EU neighbourhood ‘in flames’, warns Borell, calling for ‘strong and united’ response

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The European Union’s neighbourhood is “engulfed in flames”, the bloc’s top diplomat has said, calling for a “strong and united response” from member states.

“In the last 10 months, our neighbourhood has become engulfed in flames, from Libya to Belarus,” Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, told the Financial Times newspaper in an interview published on Sunday.

“Everything has got much worse than I could have expected,” he said.

Brussels has rejected the results of the August 9 Belarusian presidential election which credited incumbent Alexander Lukashenko with over 80 per cent of the vote. It also strongly condemned the violent repression of peaceful protest and warned that “targeted” sanctions would be imposed.

EU foreign ministers are to draw up the restrictive measures against officials involved in the rigging of the elections and the subsequent violence on September 21, Borrell revealed.

Leaders will discuss Turkey on September 24.

“The tensions in the eastern Mediterranean between Greece, Turkey and Cyprus have been increasing exponentially, and there is a strong risk of a confrontation that goes further than just words,” Borrell warned.

Tensions started escalating earlier this year when Turkey began an energy-exploration survey in disputed parts of the Mediterranean Sea.

Greece has since deployed naval and air force units to the area while France has carried out military patrols.

Earlier this week, French President Emmanuel Macron offered an “unambiguous message of solidarity to Greece and Cyprus” in the face of “the unilateral provocations, illegal drilling and threat to their sovereignty” from Turkey.

He said the EU aims to “restore normal relations with Turkey” as well as stability to the region.

Ankara retorted that the French statement was “devoid of any legal ground, biased and unrealistic”. It also reiterated calls for “Greece to drop its maximalist maritime boundary claims that run counter to international law”.

Greece, meanwhile, announced on Saturday that it was bolstering its military capacity with the purchase of 18 Rafale fighter jets. The country also plans to increase its military personnel by 15,000 over the next five years.

Borrell also cited the Balkans as of particular concern for the EU.

Brussels is in favour of a gradual integration of Western Balkan countries into the bloc but disagreements abound between Serbia and Kosovo — a former region that declared independence in 2008 which Belgrade does not recognise.

A fourth-round of EU-hosted Serbia-Kosovo talks were held in Brussels last week.

For Borrell, “if we don’t stabilise the Balkans, it’s going to be difficult to be considered a geopolitical power.”

“Because nobody else will do it — only the Europeans,” he told the FT.

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