On Monday (17 November), the EU Foreign Ministers met in Brussels for their monthly consultations. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier travelled directly from the Middle East to the EU Foreign Affairs Council in order to take part. Alongside the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the talks focused on the Ukraine crisis. Foreign Minister Steinmeier announced that he would travel to Kyiv and Moscow on Tuesday (18 November) for talks to explore the possibilities of how to prevent a new spiral of violence in eastern Ukraine.
This was the first meeting held under the leadership of the new High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. Upon his arrival at the Council building in Brussels, Foreign Minister Steinmeier reiterated “Germany’s full support” for Mogherini and voiced his hope that the meeting would see an instance of teamwork amongst European Foreign Ministers.
He later added that the EU Foreign Ministers had discussed a “wide-ranging agenda”. They jointly adopted conclusions on the situation in the Middle East, the conflict in Ukraine and on the fight against the Ebola epidemic.
The conflict in the Middle East must not take on religious overtones
Foreign Minister Steinmeier had travelled from talks in Israel and the Palestinian territories to the meeting in Brussels on Sunday evening. Commenting on the impression he had gained from the meetings with both sides, Steinmeier reported that, on both sides, the strain was still palpable. In light of the latest tensions over access to the Temple Mount, in Brussels he warned that there was a risk of the “conflict taking on religious overtones”. This had to be prevented – or else, said Steinmeier, he feared “the conflict would become permanently irresolvable and possibly radicalised”.
Following the conclusion of the consultations, Steinmeier stressed that the EU Foreign Ministers now had to “redouble our efforts to use all options in order to, at the very least, get the ceasefire talks back on track”. The aim still had to be to lay the foundations for the negotiations on a two-state solution to be restarted. “That is what the joint efforts of the EU Foreign Ministers should be aimed at”, said Steinmeier in Brussels.
Focus on the renewed escalation in the Ukraine conflict
At the end of the consultations, the German Foreign Minister restated the key issue: “Our duty now is to help stabilise the country in both political and economic terms.” Steinmeier underlined the need for a broad initiative for growth in Ukraine, a 'compact for growth'. He had already made the following comment on this in the morning: “We must link European economic support to our expectations for internal reform in Ukraine.” Alongside fighting corruption, this comprised above all encouraging reliable administrative decision-making, according to Steinmeier.
In light of the fact that over the last week and a half tensions had once again risen, Steinmeier warned of a renewed escalation and that the situation could once again spiral out of control. “In my view we are currently regressing. Every day that we are not working on implementing the Minsk Protocol, the risk of it losing meaning grows.”
Steinmeier announced that he would travel to Kyiv and Moscow for talks tomorrow in order to explore the possibilities of how to prevent a new spiral of violence in eastern Ukraine. In an interview with the Welt am Sonntag newspaper at the weekend, the German Foreign Minister spoke out in favour of seeking “new approaches to alleviate the tensions in relations between the EU and Russia.”
In Brussels on Monday (17 November), Foreign Minister Steinmeier repeated his proposal to bring together representatives of the EU and the Eurasian Union for talks. According to the Foreign Minister, this could help ease relations.