On Monday 18 October, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Sophie Wilmès and her ministerial colleagues met in Luxembourg for the Foreign Affairs Council. Among other things, they discussed the situation in Ethiopia, the Gulf region, Afghanistan, Tunisia and Mali.


The Council exchanged views on the situation in Ethiopia one year after the beginning of the conflict in Tigray. The conflict is intensifying and has since spread to other regions of the country. The situation on the ground is alarming. Not only in terms of security, but also in economic and humanitarian terms. According to EU and US estimates, nearly 1 million people are at risk of starvation, mainly because food aid is not reaching them due to restrictions imposed by the Ethiopian government. 2 large NGOs have also seen their activities suspended, and 7 UN staff have been expelled from the country. In the meantime, the African Union has appointed a Special Envoy, the former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, which our country regards as a positive development.

As Deputy Prime Minister Wilmès communicated in person to her counterpart, Mr Demeke Mekonnen Hassen, in New York last month, Belgium considers the territorial integrity of Ethiopia, an immediate and permanent cessation of hostilities, unhindered access for humanitarian aid and respect for international humanitarian law, to be imperative. In addition, our country urges mediation and reconciliation, which must lead to a political solution to the conflict.

As far as Belgium is concerned, stopping the negative spiral will require using all the instruments available to the EU, in the context of a gradual and balanced approach, from facilitating dialogue, including with the African Union, to implementing more restrictive measures. In this context, our country reiterates the importance of the R2P principle, the responsibility to protect, and the need to bring all actors – without exception – to justice for gross human rights violations.


The EU Foreign Ministers also once again discussed the situation in Afghanistan, including as a follow-up to the informal Foreign Affairs Council in New York last September. Belgium notes that the signs on the ground are not very encouraging. Human rights are still in jeopardy, especially those of women and girls, and the humanitarian situation is increasingly dramatic: 650,000 people are displaced, more than 18 million Afghans – half the population – are in need of emergency humanitarian aid. 1 million children are at risk of dying this winter.

Additional humanitarian support should help avoid further instability in the country and the region, with potentially major consequences for migration and security. Belgium therefore supports the move by the EEAS (European External Action Service) to reinstate EU representation on the ground. Sophie Wilmès: “For our country, the goal must be to provide humanitarian aid (in cooperation with the UN and leading NGOs), to have ‘eyes on the ground’ to monitor the political, economic and security situation, and maintain strictly operational contacts with the Taliban, including to facilitate the departure of people under our responsibility. The representation should in no way be seen as recognition of the Taliban as the legitimate representative of the Afghan people”.

With regard to the latter, Belgium and the EU refer to the Council conclusions on Afghanistan from September, which highlight the following criteria: (1) free passage for foreign nationals and Afghans at risk; (2) severing ties between the Taliban and terrorist groups (3) safe and non-discriminatory access for humanitarian aid; (4) respect for human rights (including those of women and minorities) and the rule of law; and (5) an inclusive and representative government.

For our country, the EU must also continue to draw closer to the region. “We must intensify our bilateral contacts with neighbouring countries to address common challenges such as humanitarian aid, terrorism, migration and smuggling,” concluded Sophie Wilmès.

Gulf region

The Council also discussed relations between the EU and the Gulf States. Security and stability are of crucial importance to Belgium and the European Union. This calls for a strategic, European approach. Our country advocates initiatives and confidence-building measures that can contribute to the stability of the region and the resumption of dialogue between the various parties.

Belgium is convinced that resurrecting the JCPoA (the nuclear agreement with Iran) is imperative. Our country supports the efforts of the EU and the E3 (Germany, France, and the UK) to get the JCPoA back on track. As regards maritime security, Belgium continues to favour the idea of a coordinated maritime presence in the Gulf.

Finally, dialogue with the Gulf States on human rights also remains vital for our country. Policy coherence is essential.


The political situation in Tunisia was also discussed. President Kaïs Saïd seized power on 25 July by invoking a constitutional interpretation. This prompted a crisis of separation of powers. Last month, he promulgated a decree in which the expanded presidential powers remained in force. Nevertheless, at the end of September President Saïd appointed a Prime Minister who proposed a new government on 11 October.

Sophie Wilmès: “The recent political developments, including the appointment of a new prime minister and the formation of a new government, are hopeful developments, but Belgium believes that they must be the catalyst for a normalisation of the constitutional situation in Tunisia as rapidly as possible”.


The Council is also concerned about the further deterioration of the security situation in the Sahel region, including in Mali. The worsening political climate, the risk of a further extension of the transition period and the possible use of a mercenary army to provide security in the country are very worrying signs.

Belgium continues urging Mali to keep working towards a peaceful transition. To ensure that European viewpoints are heard and our contribution is valued, “we need to intensify dialogue and continue to approach the transitional authorities in Mali on the basis of European priorities. I urge next month’s Council to look into the best way to use our political levers. The Malian authorities have been asked to confirm their willingness to continue cooperating with the EU”.


Finally, our country also called for the geopolitical dimension of the current energy crisis to be put on the agenda of the Foreign Affairs Council as soon as possible.