Feature – Getting into the spirit of ‘Gymnich’
05.09.2012, 18:27 (CET)
EU Ministers of Foreign Affairs are set to meet in Cyprus on Friday, September 7, for their two-day Informal Meeting (Gymnich) in Pafos, chaired by the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Catherine Ashton. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cyprus, Dr. Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, who will co-host the informal Foreign Affairs meeting gives her insight on the issues to be discussed.

Q: Water and education are expected to be two of the three topics of discussion during the informal meeting. Which parameters of these issues make them relevant to the Informal Meeting of Foreign Affairs Ministers?

A: First of all let me express my satisfaction and enthusiasm for the fact that the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the member states will be visiting Cyprus to participate in this informal meeting.  This meeting, which Cyprus is hosting, is one of the highlights of the Cyprus Presidency of the Council of the European Union. It’s a chance for the ministers to get to know our country, experience our warm hospitality and, at the same time, engage in in-depth discussions on important foreign policy issues.  

As you rightly mentioned, water and education will be the two horizontal issues which will be discussed on the first day of the Gymnich.  One might ask: why are Foreign Ministers discussing issues such as water and education?  The answer is very simple.  Both water and education are issues which have a bearing on foreign policy formulation and conduct, and they are extremely important factors in the relation of the European Union with third countries. In fact, discussing such horizontal issues at the Gymnich constitutes a new approach launched by the High Representative, whereby Foreign Ministers discuss not only traditional foreign policy issues, but external relations in a broader sense.

Water and Education are two of the most discussed issues of modern day, as they affect the everyday life not only of Europeans, but of all people, no matter where they live. These issues transcend boundaries and influence the development of societies worldwide.

Water, as a vital resource for the survival of humanity, could be a source of conflict or cooperation.  Issues related to water, such as the management of water resources, the security of water supply, the consequences of water shortages have a direct impact on relations between people and states. 

Education is a fundamental human right.  It can become a tool for fighting poverty and radicalization and an essential element to any efforts for political stabilization, democracy and peace. 

Both water and education must be included, as important dimensions, in a comprehensive EU foreign policy, and the discussion during the Gymnich is a good opportunity to see exactly how we can do this.

Q: What sort of dynamic does the informal character of the meeting bring to the discussions?

A: This is the tradition of the so called “Gymnich meetings”. Having the character of a “retreat”, the aim of the Informal meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Ministers is to bring them together in a more relaxed environment to discuss issues related to EU external relations. This environment encourages the informal character of the meeting, fostering a more open and free discussion between the Ministers. This type of meeting allows the Ministers to engage in a more in depth exchange of views about the way forward and probably reach mutual agreement and understanding on issues of common interest. The fact that the meeting of the Ministers does not lead up to formal Council Conclusions nurtures sincere discussions on issues of strategic importance, in the spirit of the first such meeting held in 1974 the caste of Gymnich in Germany.

Q: European Foreign Ministers are also expected to discuss recent developments in Syria. With clashes and violence ongoing for months and a failed UN-led plan, there has been no indication of a resolution to the issue. Which are the main issues that concern the EU with regard to the situation Syria? Has the EU devised plans to address these issues?

A: Indeed, the European Union has repeatedly expressed its concern in relation to the ongoing violence in Syria. It has condemned the ongoing brutal attacks and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian regime, and has stated that all those responsible for human rights violations should be held accountable.

In addition, the EU has expressed deep concern in relation to the worsening humanitarian plight of the Syrian civilian population, as a result of continuous and widespread violence which has led to nearly one million displaced within Syria and over 200,000 refugees in neighbouring countries. The EU remains committed to the Syrian people’s struggle for freedom, dignity and democracy.

We welcome the recent appointment of Mr Lakhdar Brahimi as the Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for Syria. The significant experience of Mr Brahimi renders him the right person in continuing the work in search of a diplomatic solution to the current Syrian crisis.

During the upcoming Gymnich in Pafos, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs will exchange views on the dramatic developments in Syria and discuss the policy of the EU on Syria, particularly in light of Mr. Brahimi’s appointment.  We will also discuss what the EU can do to strengthen its assistance to the Syrian people and to the refugees, as well as how we can contribute to the preparation of a genuine democratic political transition in the country.

We believe that there needs to be a comprehensive and coherent EU approach. We need to show the people of the region that we are with them in their struggle for democratization and transformation.

Q: During the past two years, the Arab Spring has changed the political environment in the EU’s southern neighbourhood. What has been the response of the EU so far and how, in our opinion, will it proceed?

A: The “Arab Spring” has brought hope for a better future for the people of the Middle East, but it has also brought new challenges. The EU must have a primary role in the transformation of the region. The Union must be a leader in the international efforts to ensure that the transformation of the southern Mediterranean countries is a transformation for the better.

Collectively, we are in a better position to act and have a significant input in developments. What goes on in the Arab world has a direct impact on the European Union – on our security, our economies, our societies, even on our natural habitat.

Cyprus, due to its geographic position and the historically excellent relations with the Arab countries and Israel, is in a position to contribute significantly to the formulation of a sound, effective and comprehensive EU approach to developments in the region.

I believe that we should first look at each country individually.  The regional approach is definitely extremely important, but there is not a “one size fits all” model.  We must look at the particularities of each country, and respond to these particularities. 

The EU should not dictate – it is only through cooperation on the basis of a partnership among equals that we can help the region, and ultimately ourselves.

At the same time, we must insist on principles.  Respect for human rights, women’s rights, minority rights, religious freedoms, must be at the core of the transition of these countries to democracy. 

We should, even in these difficult times, “put our money where our mouth is.” The new European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI), for example, must take into consideration the special interests and needs of the “Arab Spring” countries. We must also promote private investments.

Finally, we must focus on the people.  We can promote educational and cultural exchanges, people to people contacts, development of civil society. Education is the key in most of these countries in promoting the transformation process forward.

Q: After the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, the main competence in the EU’s foreign affairs issues has been entrusted to the High Representative of the EU for Foreign affairs and Security Policy (HR) and the European External Action Service (EEAS). How does the Cyprus Presidency cooperate with them and what sort of function does it perform?

In line with the Lisbon Treaty provisions, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy chairs all the Foreign Affairs Council Meetings, including the informal meeting here in Cyprus.  Therefore the Foreign Ministry and I personally have been in close cooperation with the HR and the EEAS for the Gymnich meeting.

We have an excellent cooperation with Baroness Catherine Ashton.  On foreign policy issues I have stated repeatedly that the Cyprus Presidency aims to support the activities and initiatives of the HR and the EEAS. 

Moreover, due to her heavy workload and her demanding program, the High Representative has asked me to replace her and chair, on her behalf, a number of Ministerial level political dialogue meetings with third countries, which will take place in the 2nd semester of 2012. I will also represent her in a number of the plenary sessions of the European Parliament (EP), as well as in the briefings in the EP’s Foreign Affairs Committee, following the Foreign Affairs Councils, as customary.

Communications Officer
Charis Christodoulidou

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Telephone: +357 22401165