Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier attended the informal meeting of the EU foreign ministers on Friday and Saturday (6 to 7 March). The focus of the so‑called Gymnich meeting in Riga was primarily on coordinating the EU’s position on the Ukraine conflict and Russia.
Together with his European counterparts and the EU High Representative Federica Mogherini, Foreign Minister Steinmeier discussed further action with regard to relations between the EU and Russia and the common European position. The foreign ministers also discussed the conflicts in the European neighbourhood, including the crisis in Libya.
Focus on the Ukraine crisis
The discussions on Friday were devoted to “taking stock after the Minsk agreement”, said Foreign Minister Steinmeier, summarising the meeting. He added that the foreign ministers agreed that the conflict had “not yet turned a corner”, but rather a positive dynamic now needed to be created. Moreover, he said, the steps towards implementing the agreement must be monitored and verified, with the OSCE playing a key role in this regard. OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier also travelled to Riga for the EU foreign ministers’ talks.
Germany was assessing the feasibility of providing more personnel and technical equipment, said Steinmeier on arrival in the Latvian capital. However, he went on to say that a “key prerequisite” for reinforcing the mission was that the observers “should actually be accepted by the parties to the conflict” and that they must be given access to places where the ceasefire was violated in recent days.
Increasing the number of OSCE observers
Progress was made on this important point on Friday. In the late afternoon, Foreign Minister Steinmeier declared that Russia and Ukraine had agreed to increase the number of OSCE observers to monitor the ceasefire between the pro‑Russian separatists and the Ukrainian army. What is more, the parties to the conflict had agreed to extend the mission by a further year, he said. Steinmeier continued:
We welcome the news that all parties to the conflict – including Russia – have expressed their willingness not only to extend the OSCE mission, but to allow the number of observers to be increased from 500 to 1000.
The observers should now be given access to places where heavy weapons are stored, Steinmeier said.
Parallel to the EU talks in Riga, high‑ranking representatives from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany met representatives of the OSCE in Berlin on Friday (6 March) to discuss the implementation of the Minsk agreements and the OSCE mission in particular. You can read their final declaration here.
Continuing to develop EU Neighbourhood Policy
The EU foreign ministers then turned their attention to the EU’s Neighbourhood Policy on Saturday. After the meeting, Foreign Minister Steinmeier said that the ministers were in agreement with the EU Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn that, in view of the Ukraine crisis, efforts must continue to be made to develop relations not only with the eastern, but also the southern neighbourhood. The German Foreign Minister emphasised that he hoped that European Neighbourhood Policy would be reformed such that “the instruments of the EU can be tailored even more precisely to the interests of all countries in the eastern and southern partnership in the future”.
Outstanding Latvian EU Presidency
Steinmeier also expressly thanked the Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs for a “truly outstanding Presidency in difficult times”. Latvia assumed the Presidency of the Council of the EU in January 2015.
Paris: Position on negotiations with Iran on Saturday
Following the EU talks, Foreign Minister Steinmeier travelled to Paris, where he met his counterparts from the USA, the UK and France – John Kerry, Philip Hammond and Laurent Fabius – for talks on Saturday afternoon. The meeting focused on further action in the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme.
At the end of the meeting, Steinmeier said that it had been a good idea to “take stock together” at the invitation of the French Foreign Minister. The fact that Europeans and Americans are united by a common position increased the chances of making further progress, he said. With regard to the critics of the negotiations, the German Foreign Minister reiterated that “we act and negotiate in full awareness of the responsibility we bear by sitting at the negotiation table also on behalf of others”. He added:
And this is why there will only be a negotiated outcome signed by us that permanently and verifiably precludes the possibility of Iran accessing nuclear weapons. This possibility must be precluded – only then will the outcome be a responsible one. We will see whether we can make progress here in the coming days and weeks.