EU foreign ministers meeting: spotlight on crises in and around Europe and the situation in the Mediterranean

21.06.2016 - Article

Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier attended the meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg on Monday (20 June). The talks focused on developments in Ukraine, in the Middle East peace process, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the Mediterranean.

Capacity building for the Libyan coastguard

The plenary room at the European Convention Centre, Luxembourg (file photo)
The plenary room at the European Convention Centre, Luxembourg (file photo)© Photothek/Imo

European action in the Mediterranean was a key matter under discussion at the meeting. Decisions were taken on two issues. “Having regard to the refugee flows, we have decided to do what we Europeans can to rebuild Libyan coastguard structures,” Foreign Minister Steinmeier reported after the meeting. The aim is to enable Libya to monitor its own border once again and stop the human traffickers, so that refugees do not risk their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe. Secondly, the Resolution adopted unanimously by the Security Council a few days ago meant that it was now possible for the European mission to monitor illegal arms trafficking to Libya. “These are two really very positive steps,” Steinmeier stressed after the meeting.

Movement in the Ukraine process

Foreign Minister Steinmeier reported to the Council on developments in Ukraine. He told participants that at the last two Council meetings the “fronts between the parties had still been very firm”. But in the past few weeks, “movement could be discerned”. Following the release of Nadiya Savchenko, agreements had been reached on further prisoner exchanges.

“In our assessment, it now makes sense to start pushing seriously for the implementation of the Minsk Agreements again,” Steinmeier concluded. Talks to this end had already taken place last week in Minsk. Topics discussed included the law on local elections as “the crucial key” for the implementation of the Agreement, the special status and amnesty law, and improving the security situation. Steinmeier said that the negotiations would continue in the coming days, and then a decision would have to be taken on a date for the next meeting at foreign minister level. However, he said it was “still too early” for another Normandy summit of heads of government.

Steinmeier speaks to the press (file photo)
Steinmeier speaks to the press (file photo)© European Union

The upcoming UK referendum

Steinmeier commented that apart from the official agenda, the dominant topic of discussion, “in the corridors” at least, was the forthcoming referendum in the UK. “As I have always said, I hope a majority of the British people will vote to stay in the European Union.” But we would just have to wait and see what the UK voters decided. However, he also said that “We very much hope that the final days of national debate will result in increased support for the `Remain’ camp.”

If the UK were to decide otherwise, the European Union would, in Steinmeier’s opinion, lose more than just a country. It would also lose the history and experience that the UK had brought to the process of European integration.

Relations with Russia: both of the twin pillars of the Atlantic Alliance to be pursued

In response to questions about his comments this weekend on the NATO exercises in eastern Europe, Steinmeier clarified as follows: “We are not evading our responsibility, we are indeed assuming a high degree of responsibility,” he said, noting that Germany is not only participating in the implementation of the Wales decisions, but will also back the decisions taken at the NATO Summit in Warsaw. As he himself said, Steinmeier had previously stressed that “this time we cannot rely on military strength alone, but also ought to look for ways to defuse conflicts.”

This was a reference, he said, to the fact that in our experience, or at least in his, deterrence would not be enough on its own, unless, in line with NATO’s traditions, priority was also given, in parallel to deterrence, to exchange and dialogue.

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