Russian sanctions to remain in place, Vella tells MEPs

Maltese foreign minister hopes transatlantic relations will improve, unless there are changes from the US, ‘in which case the EU must react’

Foreign affairs minister George Vella
Foreign affairs minister George Vella

Foreign minister George Vella has said that the European Union’s transatlantic relationship must be strengthened, “unless there are changes from the other side”, in which case the EU should react.

Vella was addressing the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee as part of the Maltese presidency’s exchange of views with MEPs, fielding questions on Donald Trump, Russia, and Turkey amongst other subjects.

Vella, never a keen supporter of NATO, praised the EU’s relationship with the military alliance, “having proved its worth”. But he added that the EU had to follow what could happen under United States president Donald Trump’s administration, who recently said he would not go to the aid of NATO members who don’t pay their full dues.

He also underlined that the advances in the EU’s own military plans would have to take separate decision-making courses from NATO “so as not to become one, but also to avoid duplication.”

Vella also insisted that there was no intention from the European Council to do away with sanctions against Russia. “The policy is very clear; we will keep sanctions in place.”

And on Libya, Vella also ruled out any interest from the EU to engage with Libya beyond its political remit. “I don’t foresee any Council decision to actively engage inside Libya. Libya is a sovereign country, and we strongly believe it is the Libyan people who have to take action; we can help, give advice and support, but we definitely have no intention of actually engaging apart from politically [in Libya].”

Vella professed full support for the EU’s enlargement drive for Western Balkan states and Turkey, the latter described as a key EU partner for Malta.

“In supporting the active rapprochement of Turkey, we advocate parallelism between shared interests and the embracing of human rights,” Vella said, describing the EU as Turkey’s anchor for reform, and accession negotiations as the EU’s best diplomatic tool.

“The EU stood on the side of Turkey’s democracy, institutions and people during this difficult year. The Turkish authorities have a right to hold the alleged perpetrators of the coup to account; but we hold that human rights are the best antidote to authoritarianism,” Vella said.

The minister also praised Turkish cooperation in stopping migrant arrivals from Syria which he said had led to a drastic reduction in deaths at sea.

He said that as one of the key guarantors in Cypriot peace talks, he called on Turkey to normalise relations with Cyprus. “Malta is keen to promote the European enlargement and stabilisation process, to ensure momentum in negotiations with Turkey and the Balkans is maintained. Strengthening resilience in the face of external threats and internal disagreements requires an effort… investing in partners’ commitment to the European vocation, remains important.”

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