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EU Foreign Ministers (Informal Meeting)

Volume 605: debated on Thursday 11 February 2016

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs attended the informal Foreign Ministers meeting on 5 and 6 February in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

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 will be held on 15 February. The Gymnich was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. Discussion centred on the European global strategy, Iran, and migration. The Gymnich also featured a scenario-based exercise.

Elmar Brok MEP, Chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs and Foreign Ministers from EU candidate countries joined EU Ministers for the session on migration. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence and Minister for Reserves (Julian Brazier) represented the UK in the session on the European global strategy.

Gymnich discussion

European global strategy

EU Defence and Foreign Ministers met at a joint working lunch to discuss progress in the drafting of the strategy. Ms Mogherini stated her intention to produce a strategy that was broader than just security issues and covered the range of priorities for the EU. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and Minister for Reserves highlighted the UK’s strategic defence and security review (SDSR) and commitment to spend 2% on defence and 0.7% on development. He said it was important that Europe should look first to NATO for its defence.


The next issue on the agenda was the EU’s relationship with Iran. Ms Mogherini said the joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPoA) should be implemented and respected. The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs added that the EU needed to take a cautious approach due to Iran’s ballistic missile programme and poor human rights.

Scenario-based exercise

At the joint initiative of Ms Mogherini and the Dutch Foreign Minister, Mr Bert Koenders, Ministers took part in a crisis simulation exercise, which involved a fictitious scenario followed by discussion of possible responses to an external threat.

Migration issues

The second day of the informal Gymnich meeting addressed migration with an extended session. EU Foreign Ministers were joined by Ministers from candidate countries and discussed the routes taken by migrants through the western Balkans and Turkey, the challenges ahead and possible solutions. Ms Mogherini intended to focus on implementing measures already in place, such as the Turkey action plan (AP) and work on contingency planning for the western Balkans routes.

The Foreign Secretary highlighted how the stream of legitimate refugees from Syria could worsen and stressed the need for a long-term strategy beyond the current crisis. This included addressing upstream push factors and supporting UN efforts and Syria’s neighbours.