The Foreign Affairs Council (FAC), chaired by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, started this morning in Luxembourg with Sweden expected to raise the issue of a total arms embargo against Turkey, as a reaction to its actions in N.E. Syria. The turkish operation in N.E.Syria and the continuation of the illegal drilling in the EEZ of Cyprus will be the two main issues of discussion.

The FAC will start with a discussion on current affairs, allowing ministers to review the most pressing issues on the international agenda, including as a follow-up to discussions during the 74th United Nations General Assembly. They are expected to touch upon Iran, the situation in Libya and in Iraq. The High Representative and foreign ministers will also refer to Venezuela.

The Council will discuss Syria following the latest developments, in particular the Turkish military operation in north-east Syria. The UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen will participate in the discussion and will brief the Council on the recent formation of a constitutional committee in the framework of the UN Security Council resolution 2254 (2015), and on preparations for its first meeting.

The discussion is expected to focus on the situation on the ground, in particular in north-east Syria. In its declaration of 9 October, the EU called upon Turkey to cease the unilateral military action, underlying that renewed armed hostilities in the north-east will further undermine the stability of the whole region, exacerbate civilian suffering and provoke further displacements and that prospects for the UN-led political process to achieve peace in Syria will be more difficult.

The EU also stated that unilateral action on Turkey’s part threatens the progress achieved by the Global Coalition to defeat of Da`esh, of which Turkey is a member. Furthermore, the conflict in Idlib persists, as do hostilities in other parts of Syria.

In this context, foreign ministers are expected to underline the urgent need for positive developments on the grounds, in particular the unhindered humanitarian access and full respect for international humanitarian law as well as a full and lasting ceasefire across the whole of Syria.

The EU has consistently affirmed that any sustainable solution to the conflict requires a genuine political transition in line with UNSCR 2254 and the 2012 Geneva Communique, negotiated by the Syrian parties within the UN-led process. In its declaration of 26 September 2019, the EU qualified the announced agreement on the formation of a constitutional committee as a definite step forward. The EU looks forward to the inaugural meeting of the committee at the earliest possible opportunity and will monitor developments thereafter very closely. Ministers are expected to discuss ways to support the UN Special Envoy for Syria in his efforts to find a permanent, sustainable, negotiated solution in this context.

On 24 September 2019, in the margins of the UN General Assembly, the EU hosted a ministerial meeting on the Syria crisis. The meeting gathered more than 30 foreign ministers. The EU expressed strong political support for the UN-mediated political solution and reiterated that the process should involve not only the institutions and political parties, but also civil society and women. It reiterated its position than there can be no normalisation, reconstruction and refugees` returns before the political and security conditions are in place.

The Council last discussed Syria at its meeting of 18 February 2019. The EU hosted and co- chaired with the UN the third Brussels conference on “Supporting the Future of Syria and the region” in March 2019. At the conference, participants announced pledges for both Syria and the region totaling US$ 7 billion (€ 6.2 billion) for 2019 and multi-year pledges of close to  US$ 2.4 billion (€ 2.1 billion) for 2020 and beyond. The progress report published on 23 September 2019 against the pledges made at the conference showed that that for 2019, donors have already contributed 92% (USD 6.4 billion) of the pledges made to provide funding in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

The Council put in place a series of autonomous restrictive measures in view of the situation in Syria in 2011. They target individuals responsible for the violent repression of the civilian population in Syria, as well as individuals or entities associated with them. 270 individuals and 70 entities are currently targeted by a travel ban and an asset freeze.

The Council will discuss Turkey’s continued drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, as Turkey is currently conducting further drilling activities 45 nm off the southern coast of Cyprus.

On 4 October 2019, High Representative Mogherini held a phone conversation with the Foreign Minister of Cyprus, Nikos Christodoulides, during which they deplored Turkey’s further drilling activities.

The Council adopted conclusions on Turkish drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean on 15 July 2019. In light of Turkey’s continued and new illegal drilling activities, the Council decided to suspend negotiations on the Comprehensive Air  Transport Agreement and not to hold the Association Council and further meetings of the EU-Turkey high-level dialogues for the time being. The Council endorsed the Commission’s proposal to reduce the pre-accession assistance to Turkey for 2020 and invited the European Investment Bank to review its lending activities in Turkey, notably with regard to sovereign-backed lending.

In accordance with the European Council conclusions of 20 June, the Council invited the High Representative and the Commission to continue work on options for targeted measures in light of Turkey’s continued drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Council undertook to closely monitor developments and to revert to this issue as appropriate.

Foreign ministers will then have an exchange of views on Afghanistan, in particular following the Presidential election of 28 September 2019. They will take stock of recent developments towards finding a lasting and negotiated political solution to the conflict.

EU foreign ministers will also have a short discussion on Ukraine, in preparation for the exchange of views with the new Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Vadym Prystaiko over a working lunch.

The Council is expected to adopt a number of decisions and conclusions without debate, including Council conclusions on Nicaragua, Thailand, Cameroon, Bosnia and Herzegovina/Althea, as well as on democracy.

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