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Informal General Affairs and External Relations Council (Gymnich), May 2-3: Press Statement

Kastelorizo, May 3rd, 2003.

The Foreign Ministers of the current and future EU member states have concluded their two day informal meeting in Rhodes and Kastelorizo. This is the first time that the ten new member states have participated in the Gymnich meeting. The Foreign Ministers of the three candidate countries, Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria, joined the meeting for lunch on Saturday and were briefed by their colleagues on the outcome of the discussions.

The key agenda items discussed at the meeting were: Iraq and the Middle East; EU-US relations; European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP); and weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Iraq/Middle East

President-in-Office of the Council, George Papandreou said: “Our over-riding concern should be what we can do now for Iraq. At the same time, we must prepare for later involvement as and when political and legal conditions permit. We all agree that the EU should be as fully engaged as security permits in the humanitarian field, and can also contribute significantly to police and other instruments for civilian crisis management.”

Foreign Ministers agreed to contribute to the definition of a central UN role in Iraq, with a view to creating conditions in which all Iraqis could live in freedom, dignity and prosperity under a representative government, which is at peace with its neighbours and an active member of the international community. Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to retaining Iraq’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and national unity. 

On the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Papandreou warmly welcomed the publication of the road map and paid tribute to the EU team, led by Miguel Moratinos, that had contributed to the work of the Quartet. He said that the EU should support the new Palestinian Prime Minister, Abu Mazen, both materially and politically. He offered his own view that a boycott of Yasser Arafat would be misguided, as it would undermine the reform process.

Finally, Mr. Papandreou proposed that the EU should deepen its strategy of engagement with the Arab world, which has been an important feature of the Presidency’s policy throughout the Iraq crisis. He noted that the environment in the region was constantly changing and that it is important to find ways of addressing economic issues, human rights, regional security, and cultural and religious understanding in a structured way. Foreign Ministers agreed that the Commission and Council Secretariat should prepare a report for the Council on strengthening links with the Arab world in these areas.  

EU-US Relations 

George Papandreou noted: “The EU-US relationship had been severely tested lately, but the ties that bind Europe and the US are historic; they are deep; and they are broad. We must now ensure that this partnership is reshaped and adapted to the current global reality.”

The discussions provided an opportunity to prepare for the Thessaloniki European Council on 20-21 June and the EU-US summit, which will take place in Washington DC on 25 June. Foreign ministers discussed both the concrete deliverables and expected outcomes from the summit. As well as the broad issues of longer term strategy towards the US, ministers debated relative attitudes to key global issues, including: multilateralism; the use of force; global poverty; trade, and terrorism. Ministers also discussed common projects that might be developed in order to deepen and broaden cooperation further, beyond the governmental level.

Mr. Papandreou drew his colleagues’ attention to the contributions he had commissioned on this subject, from a wide variety of international experts, which contained a wide range of ideas and specific recommendations on how the transatlantic partnership might be taken forward as a mutually beneficial relationship of equals. These ‘food for thought’ documents are available on the Greek Presidency website at: http://www.eu2003.gr/en/cat/25/


Referring to the events of the past week, specifically the mini-defence summit attended by four member states, Mr. Papandreou said that it was important to avoid getting bogged down in a discussion on process: “Many useful ideas have emerged and they should be considered on the basis of their intrinsic, rather than procedural, merit. What is clear is that we are in urgent need of a European strategic concept,” he said.

Mr. Papandreou said that Europe faced a range of real trans-national threats from irresponsible states, deep global inequalities, fanaticism, terrorism and proliferating weapons of mass destruction. Europe must therefore assess and agree on the threats that exist, then candidly assess its capabilities and draw up an appropriate policy to deal with them effectively. At Mr. Papandreou’s suggestion, Ministers agreed that High Representative Javier Solana should draw up specific proposals in the coming weeks on how to project and deepen ESDP.

Mr Papandreou said that the foreign ministers’ discussion had been very useful preparation for the deliberations on European security and defence policy issues that will take place at the Thessaloniki European Council on 20-21 June.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

Opening the debate on Weapons of Mass Destruction, Mr. Papandreou said: “To address this issue effectively, we must be willing to ask ourselves very challenging questions. Weapons of Mass Destruction and their proliferation are probably as historically destabilising as the invention and spread of gunpowder. Our first challenge is that as well as the proliferation of WMD, we also have a proliferation of irresponsible nations and groups. On the other hand, we have a system of oversight and verification that is not yet equal to the challenge.”

Ministers discussed potential alternatives to the pre-emptive use of force against countries that pose a threat to international security, including the strengthening of multilateral fora, processes for weapons verification and their reinforcement through international legal measures, such as seizure of assets and cargo inspections. They also discussed the merits of establishing a doctrine for the use of force in the event that peaceful efforts at enforcement do not work.


Looking ahead to the Thessaloniki European Council on 20-21 June, Mr. Papandreou said: “This meeting has provided us with an excellent opportunity to discuss – for the first time at the level of 25 countries – a number of important issues that will be on the agenda at Thessaloniki. We will continue to prepare these issues in the General Affairs and External Relations Council over the next six weeks and look forward to an extremely productive European Council.”

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