On Wednesday (17 February), Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström visited Berlin, where she and her German counterpart Frank‑Walter Steinmeier discussed Berlin’s sex appeal, European solutions to the refugee crisis, the government crisis in Ukraine and the situation in Syria.
“Margot, jag pratar inte Svenska, men vad jag kan säger är: Varmt välkommen!” Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier gave a warm welcome to his Swedish counterpart Margot Wallström in her native language at a press conference in Berlin on Wednesday (17 February). Wallström replied that she was glad to be back in Berlin, which is often described as the “sexiest city in Europe”.
The sexiest city in Europe
This warm exchange showed the great closeness and trust in German-Swedish relations. As proof of this, Steinmeier mentioned the large number of young Swedes who visit Berlin. The result was that Swedish was no longer “a completely unknown language” in Berlin. Cultural relations were also so well established, he said, that nine films from Sweden were being shown at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival.
However, the ministers’ talks focused on the great challenges facing Europe rather than on further expanding bilateral relations. Steinmeier said that Europe was currently going through a “difficult” phase. The economic and financial crisis had not yet been entirely overcome, while efforts to reach agreement with the United Kingdom on the country remaining in the European Union were continuing. In addition, the “refugee crisis” was not only a national, but also a “European issue”.
European solutions to the refugee crisis
Germany and Sweden are close partners in the refugee issue. Steinmeier underlined that both countries firmly believed there would be no solution “if everyone simply does their own thing”. Instead, European solutions were also needed in the migration issue. He very much hoped that the European Council, which was due to start in Brussels on Thursday, would bring the European Union “that bit closer” to a solution at European level.
For her part, Wallström underlined that Sweden and Germany were taking a similar approach to the refugee crisis. While some countries had bought barbed wire in response to the crisis, others had purchased blankets. This contrast could not be the future of the European Union, she said. There was a need to ensure that Europe acted in a spirit of solidarity and worked together. Germany and Sweden were on the same side in this regard in the search for “practical solutions” based on shared values.
Syria: United Nations sends aid convoys
The difficult situation in Syria was another topic on the two ministers’ agenda. For the first time in many months, it was now possible to announce “a step forward”. Following a telephone call with Staffan de Mistura, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Steinmeier was able to report that 100 trucks with relief supplies for several tens of thousands of people had set off for five cities under siege in Syria.
In response to a question about the government crisis in Ukraine, Steinmeier said it was important to resolve the crisis “as quickly as possible”. This would not work without a “functional government”. At the same time, he appealed to Kyiv to continue the path of reforms.