Foreign Minister Steinmeier in Brussels: Discussions among the EU-28 focused on international conflicts, from Ukraine, to Syria, Iraq and Libya. The Foreign Ministers of the EU Member States also agreed on a Bosnia initiative to inject new life into the reform of the Balkan country and its process to move closer to the EU.
Meeting of the “Friends of Ukraine”
On Monday (15 December) the Foreign Ministers of the European Union gathered in Brussels for their last meeting before Christmas. Beforehand Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had already attended a meeting of the “Friends of Ukraine” with some of his EU counterparts and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin. The German Foreign Minister emphasised that Ukraine faced two major challenges: the security situation and the task of economic stabilisation.
He said that although the military situation in eastern Ukraine had calmed down a little in the last few days, implementation of the Minsk Protocol was “still not moving forward”. He said that now the goal must be to implement elements of the Protocol one by one – and that fixing the so-called lines of disengagement was of crucial importance. Steinmeier expressed his hope that the members of the Contact Group would meet to discuss this before Christmas.
The second major challenge is the economic stabilisation of the country. He said that the Ukrainian Foreign Minister had described achieving internal reforms as the most important task of the new government. This primarily includes the fight against corruption and improving investment conditions. Foreign Minister Steinmeier commented as follows: “I think we share the view that it is now high time (...) that we saw things start to look up for the people in Ukraine.” The EU reiterated its willingness to provide support.
Syria: support for UN Special Envoy
Other trouble spots in the world were also on the agenda of the EU Foreign Ministers meeting: Syria, Iraq, the fight against ISIS and Libya.
The European Foreign Ministers had already gathered in Brussels the previous evening (14 December) to discuss the war in Syria at the instigation of Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. They met United Nations Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura to discuss the situation in the country, which has been suffering from the trauma of the war for more than three years.
In their Council conclusions on Syria the EU Foreign Ministers reiterated their support for the proposals of the UN Special Envoy to build on local freezes of hostility within Syria. Foreign Minister Steinmeier explained that de Mistura intended to discuss this issue with Syria’s neighbours as well as “with difficult partners such as Iran”.
According to United Nations estimates, more than 200,000 lives have already been lost in Syria, and there are now more than 7.5 million internally displaced persons. The humanitarian situation is disastrous – in early December, with a view to the coming winter, Germany made available another 40 million euros in additional funding.
Fight against ISIS and the situation in Iraq
The Foreign Ministers also discussed the fight against ISIS and support for Iraq. Steinmeier pointed out that the international alliance in the fight against ISIS had succeeded at least in part in halting the military advances of the Islamist fighters.
He said that Germany was also considering the request of the Kurd Peshmerga fighters concerning the possibility of providing training – in addition to supplying weapons. Steinmeier stressed that he felt that this was justifiable provided that training courses took place in Peshmerga institutions and the training was organised in rotation with other European partners.
Great concern about the situation in Libya
Another focus of the Foreign Ministers meeting was the situation in Libya. Discussions centred on the report by UN Special Representative Bernardino de Léon. Léon’s aim is to bring representatives of the various institutions and relevant militia around one table to help defuse the situation and prevent the division of the country.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier was sceptical. He felt that in view of the continued deterioration of the political and security situation, it was impossible to be optimistic. He mentioned the lack of clarity even regarding the direction in which political solutions could be developed as another aggravating factor.
Turkey: upholding fundamental rights
On the fringes of the discussions Steinmeier expressed his concern in view of the current developments in Turkey. “Turkey must understand that the developments and the decisions of yesterday and the day before do not only give us cause for concern. Fundamental rights are at stake.”
Steinmeier stated his intention to speak to his Turkish opposite number Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu that same Monday.