On 18 November, at the meeting of foreign ministers of EU member states, ministers talked about the preparations for the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius on 28-29 November. Also, the situation in the European Union’s southern neighbourhood, especially in Syria, Libya, and Egypt, was discussed. A joint session of foreign and defence ministers took place in the framework of the Foreign Affairs Council. The topics of discussion were Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).
The Foreign Affairs Council talked about the current state of affairs in the preparation for Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius as well as the situation in Ukraine. According to Ambassador of Estonia to the European Union Matti Maasikas, the foreign ministers considered the latest developments in Ukraine and assessed the fulfilment of conditions set for Ukraine last December which would enable the conclusion of an association agreement that would include a comprehensive free trade agreement with Ukraine at the summit in Vilnius.
According to Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, the conclusion of the agreement is in the interest of both Ukraine and the European Union. It is an important step for Ukraine’s process of integration with Europe and it should not be passed up. “If an association agreement is not signed with Ukraine at the Vilnius meeting, then we have thrown away an opportunity to recognise Ukraine’s positive steps and encourage their continuation. Of course, it is important that Ukraine continues with reforms,” added Foreign Minister Paet.
Today’s Foreign Affairs Council, after hearing a thorough analysis from the EEAS and the European Commission, did not make a final decision regarding Ukraine. The decision will probably be made immediately before the Vilnius high-level meeting by taking into consideration the latest developments on questions that are still open. The Foreign Affairs Council expressed complete support for the latest efforts of Ukrainians and also to the mission of the European Parliament under the leadership of ex-presidents Cox and Krasniewski. At the same time, a very high-level and intensive political dialogue between Brussels and Kiev is taking place as well.
Maasikas says that the summit about the Eastern Partnership in Vilnius should give the European Union and the Eastern Partnership countries new, concrete courses of action to move forward with the creation of a common economic space as well as with visa questions. “The main point of the Eastern Partnership is to, step-by-step, provide basic European Union freedoms to the partner countries with the assumption that partners carry out reforms to make themselves and the EU neighbourhood into a more European region,” said Maasikas. He confirms that in Vilnius there are plans to initial European Union association agreements with Moldova and Georgia, which need to be signed before the end of the current mandate of the European Commission ends in fall 2014. The Commission has promised to do everything necessary to accomplish that.
The Foreign Affairs Council discussed the situation in Syria. The Syrian conflict’s spill-over effect is increasingly damaging regional stability and the catastrophic humanitarian situation explicitly pointing to the immediate need for stopping the violence and bloodshed and finding a political solution to the conflict as quickly as possible. The Foreign Affairs Council expressed hope that the Geneva-II conference, which is led by the UN and focused on ending the conflict, will still take place this year and the foreign ministers considered it a positive step that the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces has named a temporary cabinet into office to govern the rebel-controlled areas. The council approved conclusion regarding the effect of the Syrian crisis on the region, which, in addition to the challenge of quickly eliminating the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal, expresses the European Union’s continuing concern about the limited access to humanitarian aid and calls on all conflict sides to permit local ceasefires to facilitate humanitarian work and to fulfil all the duties dictated by international law.
When speaking about the latest developments in Libya, the Foreign Affairs Council recognised that the political and security situation in Libya is worrying, the development of the security sector is dragging on, and the local authorities are still unable to restrict illegal migration. The council approved conclusions regarding Libya that emphasise the need for cooperation between the Libyan government and the General National Congress in order to accomplish peaceful and democratic political reorganisation; the European Union confirms its continuing assistance and delivery of expert knowledge in cooperation with the international community. At the same time, the EU will continue enhanced cooperation to improve Libya’s ability to manage the security of all of its borders and combat the illegal cross-border trafficking of humans, arms, and goods.
When speaking about the situation in Egypt, the foreign ministers recognised that regardless of termination of the state of emergency in the country, it continues to be important to prevent future violence and the interim government must ensure the protection of the rights and freedoms of all citizens.
Due to the upcoming European Council’s focus on defence topics, the foreign and defence ministers will discuss topics connected to the Common Security and Defence Policy at their joint session. Concrete results, strategic guidance regarding the development of European security and defence cooperation, and a clear message emphasising the importance of security and defence are expected from the European Council.
Spokesperson of the Representation of Estonia to the EU
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