Strong together: Maas and Borrell take stock after the meeting of EU foreign ministers in Berlin

Gymnich, the informal meeting of EU foreign ministers

Gymnich, the informal meeting of EU foreign ministers, © Auswärtiges Amt/ Photothek.net

28.08.2020 - Article

At Gymnich, the informal meeting of EU foreign ministers, the focus was on relations with Turkey and Russia, as well as on the situation in Belarus and the EU’s strategic response to COVID‑19.

There has been no let‑up – in recent weeks which have proven so eventful, there have been extremely dynamic developments in a host of topics. It is not just that all states are still dealing with the COVID‑19 pandemic and the impact of the crisis. The situation in Libya, the eastern Mediterranean and in Belarus and Lebanon is also tense. There are many fronts in foreign policy where the European Union is called upon to take a stance and take action. The so‑called Gymnich meetings, hosted every six months by EU High Representative Josep Borrell and the foreign minister of the member state holding the Presidency, on this occasion Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, provide an opportunity to talk about current crises and at the same time discuss more fundamental foreign and security policy issues of strategic importance in an informal setting.

Belarus – EU calls for peaceful solution

The foreign ministers talked about what role the EU can play to maintain pressure on President Lukashenko and help Belarus find a way out of the crisis through dialogue. Germany sought to garner support with a view to promoting a peaceful national dialogue and/or transition process in Belarus as well as an OSCE mediation mission.

For Heiko Maas, one thing was clear:

Everyone in the room was in agreement – if Mr Lukashenko ramps up pressure on a peaceful civil society, then we as the EU must ramp up pressure on Mr Lukashenko. Human rights and civil liberties are the most fundamental values, and we in the EU stand by them – no ifs or buts. And that is why, step by step, targeted sanctions will be imposed on those who bear responsibility for manipulating election results and for violence.

Russia – a principled and more active EU policy

In preparation for discussions on EU relations with Russia, the European External Action Service has circulated a progress report on the implementation of the EU’s five guiding principles for relations with Russia agreed in June 2016. On this basis, the foreign ministers took stock of relations at the current time and considered how to further develop EU‑Russia policy. Germany supports a principled but also more active policy on Russia – maintaining open dialogue but also upholding current sanctions as long as the situation that triggered them does not change. Heiko Maas commented as follows:

Some dark clouds do hang over our relations. In particular, Russia must do more to help shed light on the Navalny dossier. This enquiry must however not be used as a mere fig leaf. What occurred, and why, must be fully and transparently investigated. And those responsible must be held to account.
The Navalny dossier certainly shows once again that, as the EU, we need a principled, more active, and more interest-driven policy on Russia than in the past.

Turkey – dialogue is vital

With regard to Turkey, the ministers talked about the whole spectrum of relations between the EU and Turkey. Heiko Maas said at the end of the meeting: “Our relationship is severely strained by what is going on in the eastern Mediterranean. We were in agreement regarding our solidarity with Greece and Cyprus. Reaching a diplomatic solution through direct talks remains our primary goal. We also agree that questions relating to international law should be presented for resolution to the International Court of Justice.” A key element of EU‑Turkey relations is the dialogue process between EU High Representative Josep Borrell and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. Particularly because relations with the EU are tense at the current time, constructive dialogue with Turkey is vital to find solutions to contentious issues in the eastern Mediterranean but also for a peaceful political process in Libya.

EU dialogue with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi

Before the Gymnich meeting officially began, the German Presidency of the Council hosted a working lunch for the EU foreign ministers and the Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi. Discussions focused on the Middle East peace process, the situation in the region and relations between the EU and Israel which are a key priority for Germany.


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