Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sophie Wilmès, attended the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) in Brussels on Monday 10 May. The European ministers discussed in detail the situation in the Western Balkans and the state of transatlantic relations, before holding a videoconference meeting with the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry. The Deputy Prime Minister also took advantage of the Council meeting to report to her counterparts on the Benelux mission to Ukraine last week. Among the other topical issues discussed by the ministers were the situations in Afghanistan and Palestine.

Western Balkans

The EU Foreign Ministers discussed the geopolitical and security situation in the Western Balkans, notably the need for reform and the EU’s cooperation with the region. On this last point, the Ministers noted that, although the European Union is the largest partner of the Western Balkans, the perception on the ground is often quite different, for example due to the influence of third countries. Benelux, through its President, supports better strategic communication with the EU, which addresses the population directly to highlight the positive and tangible benefits of its action.

On the issue of enlargement, Benelux is committed to “integration based on merit, with strict but fair conditions and without shortcuts. We are focusing on fundamental principles, such as respect for the rule of law, human rights, good governance and freedom of the press, which will ultimately guarantee long-term stability and speed up the accession process,” said Sophie Wilmès. The Benelux countries consider it necessary to continue to invest in political dialogue and are open to the idea of inviting the Balkan countries on an ad hoc basis to certain Councils which discuss areas on which alignment (with the European acquis) is already well underway.

Transatlantic relations

Ministers exchanged views on cooperation between the European Union and the United States in view of the upcoming EU-US Summit. Within this framework, they reviewed a wide range of international issues. Belgium considers it useful and necessary to continue to work on a deep, resilient relationship with the United States, one of our most faithful and long-standing allies. Our country believes that bilateral consultations between Europeans and Americans on issues such as security and defence will serve to complement discussions within NATO. This approach also applies to issues such as Iran, Afghanistan, Russia and China. Progress can be made on these issues provided that the United States resumes a multilateral approach that is effective and fair in terms of trade, protects human rights and aligns with our democratic values when international norms and standards are set.

Meeting with the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, Mr John Kerry

This is the second exchange of views in which the American Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, Mr John Kerry, has taken part, following a first meeting in January. This confirms the close cooperation underway on climate issues to coordinate our efforts in the coming months. In the run-up to the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Glasgow, Belgium and Luxembourg have stressed – through the Deputy Prime Minister – the need to combine our efforts at a diplomatic level in order to convince the world’s major economies to adopt more ambitious national climate targets.

Furthermore, Belgium and Luxembourg welcome the fact that the United States have joined the Because the Ocean initiative for the protection of marine areas. “The oceans are part of the solution for achieving our climate goals; they are a priority and we must be ambitious in the short term to safeguard them. Belgium and Luxembourg also have the goal of creating one of the world’s largest marine protected areas around Antarctica,” said Sophie Wilmès.

Russia and Ukraine

The Foreign Ministers discussed the latest developments in the situation between Russia and Ukraine, which remains tense. The Deputy Prime Minister took the opportunity to report on the Benelux mission to Ukraine – a mission she led last week as President of Benelux. Sophie Wilmès began by expressing her thanks for the warm welcome they had received. She stressed that the purpose of the mission was “to send a strong signal, to demonstrate our commitment and support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, but also to encourage the process of internal institutional reform.” In this respect, the three Benelux ministers consider it important that the reforms are sustainable. “Despite the challenges, we encourage the government to continue implementing its reform agenda, with a focus on judicial reforms,” said Sophie Wilmès. Benelux countries also believe that the European Union should continue to encourage this process.


European Ministers condemned in the strongest terms the recent terrorist attack on civilians and in particular schoolgirls in Syed Al-Shahda in a district of Kabul. They consider this attack a flagrant and despicable violation of international humanitarian law. In addition, the Council discussed recent developments concerning the withdrawal of international troops from the country, the security situation in Afghanistan and its indirect consequences for the European Union. Our country has stressed how crucial it is to work on contingency plans. Belgium also recalled that it did not want to reverse the gains made over the past twenty years in terms of inclusion, human rights and the rights of women and girls.

Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Lastly, the Council discussed the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Belgium would like to see rapid consideration of a new date for the recently postponed elections, which must be allowed to take place in all the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem. With regard to the violence of recent days, our country reacted on Saturday by expressing its deep concern and calling for de-escalation and respect for international law. Violence in Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount is unacceptable and the status quo of the holy sites must be respected.

Our country condemns the firing of rockets from Gaza, which can cause indiscriminate casualties and constitutes a violation of international humanitarian law. Our thoughts are also with the civilian victims of an Israeli raid. We call on all parties to exercise restraint and bring an immediate end to the hostilities.