronews:“There were warning signs. The closure of the Lachin corridor, the Azeri troops massing around Nagorno-Karabakh. Did the EU see these warning signs?”Charles Michel, President of the European Council:“We have been extremely active throughout the summer because once we realised that the Lachin corridor was closed and that there was humanitarian pressure on the region, it was important to reopen this humanitarian access. And throughout the summer and in the weeks and days leading up to this military action, the European Union was very directly involved, both with representatives of the Armenian population in the region and with representatives of the Azerbaijan government, and we managed to ensure that humanitarian access was reopened. And it was a few hours after this reopening that the military action was launched. We will remain very committed. We are not giving up, it is true that we are disappointed by the decision to take military action, but we are not giving up on our commitment to bring stability, security and, in the short term, humanitarian aid to the region.”Grégoire Lory, Euronews:“Did the European Union turn a blind eye in order to preserve its gas agreements with Azerbaijan?”Charles Michel, President of the European Council:“No, absolutely not. I understand that some people see this as an argument. It’s not a correct analysis. We demonstrated the European Union’s ability to diversify very quickly after the outbreak of Russia’s war against Ukraine and, as a result, there are many options open to us today in terms of access to energy resources.”‘Real difficulties’ with AzerbaijanGrégoire Lory, Euronews:“Should we reconsider these gas agreements to try and get guarantees from Baku?”Charles Michel, President of the European Council:“What is certain is that we must first see with Armenia how we can find a way to move towards a normalisation of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia. A firm and absolutely indisputable guarantee of mutual recognition of the respective territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and Armenia. And how we can also guarantee the rights and security of the Armenian population living in Nagorno-Karabakh.”Grégoire Lory, Euronews:“Is Azerbaijan still a partner of the European Union?”Charles Michel, President of the European Council:“It is a partner, yes, today it is a partner. But does that mean that the relationship is simple? No, the relationship is not simple. Is it difficult? Yes, and these real difficulties need to be understood.”‘There is a great responsibility on Azerbaijan’s side’Grégoire Lory, Euronews:“You’re going to meet the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia. What are you going to say to them?”Charles Michel, President of the European Council:“Once again, we’re going to encourage a normalisation process that can lead to commitments on both sides, that there is respect for the commitments that have been made and the absolute priority is to ensure that there are negotiations on both territorial boundaries and borders. In fact, it was the European process that enabled progress to be made on this, on a peace treaty to normalise relations and also on what is known as connectivity, i.e. the ability of both the Armenians and the people of Azerbaijan to move around the region.”Grégoire Lory, Euronews:“You used the word peace. Is peace possible?”Charles Michel, President of the European Council:“That will depend on the will of both sides. There’s no doubt that military action creates mistrust, to say the least. So it’s certain that if we want to move towards peace, greater security and greater prosperity, the best thing is for there to be negotiations that can set down a certain number of commitments on both sides.”‘The international community needs to play a role in guaranteeing the safety and rights’ of those who have fledGrégoire Lory, Euronews:“On 1 January, Nagorno-Karabakh will cease to exist. How can we create confidence in these conditions?”Charles Michel, President of the European Council:“I think there is a great responsibility on Azerbaijan’s side, from the moment it was Azerbaijan that launched a military operation, it is now up to Azerbaijan to show goodwill, good faith in a commitment with the necessary monitoring by the international community to protect the rights and security of the entire population living in Azerbaijan, including the Armenian population.”Grégoire Lory, Euronews:“Armenia is talking about ethnic cleansing at the moment in Nagorno-Karabakh. Do you agree with this terminology?”Charles Michel, President of the European Council:“In any case, it’s clear that there is a de facto situation today where the vast majority of the Armenian population has left this region, probably out of fear of how they would be treated by the Azerbaijan authorities.. A large part of the population is now in Armenia, which is why humanitarian aid is needed, particularly from the European Union, and I think that the international community needs to play a role in guaranteeing the safety and rights of this population and seeing how the population will decide to either to stay in part in Armenia or to be able to return to their region.”