The EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting on Monday took place ahead of the meeting of the EU Heads of State and Government on 15 and 16 October. The agenda of the EU Foreign Ministers was dominated by the crises in Syria, Libya and the Middle East.
Greater EU involvement in conflict resolution
“At the moment a political solution is still some way off (...), but that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything,” Foreign Minister Steinmeier declared following the Foreign Affairs Council meeting, which focused on the conflict in Syria. In their conclusions the Foreign Ministers stressed that a dual approach was needed. They stated that the fight against terrorism had to be accompanied by steps to mark out the political path towards a transitional government for Syria, expressing their support for UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura on this issue.
Given that the war has been going on for almost five years, Steinmeier emphasised that many small steps were necessary. He said that measures should be elaborated which helped improve the situation in Syria. In this context Foreign Minister Steinmeier called for the implementation of Resolution 2139. He said that if Russia were to cooperate in this area and make use of its influence on the Syrian regime, protection of the people living in Syria could be improved. The Resolution calls upon the Syrian regime to put an end to barrel bomb attacks, blockades on the delivery of humanitarian assistance and the sieges populated areas.
Steinmeier also spoke of “tentative confidence‑building” between the United States, Russia and regional players. In the morning Steinmeier had already underlined the importance of cooperation between Russia and the United States. He said that Russia’s intervention in the conflict had made efforts to find a political solution “even more difficult, even more complex”. Speaking to the press, Foreign Minister Steinmeier also emphasised how crucial it was to involve regional players such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. He announced that he would be visiting the region for talks at the end of the week.
Belarus following the elections
The situation in Belarus following the presidential elections on Sunday was another item on the agenda of the meeting in Luxembourg. The OSCE election observation group stressed that the re‑election of President Alexander Lukashenko again did not comply with democratic standards. At the same time, the head of the group, Kent Hasted, described the recent release of political prisoners, among other things, as a “positive development”, a sentiment which the German Foreign Minister echoed in Luxembourg on Monday. Steinmeier last spoke to Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei on the phone on Friday, when he stated frankly that the international community would continue to observe Belarus’ treatment of its political opposition after the elections were over.
The EU Foreign Ministers also discussed the possibility of adapting the sanctions imposed against Belarus. Foreign Minister Steinmeier said that there was a willingness to review relations with Belarus, going on to say that the Foreign Ministers would again discuss the possibility of bringing sanctions to an end in early 2016.
European migration policy and refugees
In connection with the conference on refugee routes via the Western Balkans and Syria’s neighbours on 8 October, the question of a European migration policy was also raised. At the outset Foreign Minister Steinmeier stressed his hope that the encouraging start to the talks with Turkey would continue. On Saturday, Turkey’s capital Ankara was the target of a devastating terrorist attack which claimed the lives of almost 100 people. Speaking on 8 October in Luxembourg, Foreign Minister Steinmeier emphasised that Turkey was a key country for migration to Europe. He said that the goal of talks between the EU and Turkey was better control of refugees and migration in the future.
Libya: advancing plans for a government of national unity
The EU Foreign Ministers also adopted Council conclusions on Libya. They said that the most recent agreement of 8 October and the appointment of leading figures in a government of national unity marked another step forward. The EU also called upon all conflict parties in Libya to continue down the path towards unity and pledged substantial support as soon as the government of national unity is in place.