Saturday

23rd Feb 2019

EU reforms to feature at 'jumbo' ministers meeting

  • Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt will chair the meeting of foreign ministers. (Photo: Council of European Union)

Almost one hundred EU ministers will gather in Brussels on Monday (16 November) and Tuesday for a 'jumbo-council' on foreign affairs, defence and development, where corridor discussions are likely to focus on the EU's top jobs and the institutional changes brought about by the Lisbon Treaty.

"This is one of those meetings when you run around trying to figure out what room each of the ministers should be in," an EU diplomat told journalists on Friday under condition of anonymity.

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The high density of European ministers and diplomats is a clear recipe for speculation on who will make up the short-list for the bloc's future top posts, to be decided by the 27 EU leaders on Thursday night.

One visibly absent figure on Monday will be British foreign secretary David Miliband, who was previously seen as a strong contender for the post of EU foreign policy chief, but has recently said he is not interested.

Defence ministers will at a special event mark 10 years of the EU's security and defence policy, amid concerns that the EU's future diplomatic service should include enough experienced military personnel in its joint civilian-military strategic planning unit.

The military chiefs are set to review the EU's 12 ongoing field operations and renew calls for more efficient defence spending and pooling of military resources, with a keynote briefing by the chief of the bloc's defence agency, Alexander Weis.

A joint meeting of foreign and defence ministers on Monday, where Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen is to speak, will officially be dominated by Afghanistan.

Mr Rasmussen is expected to call for more EU police trainers for the Afghan security forces.

But he is also likely to call for an end to the political deadlock between Greece and Turkey over the island of Cyprus, which is having a concrete impact on military co-operation between the EU and Nato. Mr Rasmussen will likely mention the need for more "imagination and flexibility" to resolve the Cyprus issue, Nato sources told EUobserver.

Meanwhile, non-Nato countries, which are major contributors to the mission in Afghanistan, such as Australia, New Zealand and Sweden, are to be drawn more deeply into the decision-making process.

The debate will take place in the context of remarks by Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini, who told The Times of London over the weekend that when the Lisbon Treaty comes into force, the EU should look to create its own army.

"Every country duplicates its forces, each of us puts armoured cars, men, tanks, planes, into Afghanistan. If there were a European army, Italy could send planes, France could send tanks, Britain could send armoured cars, and in this way we would optimise the use of our resources," he said.

A joint gathering of EU development and foreign ministers on Tuesday will also look at Afghanistan, examining how to help build democracy following the recent presidential elections, with the UN's special envoy on the country, Kai Eide, to attend the Brussels event.

Belarusian progress

With the EU-Russia summit coming up on Wednesday, foreign ministers are likely to have a "strategic" discussion about their big neighbour and main gas supplier.

Meanwhile, EU-Belarussian relations will get a timid boost – with foreign ministers asking the commission to start "exploratory talks" on a new agreement with Minsk and to again suspend a travel ban on leaders from the former Soviet republic.

A gathering of Belarussian opposition figures in Minsk on Saturday called for closer ties with the European Union, while former Czech president Vaclav Havel sent them a video message saying he was "sure that sooner or later we will welcome our Belarussian friends into the EU."

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