Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier received his counterparts from the EU’s founding member states at Villa Borsig in Berlin on Saturday (25 June). The focus of the talks was on the impact on the European Union of the EU referendum in the UK. The Ministers considered the referendum result to be a “watershed moment in the history of Europe” and called for withdrawal agreements between the UK and the EU to be commenced swiftly. The meeting was part of a long tradition of talks held by the EU’s six founding member states – Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg – which had previously been hosted by Italy and Belgium.
Watershed moment in the history of Europe
Following their meeting in Berlin, the Foreign Ministers of the EU’s six founding member states declared that this represented the departure from the European Union “not only of a member state, but also of a wealth of national history, tradition and experience”. Foreign Minister Steinmeier had received his counterparts from France, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium and Luxembourg in Berlin on the day after the EU referendum in the UK. Steinmeier said that the challenge for the time ahead would be to find common responses to the questions arising from the UK’s decision.
It was important, he continued, to listen to each other and to show the population in the EU member states that Europe was “not only necessary, but also able to function”. He said that the EU also had a responsibility to respond to current debates in society. It was important to develop a European response to flight and migration, he continued, as well as to adopt measures to tackle the high level of youth unemployment that was still being experienced in parts of the EU. Security and terrorism must also be addressed more intensively, he added. With their 70 years of shared history, the EU’s six founding member states had a special responsibility in this new situation, Steinmeier said.
A swift commencement to withdrawal negotiations
In light of the referendum result, the Ministers called for a swift commencement to withdrawal negotiations with the UK. Steinmeier said the following at the joint press conference: “We must now be allowed to focus on the common future of Europe, and this also means that, following the decision reached by the UK, the process is started for negotiating the country’s withdrawal from the EU.”
In order for this process to begin, the UK must notify the European Council of its decision. British Prime Minister David Cameron had said in his initial statement that this step was to take place at the earliest after his resignation, which he has planned for October 2016.
Talks with eastern European partners
The meeting with the Foreign Ministers of the founding member states will not be the only framework for discussing the ramifications of the UK referendum. It was important for the time ahead, the German Foreign Minister said, to use a variety of formats for holding discussions on the future of the European Union. It is for this reason that talks with eastern European partners are also on Steinmeier’s agenda. Sunday will not only witness an encounter between the German and Slovakian national football teams, but also a meeting held by the two countries’ Foreign Ministers. Steinmeier will also conduct talks with the Foreign Ministers of the Baltic states and the Visegrad group.