Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Promotion Carmelo Abela spoke at an informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers (Gymnich) in Helsinki on the pressing need for a coherent United Nations Security Council (UNSC) approach on Libya, especially at this juncture, when no less than five EU member states are also members of the UN’s most powerful body.
Minister Abela recalled his recent meeting in Malta with the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Ghassan Salamé, when the two had the opportunity to discuss future prospects for Libya. Noting that, at this crucial moment, it is all the more important for the international community to act in sync, the minister voiced Malta’s belief in continued support for Mr Salamé and the UN’s efforts. There is only a political solution to the crisis, he re-iterated.
The Gymnich meeting, held on the 29th and the 30th August 2019, was chaired by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, and was hosted by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland Pekka Haavisto, on behalf of the Finnish Presidency of the Council of the EU.
In Helsinki, the EU Foreign ministers also held a broad discussion on the situation in the wider Middle East. Minister Abela voiced his hope for a stronger EU voice and role, together with other actors, in the Middle East Peace Process. He also expressed his concern about the situation in the Gulf, and stressed on the EU’s role to work on de-escalation in the region. On Iran, he spoke on the need to support the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. He also agreed on the importance of the freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz, which shouldn’t be used for political means. Irrespective of difficulties in relations, the EU needs to maintain dialogue with Iran, Minister Abela said. In this regard, he expressed regret at US sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The foreign ministers also discussed the Arctic region which has, due to global warming, acquired greater strategic significance to Europe. Minister Abela said that Arctic governance needs to be global and strike a balance between protection and development, and also between respecting Arctic States and their inhabitants and recognising the legitimate interests of the rest of the world. This should be achieved through regional and multilateral cooperation, based on full respect of international conventions and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. In this regard, the EU has a key role to play as an important global actor. Within this context, Malta believes that particular attention should be paid to the effects of climate change on small island states as well as shoreline communities, which are expected to be hardest hit by sea level rise.
The Gymnich agenda included a working session with Western Balkan partners on regional cooperation. Minister Abela restated Malta’s longstanding position that a stable and secure Western Balkans region is inextricably tied to a more stable and secure Europe and Mediterranean. Malta welcomes the Draft Council Conclusions on Enlargement and the Stabilisation and Association Process as an overall positive step in the accession prospects of the Western Balkan countries, particularly in light of the European Commission’s recommendation to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. Malta also welcomes progress achieved by Montenegro and Serbia in their accession process. It is imperative, Minister Abela said, that each country of the Western Balkans continues to strive to resolve internal matters in a peaceful and democratic manner. Malta believes that the EU accession process will encourage further domestic reforms through harmonisation with EU law and policy. In this context, he commended North Macedonia’s determination to move forward to open accession negotiations.
A discussion was also held jointly with the EU defence ministers on the subject of hybrid threats.
The Gymnich also served as an opportunity for Minister Abela to meet, for the first time, three new EU foreign ministers: Dominic Raab, British Foreign Secretary; Gordan Grlić Radman, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Croatia; and Ramona Mănescu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Romania.