I attended the informal Foreign Ministers meeting on 29 and 30 August in Milan, Italy.
The informal format of the Gymnich allows EU Foreign Ministers to engage in a free-ranging discussion on a number of issues. In contrast to the formal Foreign Affairs Council (FAC), Ministers do not agree written conclusions. The next FAC is due to be held on 20 October.
The Gymnich was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland. Discussion centred on issues in the EU’s eastern and southern neighbourhoods.
Elmar Brok MEP, Chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, attended the discussion on Ukraine/Russia.
There was broad agreement that Russia had increased supplies of equipment and personnel to separatists in eastern Ukraine. Ministers agreed the diplomatic process should continue.
I said that the EU had to accept that President Putin had decided to treat Europe as an adversary rather than a partner. We needed to deter the scale of Putin’s ambitions in Ukraine, increasing the economic and financial cost through intensified sanctions and diplomatic pressure. Longer-term we needed to reduce our energy dependence, enforce the third energy package rigorously, keep up NATO deterrence, and counter Russia’s propaganda with our own communications effort. We needed to support Ukraine on the economy, energy, governance, and the elections.
There was broad agreement that pressure on Russia should be increased through a further package of sanctions, although a number of member states reserved their position on how far this should go.
A number of Ministers agreed on the need for member states to provide weapons to the Kurdish and/or Iraqi Government forces fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and to increase and co-ordinate the humanitarian response. There was agreement to promote an inclusive political process in Iraq. Ministers also agreed on the need to engage with regional players to contribute to resolving the challenge of ISIL.
It was also agreed that there needed to be improved co-ordination on handling foreign fighters from member states.
Ministers agreed on the need to engage regional players to support political dialogue, underscored the democratic legitimacy of the House of Representatives and supported its efforts at working towards national reconciliation. They also congratulated Bernardino Leon on his appointment as the UN Special Representative to Libya.
Baroness Ashton also said that EU Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) Libya would continue its mission and return to Tripoli as soon as possible.
Baroness Ashton argued that the EU had been an important player throughout her tenure, supporting John Kerry, engaging with Egypt, Israel and the Palestinians. She also informed Ministers that she would co-chair the 1 October donors’ conference in Cairo.
Ministers agreed that the ceasefire—on which the Egyptian role had been pivotal—should develop into a durable agreement, and there was general consensus that this should combine demilitarisation and reconstruction with international oversight (where the EU could play an important role).
I underlined the important role that the UN Security Council should play and argued that the EU should support a durable agreement, including through the reactivation of EUBAM Rafah under the appropriate circumstances. I urged the European External Action Service (EEAS) to follow up on work to put forward EU options for supporting a ceasefire.