Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier travelled to Brussels on Monday to attend the Foreign Affairs Council meeting, which was chaired by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. The discussion focused on the “foreign policy consequences” arising from the attacks in Paris, on endeavours to implement the Minsk Protocol in the conflict in Ukraine, and on the situation in the Middle East. The Secretary General of the League of Arab States, Nabil Elaraby, also attended the meeting at the invitation of the Foreign Affairs Council.
The meeting between EU foreign ministers took place in the shadow of the attacks in Paris. On his way into the Justus Lipsius building, which houses the Council of the European Union, on Monday morning, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke about the “first meeting since the attacks”, saying that 7 January was a date that had also changed Europe.
Support for closer exchange with Muslim countries
The meeting would thus focus on foreign policy consequences and on “where there should possibly be closer exchanges and relations with countries in the Muslim world, too”, Steinmeier said that morning. During the meeting, the EU foreign ministers called for closer cooperation with Arab and Muslim countries in the fight against terrorism. This involves the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, as well as Turkey.
High Representative Mogherini said that more information must be exchanged and that cooperation on countering terrorism must be reinforced. The conclusions from the Foreign Affairs Council meeting will be used in the meeting of EU heads of state and government on 12 February. The Secretary General of the League of Arab States, Nabil Elaraby, also attended the Foreign Affairs Council meeting.
Renewed increase in violence in eastern Ukraine
The conflict in Ukraine was also on the agenda of the EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels. During the meeting, there were reports on intense fighting in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, with three soldiers killed. In light of the increased violence of the previous days, Foreign Minister Steinmeier’s spokesperson warned about a return to the conditions of summer 2014.
With a view to the planned summit of the heads of state and government of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany in Astana, Foreign Minister Steinmeier told journalists in Brussels that it was not yet clear if another foreign ministers’ meeting can take place this week, and that it was even less clear whether the summit in Astana can be held, as many hope. The four foreign ministers last met in Berlin on 12 January. Foreign Minister Steinmeier described this meeting as “disappointing”.
He said that although talks were taking place on a daily basis, the negotiations remained a “painstaking endeavour”. "We are in a situation in which all parties refer to the Minsk Protocol every day or every week, and all sides regard it as the basis for further political efforts. But when it comes to implementation, we are not making progress fast enough, and in some areas not at all."
High Representative Mogherini also underlined that there would be no discussion between the foreign ministers on easing the sanctions against Russia. The EU will have to decide in March whether or not to extend the first sanctions imposed against Russia.
Discussion on trouble spots in the Middle East
In addition, the EU foreign ministers discussed the situation in the Middle East. The Secretary General of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, also attended this session. After the meeting, Foreign Minister Steinmeier said there was a “small ray of hope” as regards the latest developments in Libya, where United Nations Special Commissioner Bernadino León had brokered talks between all parties, following months of hard work.