Russia’s devastating war of aggression against Ukraine remains the key issue in common European foreign policy. Over a year has passed since the start of the war on 24 February 2022. Since then, the EU has given backing to the people of Ukraine who are resisting the illegal Russian attack. It is providing military, financial and humanitarian support for the Ukrainians. Over four million refugees fleeing Ukraine have sought refuge and found immediate protection in the EU.
The meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Brussels will look at possible ways to provide further support, be it help with the reconstruction of destroyed water and energy supplies or the provision of military support and the supply of ammunition. The main topic at a joint meeting of the Foreign Ministers and Defence Ministers in the afternoon will be a common European special initiative for the procurement of ammunition for Ukraine. Annalena Baerbock and Boris Pistorius will both be attending this meeting.
The prosecution of Russian war crimes remains an important issue for the EU Foreign Ministers. Just a few days ago, the UN Human Rights Council commission of inquiry highlighted the extent of the atrocities known to have been committed in the war so far.
Speaking at the Hague Academy of International Law on 16 January 2023, Foreign Minister Baerbock called for Russia to be held to account for the crimes committed in the course of the war:
International law is strong. […] I firmly believe that. But for international criminal law to now bring its strength to bear, we must take on responsibility. So that aggression does not go unpunished, so that justice does not remain an abstract value but is a genuine prospect. So that those who break our peace do not enjoy impunity. Anywhere in the world.
One dreadful example of Russia’s crimes in Ukraine is the kidnapping of thousands of Ukrainian children who have been taken to Russia – against the wishes of the children and their parents or guardians. Here, too, the EU and its member states want to intensify their efforts to ensure that children can return to their homeland and that those responsible are held accountable. As the result of an initiative by Germany and the Netherlands, the tenth sanctions package includes targeted sanctions against those responsible.
The situation in Tunisia – Another focus at the EU Foreign Affairs Council
The EU Foreign Ministers will also talk about cooperation with Tunisia. Many people in this North African country that neighbours the EU are living in difficult economic and social circumstances. The EU is concerned at the democratic setbacks resulting from the comprehensive constitutional amendments introduced by President Saied.
The recent wave of detentions of representatives of the Tunisian opposition, media professionals and activists is exacerbating the situation. The EU’s aim is to support Tunisian civil society and to promote the urgently needed reforms in the economic and social spheres.
For human rights – The EU’s response to the situation in Iran and Afghanistan
The situation of the people in Iran is again on the agenda, given the regime’s ongoing repression of the Iranian population. The EU Foreign Ministers will adopt a further package of sanctions and listings to take action against human rights violations, the sixth such package since the protests began in September 2022.
The difficult situation in Afghanistan will also be a focus of attention at the meeting in Brussels. Since the Taliban seized power, freedoms are being squashed, with women and girls in particular suffering inhuman restrictions to their freedom of movement. Thanks to German efforts, the Foreign Ministers will adopt Council Conclusions on Afghanistan at the meeting. This is a clear demonstration of the EU’s opposition to women being excluded from schools and universities, banned from parks and forced to adhere to dress codes – all of which make it nigh on impossible for women in Afghanistan to lead a self-determined life.
On International Women’s Day on 8 March, in response to these moves, the EU imposed sanctions on various people, including two current Taliban ministers who are responsible for banning women from higher education and for enforcing gender segregation in public. The EU package of sanctions adopted on 8 March, which targets sexual and gender-based violence in Russia, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Syria, was the product of an initiative by Germany, France and the Netherlands.