‘Russia has betrayed the Armenian population’Grégoire Lory, Euronews:“Russia is a major player in the region. Does this attack by Azerbaijan weaken or strengthen Moscow?”Charles Michel, President of the European Council:“One thing is certain now, and no one can fail to see it. Russia has betrayed the Armenian people and Russia has expressed the wish to have soldiers present to guarantee these agreements on stability and security. And we can see that this military operation was launched without the slightest reaction from Russia, which was on the ground, which was not the case for the European Union, which does not have a military force on the ground, as you know.”‘We are extremely united’Grégoire Lory, Euronews:“On the subject of Ukraine, is European support for Ukraine still as infallible as ever? The elections in Slovakia saw a party which is pro-Kremlin and against support for Ukraine come out on top. Are Member States still united?”Charles Michel, President of the European Council:“The answer is yes. We are extremely united and I remember that in the weeks and months following the outbreak of Russia’s war against Ukraine, there was already a lot of speculation at the time that Member States would be fragmented, that they would divide very quickly. This is not what is happening and, on the contrary, the time that has passed has actually welded positions together and strengthened the way in which Russia is sanctioned. Eleven packages of sanctions have been progressively decided against Russia and has strengthened the decision to support Ukraine with financial capacities, with arms, which is a first for the European Union, and above all with a great deal of political support in international forums. It is the European Union that is speaking with a very, very strong voice in support of the just peace presented and proposed by President Zelenskyy, which is based on respect for territorial integrity and respect for the United Nations Charter.”‘Unity requires a great deal of effort’Grégoire Lory, Euronews:“Are you not worried? Because Slovakia and Poland have said they are going to suspend arms deliveries. You get the impression that there are cracks appearing.”Charles Michel, President of the European Council:“We’ve been saying that since the outbreak of Russia’s war against Ukraine, there are risks of cracks. That doesn’t mean we’re not vigilant. We are vigilant because unity is rarely spontaneous and unity requires a great deal of effort, political work, convergence and diplomacy. We are going to remain extremely committed, both as Europeans, but also with our allies and our partners around the world, with the United States, with Canada, with Japan and with a great many countries around the world that support this position of the European Union, which aims to defend security in Europe, but not only that, to also defend a world order that is based on rules. Because when a permanent member of the Security Council, as in the case of Russia, attacks its neighbour, it is the world order that is threatened and not just security in Europe.”Grégoire Lory, Euronews:“How are you going to be able to talk to Slovakia today?”Charles Michel, President of the European Council:“There have been elections. We must always respect the results of elections. That’s a constant in a democratic area. And then we will see what the government will be, because in the next few days, I suppose, negotiations will take place so that a government can be formed in Slovakia and we will work in good faith, and sincerity, with the government that will come out of this electoral process.”Grégoire Lory, Euronews:“Aren’t you afraid of the blockages or vetoes that are appearing more and more?”Charles Michel, President of the European Council:“It’s not the first time there have been elections within the European Union, it’s rather a normal process and that’s good. It’s very good!. And when there are elections, we often speculate beforehand and then often realise afterwards that there is an ability to ensure that common sense prevails and that we can really work together, because I think that many people realise that the European Union brings added value, particularly at times like these. These are times of great international tension.”‘The United States is determined to work hand in hand with the Europeans’Grégoire Lory, Euronews:“In a few weeks’ time you’ll be going to the United States, to Washington. Do you think that American support for Ukraine is infallible there too? We saw an agreement in Congress that shelved aid for Ukraine. There are questions about Washington’s support.”Charles Michel, President of the European Council:“In all the meetings we’ve had with President Biden, with Secretary of State Blinken, I’ve noted a very great determination and sincerity in their support for Ukraine, because there is this understanding in the United States, as I said, that it’s not just support for Ukraine or for the European Union, it’s support for a vision of the world based on freedom and democracy. That is what is really at stake. So I’m quite confident that the United States is determined to work hand in hand with the Europeans. A few days ago, I received Joe Biden’s special envoy for Ukraine’s Economic Recovery. This shows that we are really into the details of cooperation and coordination to ensure that the support we provide on both sides is useful and effective for the Ukrainians and for the values we defend. Now, this does not mean that we are naive. There is obviously a need for vigilance. It is necessary at the European level, and it is certainly necessary in the United States.”