EU Foreign Ministers at Gymnich meeting; Credit: MAEE

Luxembourg's Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Jean Asselborn, participated in the European Union (EU) Foreign Affairs Council and Gymnich meetings held on 5 and 6 March 2020 in Zagreb, Croatia.

Thursday's informal meeting of EU Foreign Affairs Ministers (Gymnich) began with a working lunch devoted to the current state of and prospects for relations between the EU and Russia.

Recalling his working visit to Moscow last week, Jean Asselborn recalled the firm position of the EU, in particular regarding the territorial integrity of Ukraine and the need to make progress in the implementation of the Minsk agreements, after the Paris summit in Normandy Format. Minister Asselborn stressed: “There is no alternative to dialogue, however difficult it may be. And I hope that it will be possible to strengthen the dialogue between the EU and Russia, including at the level of the EU institutions, while remaining firm on our principles".

The EU foreign ministers also had an exchange of views on the EU's strategic approach to Turkey. In this context, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, Josep Borrell, took stock of the results of his recent visit to Turkey with the President of the European Council, Charles Michel.

On Friday 6 March 2020, at the extraordinary meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, the ministers exchanged views on the EU's means of action in the face of the worrying development of the conflict in Syria, in particular with regard to the dire humanitarian situation caused by the recent escalation of military clashes in the Idlib region of north-western Syria. The ministers took note of the outcome of the meeting between the presidents of Russia and Turkey which took place the day before in Moscow. In this context, the ministers called on all parties to maintain the cease-fire, ensure the protection of the civilian population and guarantee access to humanitarian assistance.

During his intervention, Jean Asselborn called for “everything to end the suffering of the Syrian civilian population and allow access to humanitarian aid. The parties to the conflict - the Syrian regime and its allies, Russia and Iran, and also Turkey - must be forcefully told that there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria”. Minister Asselborn pleaded for a political solution.

Luxembourg's Foreign Minister also insisted that in view of recent events, "we must make it clear to Turkey that blackmail with refugees is not acceptable". While regretting that the EU has not "succeeded in developing a coherent European policy on the subject of migration in recent years", he warned against a continued deterioration of European solidarity.

In conclusion, Minister Asselborn stressed that it is "absolutely necessary that cross-border humanitarian aid to Syria be maintained beyond 10 July, the expiry date of the mandate given by Security Council resolution 2504", adding that "we cannot allow the Syrian regime to exploit humanitarian action for political and military purposes".

The EU foreign ministers adopted a declaration at the end of the formal session on Friday.