MEPs quiz German Foreign Minister on foreign policy priorities 

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Members of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee debated the priorities of the German Council Presidency with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Monday afternoon.

Starting his intervention, Foreign Minister Maas stressed that one of the foreign policy priorities of the EU during the German Presidency will be to maintain a clear and frank dialogue with Turkey on a multitude of issues, including the country’s role in the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Libya, as well as on its illegal drilling operations in the Mediterranean Sea.

At the same time, “positive signals and firm commitments” from Turkey are needed, including a stop of all the illegal drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.

EU relations with China and Africa

Intensifying the political and economic cooperation with African countries is high on the German Presidency’s agenda. Heiko Maas expressed his hope that the foreseen EU-African Union summit will be held as planned in the autumn, with an agenda hopefully not only dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also leaving room for talks on other matters, such as peace and security, economic cooperation and sustainable development.

When it comes to China, the German Foreign Minister made clear that it is only possible for the EU to progress in its relations with China if it continues to speak with one voice. He said that Germany wants to help draw up the new EU strategy on China and also organise a top-level meeting between the EU and China as soon as possible, even with this year’s original summit having been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Maas also mentioned that Germany had recently presented a proposal, together with France, on re-evaluating relations with Hong Kong in areas such as export controls, extradition treaties and immigration rules for citizens of the semi-autonomous region, as a consequence of the adoption of the controversial national security law by mainland China’s Communist Party.

Russia and EU enlargement

Regarding the EU’s ties with Russia, Mr Maas said that any progress when it comes to the “strategic relations” with Russia still depend on securing a stable ceasefire and putting an end to the violence in eastern Ukraine, which is a clear prerequisite before any reassessment of the EU’s Russia policy is possible.

Finally, the Foreign Minister also underlined that he was pleased that the EU had agreed to open accession negotiations with both Albania and North Macedonia and said that the German Presidency hopes the first conferences and discussions with the two countries can begin during its tenure, with North Macedonia being slightly ahead of Albania.

Read more on the German Presidency’s foreign policy priorities here.

MEPs also quizzed Heiko Maas on a number of issues, including EU policies vis-à-vis Russia, China and Turkey, the situation in Syria and Libya, foreign interference and disinformation and the ongoing talks between Serbia and Kosovo aiming to resolve their territorial disputes.

You can watch their interventions and the whole debate with Heiko Maas again here. (13.07.2020)

Difficult challenges ahead

“I was very pleased to welcome Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to our committee meeting today for a debate on the foreign policy priorities of the German Council Presidency. The expectations on Germany are high. But the challenges in foreign affairs in the next six months are also enormous”, said David McAllister (EPP, DE), Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, after the meeting.

“The first priority must be to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects. This means in particular to continue to provide targeted support to the countries in our wider neighbourhood and in Africa. On top of that, we also look forward to see how the German Presidency will work on strengthening the EU’s relations with China, Africa and other important partners and actors, support the negotiations on a balanced new partnership with the United Kingdom and ensure that the EU’s external relations are backed up with sufficient financial resources.”

Background and more information

Germany took over the six-month rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union from Croatia on 1 July.

Tomorrow, on Tuesday 14 July at 12.45 CET, MEPs in the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Subcommittee on Security and Defence will exchange views with German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who will also brief Members on the Presidency’s priorities in her field.

You can follow that meeting live here.