During his trip to Brussels, the German Foreign Minister not only focused on European issues at the Foreign Affairs Council, as is usually the case, but also attended the fifth German-Belgian Conference at which energy, mobility and the digital transformation featured prominently on the agenda. How can the two neighbouring countries improve the way in which they network and learn from one another in these areas? High-profile researchers, entrepreneurs and members of civil society compared approaches from Germany and Belgium and explored ways in which to make the two economies fit for the future and integrate them even more closely.
A review mechanism on the rule of law in the EU
Together with his Belgian counterpart Didier Reynders, Heiko Maas presented a new peer review mechanism for the first time at the conference: “The rule of law is one of the pillars of the EU,” said the Foreign Minister. It must not divide Europe, but unite it, he added. The mechanism is also on the agenda today at the General Affairs Council in Brussels. The idea here is for member states to appraise each other. This had the potential, said Maas, to promote understanding with respect to common fundamental values. Member states would therefore undergo a review of their fundamental values and the rule of law in a predetermined order and on an alternating basis. The views of experts and independent sources are intended to support these assessments. The Netherlands has also signed up to this German-Belgian initiative.
China as a trading partner and challenger
At the Foreign Affairs Council, Maas and his EU counterparts focused on their approach to China, among other issues. How can you promote trade while at the same time standing up together for European interests vis-à-vis China in a self-confident manner? Foreign Minister Maas stated the following prior to the meeting of the Council: “It is important for us to foster good relations as the EU and not individually. If we do so, then it will be possible for us to stand up for our interests and values vis-à-vis China.” At the same time, said the Foreign Minister, China is asserting its interests in terms of economic policy and we should not be naive on this score. This also applied to important infrastructure projects and to the awarding of 5G licences, he added.