‘It is the Ukrainians, and only the Ukrainians, who will have to define when the conditions for negotiation are met’Grégoire Lory, Euronews:“There have been a lot of questions about the Ukrainian counter-offensive. Are you still optimistic about the outcome of the conflict and progress on the ground?”Charles Michel, President of the European Council:“Yes, I think it’s important not to relax our efforts in supporting Ukraine, including in military terms. We can see that progress has been made. I was able to discuss this again recently with President Zelenskyy. We can see that there is a determination on the Ukrainian side to continue to lead the offensive to reclaim its territory, and that is what this is all about. And that’s why it’s important that Europe and Ukraine’s partners continue to give very, very firm support. When this war was launched, many predicted that Ukraine would not last more than a few days or a few weeks. Now, more than a year and a half later, Ukraine is not only resisting, but has managed to win back territory that was originally conquered by the Russians.”Grégoire Lory, Euronews:“Does this mean that it’s still too early to talk about peace negotiations between the Kremlin and Kyiv?”Charles Michel, President of the European Council:“I think it’s important to maintain a very firm position of principle. It is the Ukrainians, and only the Ukrainians, who will have to define when the conditions for negotiation are met. And that is what President Zelenskyy is doing when he puts this formula for a just peace on the table. This is also what he is doing when, with our support, he is trying to mobilise the international community, and dozens of countries have met at the level of national security advisors on several occasions at the initiative of the Ukrainians, so that they can put proposals on the table to move towards peace. But a lasting peace must be based on: no impunity, those who commit war crimes must face justice – and a peace based on the principles of the United Nations Charter. Any other formula would send the message to the rest of the world that it is enough to launch an aggression against one’s neighbour and then, sooner or later, there is some form of recognition of the aggressor. This is not acceptable to us.”EU enlargement: ‘We can’t put it off any longer’Grégoire Lory, Euronews:“At the beginning of September, you set a target of 2030 for further enlargement of the European Union. Is the Union ready for the timetable you are proposing?”Charles Michel, President of the European Council:“The Union is not yet ready, which is why we have to prepare. And I wanted to set a date because I think that not only must the European Union prepare itself, but the States that want to join us must also speed up the efforts that are necessary in terms of reforms to be able to join us. And the purpose of setting a date is to open everyone’s eyes and to say we can’t procrastinate any longer. We can’t put it off any longer. It’s clear what kind of world we’re in. And if we want this political project, the European Union is a project that has brought a great deal of peace, prosperity and hope after the previous century, which was marked by tragedy and despair. If we want to offer our children a prosperous and stable future, we must start preparing for the evolution of this political project. And that means talking. What do we want to do together in the future? What are our common priorities? How are we going to finance them? It’s never easy to talk about financial resources, but we need to address these issues. And how are we going to decide together? Especially if there are more of us around the table in the future, we may have to adapt the way we make decisions to ensure that we remain a political project that can be effective when necessary.”EU will be ‘safer and more stable’ once Western Balkan countries join EU standardsGrégoire Lory, Euronews:“Is it possible to carry out the same enlargement process for each candidate? Some don’t have the same demographic or economic weight. Do we need a common process for each or a differentiated one?”Charles Michel, President of the European Council:“The process is differentiated, because it is based on the merits of each individual country. We have to be sure that corruption is fought everywhere, that everywhere there is an independent justice system that ensures that the rights of citizens and businesses are respected. But it is clear that beyond this basic principle, which not only we will not renounce but which we will confirm, it is important to see the political stakes involved. Is it in our interest to have the countries of the Western Balkans, which are an enclave within the European Union, subjected on a daily basis to attempts at interference