Heiko Maas attends the informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Lisbon (Gymnich Meeting)

View over Lisbon

Lisbon, Portugal, © picture alliance / Zoonar

26.05.2021 - Article

At the next twice-yearly informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers, known as the Gymnich meeting, discussions will focus on EU‑Africa relations, unresolved conflicts involving the EU’s eastern neighbours, and the Indo-Pacific region. Belarus will also be on the agenda.

Every six months, the EU Member State which currently holds the Presidency of the Council organises an informal Gymnich meeting. The name is taken from Schloss Gymnich in the Rhineland, the venue where the EU’s Foreign Ministers first met in an informal setting in 1974, at Germany’s invitation. This format was designed to allow in‑depth discussions of particular issues without specific decisions being taken; the agenda often goes beyond the latest current affairs. The Foreign Ministers will attend the meeting in Lisbon in person, with strict hygiene and social distancing measures in place, as they did last August in Berlin during Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the EU.


The agenda for the meeting includes an in‑depth discussion of EU‑Africa relations. The EU partners want to explore how they can strengthen the Union’s economic and political partnership with its neighbouring continent – one important initiative is the G20’s Compact with Africa. The current focus, meanwhile, is on joint efforts to fight COVID‑19. Germany is contributing significantly to these efforts as the second-largest donor to the vaccine alliance COVAX; 70 million vaccine doses have been delivered worldwide to date. The Foreign Ministers will also discuss the recent developments in Mali. These have been deeply concerning, as Mali is currently in a transitional phase which will shape the future of the country and its people. The arrest of the interim President and Prime Minister in this crucial phase sends a disastrous message to the people of Mali and the international community. Germany unequivocally condemns this act and awaits the immediate release of the detainees.

The Middle East and the EU’s neighbours

On the sidelines of the Gymnich meeting, the EU Foreign Ministers will also meet their Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi. Their talks with him will focus on issues including the conflict in the Middle East and cooperation as part of what the EU defines as its Southern Neighbourhood (encompassing a number of states in North Africa and the Middle East). After the severe escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, the negotiated ceasefire is holding. The priority for Foreign Minister Maas and the EU partners is now to use this ceasefire to return to the negotiating table with a view to achieving lasting peace in the region. A key role could be played by the Middle East Quartet, made up of the UN, Russia, the US and the EU. Foreign Minister Maas travelled to the region last week and met with Israelis and Palestinians to gain an idea of the situation on the ground and explore steps for a path out of the crisis.

The EU partners also plan to discuss unresolved conflicts affecting their eastern neighbours. These talks will cover Russia’s role and the question of how the EU can strengthen its own role in addressing such conflicts in light of its interests in the region. The EU is currently being put to the test by the issue of Belarus in particular. Foreign Minister Maas and his European counterparts firmly believe that Mr Lukashenko has now crossed a red line, with the incident in which a civilian aeroplane was forced to land and a journalist and his companion were detained. The EU’s response was rapid and resolute. However, the Federal Government is keen to ensure that the measures agreed do not affect the Belarussian population, but rather the profiteers and henchmen of the Lukashenko regime. This issue, too, is expected to be on the agenda in Lisbon

The Indo-Pacific region

In April, the EU passed the first Council conclusions setting out a more active policy approach to this key region. Germany had been a keen advocate of this move, having already approved national government policy guidelines on the Indo-Pacific region last September. Tomorrow, the High Representative and the EU Foreign Ministers will discuss what steps the EU can now take to flesh out its joint approach – in other words, what exactly the Team Europe approach to the Indo-Pacific region could look like.


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