Russia and Turkey – two important and difficult partners on the EU Foreign Ministers meeting agenda

Foreign Minister Maas is travelling to Zagreb

Foreign Minister Maas is travelling to Zagreb, © Janine Schmitz/photothek.net

05.03.2020 - Article

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is meeting his EU counterparts today and tomorrow in the informal Gymnich format to discuss joint strategies on Russia and Turkey. The situation in Syria will be discussed at a special meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council tomorrow.

Today and tomorrow’s EU Foreign Ministers meeting in Croatia will focus on very pressing questions concerning the situation in Syria and at the Turkish-Greek border as well as on reviewing the EU’s position on Russia. Twice a year, the member state that holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union hosts an informal foreign ministers meeting called the Gymnich format. The aim of these meetings is not to adopt formal conclusions, but rather to have a free exchange of views, including on long-term strategies, in an informal setting. Foreign Ministers attend the informal meeting alone and are not accompanied by their advisers.

Russia – selective cooperation despite differences

Russia is the EU’s largest neighbour. However, many aspects of its partnership with Europe pose difficulties. Russia’s foreign policy is increasingly creating challenges for Europe. Examples include the illegal annexation of Crimea, the shooting down of flight MH17 and the country’s influence in Syria. At the same time, Germany and the EU can only solve pressing international problems, such as arms control and climate change, by working with Russia – selective cooperation and a joint EU position are thus needed. At their meeting in Zagreb today, the EU Foreign Ministers want to fundamentally review the EU’s position to see where it is strong and where it can become even stronger.

Turkey – Close Turkish relations with the West is Europe’s key interest

Turkey, too, is an EU neighbour that is as important as it is challenging. There are a large number of acute issues at present, such as gas, the rule of law and the very pressing current situation at the borders. The EU’s joint aim remains close relations between Turkey and the West. Before departing for Zagreb, Foreign Minister Maas issued the following statement on the situation at the Turkish-Greek border:

It is important now that we do not leave Greece to cope on its own but that we find a European response. The EU must continue to provide Turkey with assistance, also increased financial support, to host refugees and migrants. However, it also goes without saying that in return we expect Turkey to adhere to the EU-Turkey Statement.

Syria – offer of 100 million euros to the UN

The dramatic situation in Syria will also be a key topic in the Foreign Ministers’ talks. Heiko Maas and his colleagues will attend a special meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council tomorrow where they will discuss how Europe can enhance its efforts to help bring about an end to the fighting and to ensure sufficient supplies for the civilian population. At the start of his trip, Maas said:

In talks with the United Nations, we offered to provide a further 100 million euros to help ensure that those in need in Idlib have shelter and supplies. However, this is contingent upon clear conditions: humanitarian access and the protection of aid workers and the population must be guaranteed.

Maas has called for an immediate ceasefire and the safeguarding of supplies for the one million internally displaced persons. Russia must put pressure on the Assad regime to finally halt the attacks on hospitals and schools and to give relief organisations access across borders to those in need, he said.


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