There were major issues on the EU Foreign Ministers’ agenda. For Foreign Minister Steinmeier it was a special meeting for another reason.
The first meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers in the new year was both a première and a swan song. “This Council in Brussels is not only special for me because it’s probably the last time I will attend a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers”, Steinmeier said before the session commenced. However, the Foreign Ministers had very little time to get nostalgic. The issues which dominated the January meeting were too pressing for that.
“Astonishment and perturbation”
“Astonishment and perturbation” were the words used by Foreign Minister Steinmeier to describe the mood in Brussels following the latest comments by Donald Trump. In an interview, the President‑elect called NATO “obsolete”. “First of all, this contradicts the remarks made by James Mattis, the future Defence Secretary, during his hearing in Washington just a few days ago. We’ll have to wait and see what this means for US policy”, said Steinmeier, who met NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg before the start of the EU Foreign Affairs Council.
The comment by the President-elect that he would consider imposing protective and penalty tariffs also threw up many questions in the European Union. “We assume that our American partner will continue to comply with its obligations under international law and with WTO rules”, Steinmeier stated. He went on to say that following the consultations, the EU Foreign Ministers were agreed that: “Transatlantic relations remain the foundation of the West and we have to work to ensure that this foundation remains intact – including our shared commitment to freedom, democracy and the rule of law – we Europeans stand by this”. A dialogue would therefore be sought as soon as possible with the future Secretary of State.
Bringing momentum back to the Middle East negotiations
The EU Foreign Ministers also discussed other difficult global issues today. For example, how can the Middle East peace process be revived? It became clear at the Middle East conference held in Paris at the weekend that a broad alliance of states agree that even if the road is a long one – momentum has to be brought back to the negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. To this end, the players involved must first of all return to the negotiating table. “We face unsettled times in the Middle East if we don’t manage to get the parties to the conflict to engage in direct negotiations with each other,” Steinmeier commented.
Syria negotiations must be placed in the hands of the UN
The Foreign Affairs Council also discussed the current situation in Syria. Steinmeier stated that the tangible reduction in violence as a result of the ceasefire was to be welcomed. The EU Foreign Ministers had agreed, he went on to say, that the forthcoming talks in Astana brokered by Russia and Turkey could only be a stepping stone on the way to negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations.