Last Foreign Affairs Council during Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union – strengthening human rights and transatlantic relations
Foreign Minister Maas travels to Brussels, © Felix Zahn/photothek.net
For Heiko Maas, the most important item on the agenda today in Brussels is the approval of a new EU human rights sanctions regime – a key aim of Germany’s Council Presidency.
The last weeks of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the EU are set to be busy ones, with a number of major topics still on the agenda before the end of the year. After a long series of online conferences, High Representative Josep Borrell has invited the EU Foreign Ministers to return to Brussels for an in‑person meeting today. They will discuss issues including transatlantic relations and the concept of strategic autonomy. Germany and its EU partners also want to approve a human rights sanctions regime in order to strengthen the global role of the EU in this area.
New political instrument against severe human rights violations
After almost two years of negotiations, the EU’s humans rights sanctions regime is set to be approved today. The EU will then have a crucial instrument for responding to severe human rights violations such as torture, slavery and systematic sexual violence. The restrictive measures include travel bans or the freezing of assets; they can be used against both state and non-state actors and will apply in all EU member states. Maas and his colleagues are thus sending out an important message – the EU will not stand by and watch as severe human rights violations are committed. These actions have a price. The regime will initially apply for three years, and decisions will be made unanimously.
Strengthening transatlantic relations
A new start with the USA: High Representative Borrell and the EU Foreign Ministers will today discuss the strategic stance of the EU with an eye to Joe Biden’s upcoming inauguration. For the German Government, it is clear that Biden’s nominations to date in the field of foreign and security policy reflect a willingness to revive a close transatlantic partnership – although this will entail significant expectations for Europe. Together with the French Foreign Minister Jean‑Yves Le Drian, Heiko Maas has outlined some initial ideas for how new forms of cooperation on economic and trade issues as well as security and defence policy could take shape. These and other aspects of transatlantic relations will be on the agenda at today’s Foreign Affairs Council meeting. During its Presidency of the Council of the EU, Germany has worked to strengthen the EU’s ability to act. This is essential if it is to set out clear offers of collaboration with the USA and be a reliable and independent partner. Today’s agenda will also look at areas in which the EU can strengthen its strategic autonomy.