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EU Foreign Ministers Meeting (Sopot, Poland)

Volume 532: debated on Monday 12 September 2011

I attended an informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers (Gymnich), which was held on 2-3 September in Poland.

The informal format of the Gymnich allows EU Ministers to engage in a free and in-depth discussion on a number of issues. Ministers do not agree any formal written conclusions, in contrast to arrangements in the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) or General Affairs Council (GAC). The next GAC will be held on 12 September. The next FAC is on 10 October.

The following issues were covered at the Gymnich:

Relations with Strategic Partners

Ministers had a broad discussion covering the EU’s relationships with emerging powers. The discussion focused largely, though not exclusively, on relations with India, Brazil and south Africa. This continued a process set in train at last September’s European Council. This is an area where we welcome the external action service’s efforts to define clearer collective EU priorities, common objectives, and methods for using member states’ collective weight to advance our security and prosperity objectives.

Ministers agreed on the importance of the EU’s economic and trade relations with these strategic partners. They also discussed how to enhance our engagement on political and security issues, complementing our national diplomatic efforts. And there was general agreement on the need to use the EU’s collective voice better to influence some of our strategic partners on areas such as human rights.

Middle East Peace Process

The discussion on the middle east peace process focused on EU handling of a possible Palestinian bid for recognition at the United Nations General Assembly. Ministers were joined for part of the session by the Norwegian Foreign Minister in his capacity as chair of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee.

There was continued broad support for the principles agreed at the FAC on 18 July: the need for a two-state solution; for both sides to resume direct and substantive talks; and support to the High Representative in her efforts through the Quartet to create a credible perspective for the re-launching of the peace process.


The Gymnich discussion came a day after the Paris conference co-chaired by the Prime Minister and President Sarkozy. Baroness Ashton set out proposed priorities for the EU’s post-conflict assistance. There was general agreement that any potential EU financial and post-conflict stabilisation assistance should respect the need for national transition council ownership and a UN-lead.


The discussion on Syria took place in the presence of EU candidate countries (Iceland, Montenegro, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Croatia and Turkey) and focused on EU measures against the regime. On 2 September, the EU agreed a collective ban on imports of Syrian crude oil products. By doing so the EU made it clear that it will continue to increase the pressure on President Assad until he steps aside and allows a transition to a different type of regime. The horrific scenes of brutality throughout Ramadan were unacceptable, and the ban on all EU imports of Syrian crude oil products will help constrict the regime’s funding and reduce its ability to fund the repression of innocent civilians.

Following the Gymnich, I issued a further statement on the issue of oil sanctions. This can be found at:

Eastern and Southern Neighbourhood

There was a short exchange on the EU’s relations with its eastern European neighbours. On Ukraine, concern was expressed about the trial and subsequent detention of Yuliya Tymoshenko and other opposition leaders. On Belarus, Ministers stressed the need to maintain the EU’s firm position on releasing and rehabilitating all political prisoners. I underlined the importance of progress on implementing the revised European neighbourhood policy. Baroness Ashton and Stefan Fule (Commissioner for Enlargement) reiterated their commitment to deliver results. Finally, Ministers were briefed on preparations for the eastern partnership summit in Warsaw on 29-30 September.

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and I will continue to update Parliament on Foreign and General Affairs Councils as and when future meetings are held.