Foreign Affairs Ministers of Italy (Luigi di Maio), Luxembourg (Jean Asselborn) and Bulgaria (Ekaterina Zakharieva) at EU Foreign Affairs Council; Credit: MAEE

On Monday 17 February 2020, Luxembourg's Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Jean Asselborn, participated in the European Union (EU) Foreign Affairs Council and General Affairs Council, in addition to the International Donors' Conference for Albania, in Brussels.

EU Foreign Affairs Council

During the EU Foreign Affairs Council, High Representative Josep Borrell accepted Minister Asselborn's request to put the subject of the Middle East peace process on the agenda for the next Council, to be held in March, to allow a structured discussion on the contribution that the EU can make to the peace process in the current context. Luxembourg's request particularly received support from Sweden, Ireland, France and Finland.

Other matters on the agenda were the latest developments in Venezuela and the Sahel, as well as relations between the EU and the African Union (AU) ahead of the AU-EU ministerial meeting to be held in early May in Kigali (Rwanda) and in view of the development of the new Joint Africa-EU Strategy. In this context, Minister Asselborn focussed on the themes of gender equality and youth and on the climate dimension which he stressed must be better taken into account, considering that climate change exacerbates instability on the African continent. He also called for improved confidence between Europe and Africa in the area of ​​migration management, in line with the commitments made in Valletta in 2015.

The Foreign Affairs Council also exchanged views on the situation in Libya and on the role the EU can play in helping to stabilise this country. Jean Asselborn maintained that: "The European Union must actively engage in the implementation of the arms embargo set up by the Security Council of the United Nations". Like several of his colleagues and the President of the European Union Military Committee (EUMC), Minister Asselborn stressed that the implementation of the embargo necessarily involves the redeployment of the naval resources of Operation Sophia. Luxembourg's Foreign Affairs Minister also confirmed the continued support of the Grand Duchy in the field of air resources, with the provision of two patrol aircraft. He stressed that migrants rescued at sea and returned by the Libyan coast guards should be followed up by the competent United Nations (UN) agencies in order to avoid human rights violations.

Finally, the EU Foreign Ministers took stock of the EU's relations with India during an informal lunch with their Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. Recounting his recent visit to India, Minister Asselborn highlighted that “India is a crucial and strategic partner for the European Union and Luxembourg, in Asia and beyond. This is why the summit between India and the European Union to be held on 13 March is of particular importance".

EU General Affairs Council

In addition, Jean Asselborn participated in the EU General Affairs Council on Monday. On this occasion, ministers exchanged views on the long-term budget of the EU, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for the period 2021-2027, ahead of the extraordinary meeting of the European Council on 20 February 2020.

Minister Asselborn stressed that the future MFF will have to implement the strategic agenda of the EU and the positive programme defined in Bratislava and Rome. As such, Brexit should not be compensated with spending cuts in the next budget. Luxembourg's Foreign Affairs Minister thus reaffirmed that a shrinking budget is not compatible with the common political agenda for the future of the EU.

With regard to European public administration, Minister Asselborn recalled that Luxembourg cannot accept drastic cuts, given that the EU and its member states need an efficient civil service which attracts talent.