My Right Honourable Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs attended the bi-annual informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers (known as the Gymnich) on 30-31 August in Vienna, Austria. The Gymnich was hosted by the Austrian Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs, Karin Kneissl, and was chaired by the High Representative and Vice President of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. Discussions centred on the Middle East, Transatlantic relations, the Western Balkans, and Multilateralism.
Foreign Ministers of the Candidate Countries joined EU Ministers over dinner on 30 August and during the morning of 31 August.
The format of the Gymnich is designed to allow EU Foreign Ministers to engage in informal discussion on a number of issues. In contrast to the Foreign Affairs Council (the next of which will be held on 15 October), Ministers do not take formal decisions or agree Conclusions at the Gymnich.
Ministers held a broad discussion on the Middle East that covered the Middle East Peace Process (MEPP), Syria and Iran. Ministers reiterated that a two state solution was the only realistic option, confirmed the EU’s support for the United Nations’ and Egypt’s work on Gaza and commitment to continuing support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). On Syria, Ministers voiced concerns about possible military action on Idlib and the resulting humanitarian impact. Finally on Iran, Ministers agreed on the need to preserve the nuclear deal but voiced concerns about Iran’s actions in the region including in Syria. My Right Honourable Friend spoke about the risk of regional tension and the role of Russia in Syria.
Ministers noted that the EU and United States of America (USA) were close partners on a number of areas, and shared the same values. There were some policy differences but these should not overshadow other areas on which there is excellent cooperation. My Right Honourable Friend shared his thoughts following his recent visit to Washington.
Ministers discussed the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia that the EU is facilitating with the aim of reaching a legally binding agreement. Ministers noted the forthcoming elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina; they hoped the results would not cause a vacuum and the EU could continue to support work on the reform agenda there.
Ministers also touched on the referendum in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and expressed their full support for the agreement that was reached between Athens and Skopje on 17 June.
Any other business (AOB)
Under AOB Ministers briefly discussed the situation in Venezuela and Operation Sophia.
The Foreign Ministers of the Candidate countries joined EU Ministers for this working session. Ministers reaffirmed the importance of multilateralism given current risks to the Rules Based International Order, and the example the EU can set in this regard.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords: