My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Philip Hammond) attended the informal Foreign Ministers meeting on 6 and 7 March in Riga, Latvia.
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 16 March. The Gymnich was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. Discussion centred on Libya, Ukraine/Russia, Eastern Partnership and European Neighbourhood Policy Review.
Elmar Brok MEP, Chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs and the OSCE Secretary General, Lamberto Zannier attended the discussion on Ukraine/Russia. Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations also attended. Foreign Ministers from EU candidate countries joined EU Ministers for a session on the European Neighbourhood.
UN special envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon joined the discussion by telephone and gave a broadly positive outline of the talks in Rabat. Ms Mogherini stressed the EU’s support for the talks and highlighted the need for the March FAC to prepare for the discussion on Libya at the March European Council. The EU was looking at all options for Libya, including possible missions and operations.
OSCE Secretary General Zannier briefed Ministers on progress in the OSCE’s tasking in support of the implementation of the Minsk agreements, and provided his assessment of the situation on the ground. Mr Zannier welcomed the EU’s readiness to increase availability of personnel, resources and technical support to strengthen the effectiveness and the mandate of the OSCE monitoring mission. Ministers expressed support for the role of the OSCE.
EU Ministers highlighted the importance of fully implementing the Minsk agreements and noted the fragility of the situation. The Foreign Secretary argued that economic sanctions should remain in place until the Minsk agreements had been fully implemented to strengthen the likelihood of full compliance. The Foreign Secretary also noted the anniversary of Crimea’s illegal annexation, highlighting the human rights violations, especially towards the minority Tatar population.
Ms Mogherini emphasised that the EU should be ready to increase economic pressure on Russia if there was further escalation, but the question of sanctions should be left to the March European Council. Meanwhile the special monitoring mission should get all necessary support. Ms Mogherini emphasised need for EU unity in handling Russia.
Eastern Partnership (EaP): Riga Summit (21-22 May)
Ms Mogherini set out her view that the Riga EaP summit’s political messages should be: commitment to the Eastern Partnership; a differentiated approach; the importance of implementing reforms; and a co-operative, not divisive approach. The challenges would include managing expectations on European perspectives, and ensuring coherent political messages. The summit would also be discussed at the March FAC and at a joint EaP ministerial in the margins of the April FAC in Luxembourg.
European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) Review
Ms Mogherini drew attention to the launch of the review process through the EEAS and Commission Joint Communication published on 4 March. There would be an ENP discussion at the April FAC. Consultations on the review will run until June, with final proposals emerging in the autumn.
Assessment of the impact of changes in the global environment
Ms Mogherini updated Ministers on the ongoing analysis of changes in the global environment as tasked by the December 2013 European Council. Initial findings will be presented to Ministers for discussion at the May FAC, which will inform a paper for discussion at the June European Council.