Today, Friday 3 September, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sophie Wilmès and her fellow ministers met at the invitation of the Slovenian presidency in Brdo, Slovenia, for a Gymnich, a half-yearly informal meeting of the Council of Foreign Affairs. Among other things, the ministers discussed the situation in Afghanistan, the relationship between the EU and the Gulf States and the EU-China relationship.


Following the exceptional virtual Council on 17 August, the Council once again addressed the situation in Afghanistan. The first phase of the evacuation has since been completed. Our country evacuated over 1,400 people via the air bridge between Kabul and Islamabad.

But there is still work to be done. There are still Belgian nationals and people under our protection in Afghanistan. “Our absolute priority remains getting them out of the country quickly and safely. That is why Belgium has strongly urged European coordination in this regard, to complete the evacuation. This was also agreed upon,” explained Sophie Wilmès. “We will also need to work with international partners. The UK would appear to be a suitable partner in this regard, as it is in more or less the same situation as the EU.”

To ensure this safe evacuation, operational consultation with the Taliban is unavoidable for our country. “In this regard, we need to defend our interests and values at all times, such as respect for human rights – in particular the rights of women and girls – and the rights of minorities. Consultation must not be interpreted as formally recognising a new regime.”

For Belgium, the EU must fully play its role in the international community. This includes stepping up dialogue with regional actors (crucial for migration and security) and weighing in on the formation and policies of a new Afghan government. “If we want to avoid being presented with a fait accompli, Europe must be more vocal. If we want the Taliban to form an inclusive government and pursue policies that effectively guarantee universal values, then the EU needs to be at the table,” underscored Sophie Wilmès. “In any event, the relationship we have with the Taliban will always be determined by their actions, not their words.”

Finally, the Deputy Prime Minister stressed that lessons must be learned from this crisis, to avoid similar situations in the future. For example, the EU must consider building a ‘consular capacity’ – a system of coordination and mutual aid for evacuations. “In practice, we have had good consultation and cooperation with the Netherlands, Luxembourg and other partners, but de facto, each country is responsible for evacuating its own citizens. There will inevitably be further crises. These can and must be organised much more efficiently at the European level,” concluded Sophie Wilmès.

EU – China

Finally, the Council also looked at the relationship between the EU and China. It is no secret that Beijing’s policies and assertiveness have made cooperation more difficult. At the same time, we cannot afford to put all engagement with an important player like China on hold. As such, Belgium is of the opinion that efforts must be made to gradually re-establish relations with China. “In order to exert influence and defend our values and interests – both those of the Union and of the Member States – a unified message and solidarity among the Member States are essential,” stressed the Deputy Prime Minister.

For Belgium, China is an essential partner to counter the instability in the region (Afghanistan, Iran, and Myanmar). The EU must encourage Beijing to behave as a responsible global player. “At the same time, the EU must be ready to respond to destabilising measures such as cyber threats, disinformation and pressure from Beijing. This is yet another example of why we need to bolster our strategic autonomy.”