On Monday (20 April) Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier travelled to Luxembourg for the EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting. The agenda was set by the latest refugee catastrophe in the Mediterranean which is thought to have claimed the lives of approximately 800 people. In the afternoon, together with their colleagues from Europe’s interior ministries, the foreign ministers agreed on concrete measures to address the refugee crisis. The High Representative said that the meeting had clearly demonstrated “a new European level of awareness.”
The news of refugees in distress in the Mediterranean sea reached a shocking new climax at the weekend: an estimated 800 people drowned when their boat capsized not far off the coast of Libya. On Monday (20 April), the consultations of the foreign ministers of the EU member states, under the leadership of High Representative Federica Mogherini, primarily addressed the consequences of the catastrophe in the Mediterranean. At the start of their consultations the European foreign ministers observed a minute of silence in honour of the victims of the sunken boat of refugees.
Steinmeier: We are facing huge challenges
In the afternoon, a “jumbo council meeting” of European foreign and interior ministers was convened at short notice in Luxembourg. Foreign Minister Steinmeier, who took part together with Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maizière, made the following statement before the meeting: “We are facing an enormous task, there is no quick solution.” Nevertheless, said Steinmeier, efforts had to be made to ensure that “yet more people do not die in the Mediterranean”.
This assessment was shared by his European colleagues; in their consultations they agreed on a ten point action plan put forward by the EU Commission, comprising both short and long-term measures. The key points included reinforcing sea rescue missions, combating smuggling gangs, stabilising countries of origin and transit and making progress in terms of distributing refugees fairly within the European Union.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier said that the causes of flight were important: “With regard to the situation in northern Africa, Libya is the most significant country of transit for refugees. It is thus crucial for us to help stabilise Libya.” In order to do so the German Government would count on the success of the mediation efforts of UN Special Representative Bernardino Léon. Steinmeier emphasised that the European side would do everything necessary to ensure success here.