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EU Diplomat Nominee Says Balkans, Ukraine Top Foreign-Policy Priorities

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The EU's proposed foreign-policy chief and current Spanish foreign minister, Josep Borrell, is seen on June 8, 2018 in Madrid.

The EU's proposed new top diplomat wants to make the Balkans and the "eastern front of Europe" the 28-member bloc's main foreign-policy priorities.

At his confirmation hearing on October 7 before the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee in Brussels, Josep Borrell highlighted growing tensions in the bloc with Russia, while lamenting that the world had "dramatically...changed for the worse" over the past decade.

He said the EU's international standing was under pressure from China's ascending power, disputes with the United States, and an assertive Kremlin.

"The Balkans and the eastern front of Europe, that's the priority of our external policy," the current Spanish foreign minister told members of the European parliament.

During his opening 15-minute speech, Borrell argued that the EU cannot "have ambitions to be global players if we cannot sort out problems at our own borders."

For that reason, he said Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, will be the destination of his first official visit.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 in a move that Spain and four other EU countries don't recognize.

Altogether, more than 110 countries recognize Kosovo's statehood.

"We have to make an agreement between Serbia and Kosovo and it will be my priority," Borrell said. "I believe that if we as Europeans are not able to solve this problem in our immediate vicinity, it's very hard to believe that we are going to be a geopolitical power."

He emphasized a "balanced" approach toward Russia, amid uneasiness among Poland and the Baltic states over what they see as rapprochement efforts by countries like France and Finland toward Moscow.

Borrell, 72, said the best way "to address Russian expansionism is to help and reinforce Ukraine, their resilience and capacity for reforms and become a prosperous country."

He noted that Russia was under EU sanctions for seizing Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and for "destabilizing" eastern Ukraine by backing separatists.

"We should continue extending the sanctions against Russia until we see tectonic changes" on the part of Moscow, Borrell said.

He noted that the EU had given Ukraine $16.5 billion in assistance in the past five years, and "we have to continue helping them, because if we really want to face -- let's say -- the cold challenge from the east, the best way is to create a ring of democratic and prosperous countries on our eastern border, and it's not going to be free [of monetary costs]."

Borrell also emphasized the need to bolster the EU's efforts to counter disinformation "because it is a weapon."

Thus, he said, "let me stress from the beginning of my intention to engage on the reform and integration process in the Western Balkans [and to] support democracy and [the] territorial integrity of Ukraine."

It is foreseen that the new European Commission, including Borrell as EU foreign-policy chief, will assume office on November 1.

With reporting by Ukrayinska Pravda
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