The protracted conflicts in the Eastern Neighborhood and the wider Black Sea region, EU-Africa relations and the EU’s strategic vision for the Indo-Pacific region were some of the subjects discussed at the informal meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers (Gymnich) held Wednesday and Thursday in Lisbon, under the Portuguese Presidency of the EU Council, the Foreign Ministry informs in a release.
The European Foreign Ministers also had a working lunch to which Foreign Minister of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Ayman Safadi, was also invited.
The Lisbon meeting was of special relevance for Romania due to the extensive discussions on the subject of protracted conflicts in the Eastern Neighborhood, following the approach initiated by Foreign Minister Aurescu, through the letter addressed in November 2020 to the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, which was joined by counterparts from ten EU member states – Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Sweden.
“This is the first time that Romania includes such a topic on the agenda of a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers. The High EU Representative and the Foreign Ministers present thanked the Romanian Foreign Minister for Romania’s initiative. Minister Aurescu made an assessment of the current situation of the conflicts that affect five of the six Eastern European partners, highlighting that these conflicts pose a major threat to the stability and security of the entire region, as well as to Euro-Atlantic security, their high unpredictability and destabilizing potential, the negative impact on the affected states’ capacity to make progress in the reform process, but also to make strategic decisions for their own future, thus having their sovereignty limited,” the release reads.
The Romanian top diplomat argued that the discussion should allow the identification of concrete and applied ways and tools through which the EU can become more involved and contribute more effectively both to the resolution of these conflicts, in accordance with international law, and to increasing the resilience of the affected neighboring partners.
Minister Aurescu also stressed the importance of an integrated and consistent approach to conflicts, for the Union to be more relevant in geopolitical terms in its immediate neighborhood – an essential aspect for the position of global actor it pursues.
In this context, the Romanian ForMin advanced a three-tiered set of concrete proposals to be considered in future discussions: politics, economy and strategic communication.
From a political point of view, the Romanian top diplomat emphasized the importance of a more dynamic and visible engagement of the EU in the negotiation formats it is a part of, but also in the political relationship with each of the affected states, strengthening the Eastern Partnership with focus on its security dimension, including in cooperation with NATO, improving EU’s coordination with all the relevant partners in the region such as the OSCE, the UN, like-minded international partners, especially the US. Aurescu also called for better use of the sanctions instrument for these conflicts.
Aurescu encouraged a better coordination between Ukraine, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova, as well as strengthening the dialogue of these three states with the EU on security and on matters related to the settlement of protracted conflicts, including by creating a dedicated dialogue format that should focus on progress in conflict settlement. Minister Aurescu also proposed a process of reflection on the creation of a position of EU Special Representative whose mandate should cover the resilience of Eastern Neighborhood partners and protracted conflicts in the wider Black Sea region.
As far as economic measures are concerned, the Romanian ForMin advocated the efficient capitalization, to their full potential, of the provisions of the Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements of the EU with the Eastern partners, which should be applied in the separatist regions too – so as to stimulate relations with the other affected states and render the reintegration of separatist regions more attractive, more consistent social and economic support measures on the part of the Union for conflict-affected regions, as well as combating the medical and economic effects of the health crisis, with the inclusion of the population from separatist regions on humanitarian grounds.
In terms of strategic communication, Minister Bogdan Aurescu highlighted the importance of strategies aimed at combating disinformation and more effectively promoting among the public the concrete steps of support and the benefits offered by the EU for the states affected by these conflicts.
The Romanian official called for the continuation of the talks with the aim of adopting EU Council Conclusions providing guidance for future EU action on this issue. At the same time, Minister Aurescu brought to mind that the aspects related to protracted conflicts must be reflected in the EU documents that will be prepared in the perspective of the discussions on the relations with Russia, which are foreseen at the meeting of the EU leaders in June.
Addressing the recent incident where the Belarusian authorities forced the landing of a commercial flight on the Athens-Vilnius route, Minister Aurescu expressed strong support for the rapid adoption of new sanctions on Belarus, economic sanctions included.
At the same time, for a consolidated impact, he called for the public presentation as soon as possible of the Plan for the Economic Development of a Democratic Belarus, which includes EU economic support measures for this country’s transition to a democratic regime, a plan devised by the European Commission at the request of the European Council following a proposal put forward last year by President Klaus Iohannis, together with his Polish and Lithuanian counterparts.
The discussions on EU-Africa relations were approached from the perspective of the state of political dialogue and the organization of the Sixth African Union Summit, scheduled for the first half of 2022. In the context of discussions on ways to deepen this partnership, based on shared interest and values, Minister Aurescu expressed support for the goals of the March 2020 EU Strategy for diversifying cooperation with Africa.
“In his address, Bogdan Aurescu laid accent on aspects related to the security of the continent, given the importance of the Mediterranean – Horn of Africa – West Africa triangle. The ForMin emphasized the potential of the Continental Free Trade Area, a flagship project of the African Union, for deepening economic cooperation, and mentioned the importance of continuing support for African partners in counteracting the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also for strengthening people-to-people contacts, with a focus on supporting youth education,” the Foreign Ministry’s release said.
The debate on the EU’s strategic vision for the Indo-Pacific region provided an opportunity for an exchange of views on the joint communication of the High Representative and the European Commission on cooperation in this area, scheduled for publication in September 2021.
Regarding this future EU strategy for the region, Minister Aurescu highlighted the need for an approach that should lead to the consolidation of international order based on rules and that would contribute to an open trade and investment climate. He highlighted the need for close coordination with the United States, as well as for strengthening partnerships with countries in the region that share the same values, such as Japan, Australia, South Korea or India. The Romanian official pointed out that Romania is interested in contributing to the implementation of the future strategy for the Indo-Pacific in areas such as digital connectivity and cybersecurity in particular, by capitalizing on the presence in Bucharest of the EU Cybersecurity Center, but also in the field of resilience, with the involvement of the Euro-Atlantic Resilience Center (E-ARC).
At the same time, Aurescu pointed out that Romania can get involved in supporting young democracies in Asia, including in its capacity as incumbent Presidency of the Community of Democracies.
At the informal lunch that had Jordan’s Foreign Minister as a guest, Bogdan Aurescu once again welcomed the recent ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas and praised Jordan’s contribution, along with other Arab states and international actors, to the de-escalation of the situation in the region.
“He pointed out that a ceasefire is however not enough, the fundamental goal being to achieve a lasting peace. In this regard, he emphasized the need to address the root causes of the conflict, as well as the full involvement of all relevant actors. Aurescu stressed the importance of implementing confidence-building measures, which are more than necessary after the recent armed conflict, reiterating the importance of resuming direct talks leading to a solution for the two states,” the Foreign Ministry’s document states.
ForMin Aurescu underscored Romania’s support for Jordan’s aspirations to strengthen relations with the EU and referred in this context to the potential of the New EU Agenda for the Mediterranean in setting priorities for cooperation and the development of joint projects, as well as the planned Economic and Investment Plan laid out in the New Agenda, which includes investments in areas that are key to the country’s economic transition to an inclusive economy, green energy, efficient waste management.