On Friday and Saturday (4 – 5 September), the Foreign Ministers of the European Union met in Luxembourg for informal consultations in the Gymnich format. Overcoming the refugee crisis was at the top of the agenda at the two-day‑meeting.
After arriving, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier commented on the crisis, saying: “We won’t be able to tackle this task if we don’t stop pointing the finger at our neighbours.” Exchanging accusations would not help to resolve the problems, continued Steinmeier. Europe must not let itself be put at odds in the face of such a challenge: “What we need is a common European refugee policy.”
For a common European asylum policy
Foreign Minister Steinmeier and his Italian and French counterparts had sent EU High Representative Federica Mogherini a proposal on how they imagined the necessary “European solidarity”. It could not be “that only four or five countries feel a responsibility to accommodate the many people who have made their way to Europe”, they said. Furthermore, Europe had to find ways of supporting the transit countries and ask itself: “What can Europe do in the countries of origin?” It was also important to offer people reasons to stay, i.e. to open up development prospects in countries of origin, they said.
Moreover, Foreign Minister Steinmeier presented the ten‑point plan on how to deal with the refugees within the European Union which he drew up a few days ago together with Economic Affairs Minister Sigmar Gabriel.
Some small movement after in‑depth discussions
Following the consultations in Luxembourg, on Saturday Steinmeier said that some small movement had been achieved amongst the EU Foreign Ministers after at times “intense discussions”. The EU member states seemed to be becoming more willing to participate in a comprehensive solution, added the German Foreign Minister. However, there had not yet been a breakthrough in terms of distributing the refugees within the EU. The urgency of the matter led Steinmeier to go on to call for the EU Council of Heads of State and Government to be convened at short notice to address the refugee crisis.
Refugee crisis: assistance for Greece doubled
At the two‑day meeting in Luxembourg, the EU Foreign Ministers also discussed how Europe could provide additional assistance to the transit countries as well as to the refugees’ countries of origin. In this regard, Steinmeier began the consultations by announcing more assistance for Greece in terms of dealing with the refugee situation: The Federal Foreign Office is doubling to 2.4 million euros contributions provided via the UNHCR and Red Cross Movement within the framework of humanitarian aid.
Moreover, the Federal Government will help Greece to register refugees and provide them with medical care. The Foreign Minister issued the following statement on the matter: “In so doing, we are sending a signal that, firstly, Greece is facing a particularly heavy burden and that, secondly, we not only intend to issue warnings and demands, but also to offer Athens practical support to help it get to grips with the task at hand.”
Middle East and Ukraine on the agenda
On Friday, the consultations in Luxembourg initially addressed the Middle East peace process. Following this, the Foreign Ministers discussed the Ukraine crisis and particularly the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier recalled the recent efforts of the Heads of Government, the Foreign Ministers of the Normandy format and the international contact group to bring about a de‑escalation of the situation in eastern Ukraine. He said that whilst it was still too early to assess how events would develop, things had been“relatively calm” since the start of the week. Now, according to Steinmeier, the aim had to be to stabilise the current situation in order to pave the way for a discussion on withdrawing weapons as well as to enable a political process on resolving the conflict to be launched.