and influence by powers outside the European Union, which do not have the same values as we do? In my opinion, this is not good for our security. We will be safer and more stable once these countries have joined the European Union’s standards in terms of the fight against corruption and the rule of law, for example.”Grégoire Lory, Euronews:“You mentioned European standards. We can see that some candidates are moving away from them. You talked about corruption and the rule of law. How do you explain this phenomenon? Is Europe not firm enough or not committed enough to attract them to these standards?”Charles Michel, President of the European Council:“I have a more nuanced position, I think that there are also many examples of candidate countries that are making progress and implementing reforms that they have been asked to implement for some time because these countries understand that there is momentum. They understand that this war unleashed by Russia against Ukraine is opening the eyes of many Europeans, and not just European leaders, but also the people of Europe, to the importance of moving towards an orderly, organised enlargement process.”Grégoire Lory, Euronews:“Can the European Union still afford to procrastinate on enlargement? Isn’t there a risk that these countries will move away from Europe towards other countries?”Charles Michel, President of the European Council:“The answer is no. We can’t procrastinate. We can’t procrastinate, we can’t delay. We must act. That doesn’t mean that these countries will be in the European Union next week. But what it does mean is that we must put in place a progressive integration mechanism that will ensure that, in a tangible way, in the weeks, months and years to come, we see this economic rapprochement, this rapprochement on democracy, on common values between these countries that are candidates for accession and the 27 countries of the European Union.”**’**We must ensure that the interests of the European Union are respected,’ in relation to ChinaGrégoire Lory, Euronews:“Let’s talk about China. Is China still a partner or more of a systemic rival?”Charles Michel, President of the European Council:“I see China from a very simple angle. I think there are three pillars to our relationship with China. The first pillar is democracy, fundamental values and human rights, and Europe will not lower its sights on this issue. This is our DNA. We believe that the world is a better, more stable and safer place when we share universal values, and we are going to continue, including with China, to defend our values. That’s the first point. “The second point is that it is clear that there is an imbalance in relations between the European Union and China, and that we are economically vulnerable because in certain sectors we are too dependent on our relationship with China. We therefore need to rebalance our relationship with China, and this is the message that we are giving, and that I am giving along with other Europeans, when we engage with the Chinese authorities. We must learn the lessons of Russia’s war against Ukraine. We have seen that our dependence on fossil fuels is a weakness, an Achilles heel. So we need to learn lessons across the board, including in relations with China. “And then there’s the third element: China is a player in the climate challenge, a player in global health issues, and a player in global security too. So we must also engage with China on these issues.”Grégoire Lory, Euronews:“Does rebalancing the relationship involve this investigation into Chinese subsidies for electric vehicles, for example?”Charles Michel, President of the European Council:“Yes, I think it is indeed useful when there are a certain number of indications that lead us to believe that the relationship is unbalanced by certain unilateral acts that are being taken. We must ensure that the interests of the European Union are respected. And in my view, it’s not just with China, it’s with all the regions in the world that, at a given moment, take actions that can lead to the rules of the game no longer being shared in the same way by all the players. We need to be careful at the European level. It’s all very well and very fair to be a loyal player, but what’s important is reciprocity. And when we are loyal, we must expect our partner to be as loyal as we are, in economic terms for example.”‘Our first intention is to ensure that we are respected by rebalancing our economic relations’Grégoire Lory, Euronews:“And if there is no reciprocity, what can the European Union do? What is the next step?”Charles Michel, President of the European Council:“First of all, let’s work on rebalancing. And then, when we have made progress on that, we can make assessments and see what instruments we want to use. Whether with China or other regions of the world, we have used the instruments at our disposal, but our first intention is to ensure that we are respected by rebalancing our economic relations.”
Euronews sits down with the President of the European Council Charles Michel to discuss the challenges facing the EU, future enlargement, support for Ukraine and the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.