Closer ties with Arab world on agenda of meeting of EU foreign ministers

Ministers discuss stalled EU directive to share passenger records between states

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan: he urged the European Parliament to expedite the directive through the parliamentary process. The proposal, which was published  almost three years ago, has met resistance in the parliament due to concerns over data privacy. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan: he urged the European Parliament to expedite the directive through the parliamentary process. The proposal, which was published almost three years ago, has met resistance in the parliament due to concerns over data privacy. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

EU foreign ministers pledged to intensify efforts to combat terrorism at EU level and increase engagement with the Muslim world, as the EU held its first high-level meeting since this month’s terrorist attacks in Paris.

Among the proposals discussed was a plan to co-operate further with Arab states such as Algeria, Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt, with ministers emphasising the need to engage with Arab allies through the Arabic language.

“I want immediately to improve our communication with the Arab-speaking populations both within the EU and in the world,” the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Moghernini, said after the meeting. “We need to improve our capacity to speak Arabic, to write in Arabic and to listen to the messages that are coming from the Arab world.”

The secretary general of the Arab League, Nabil al-Arabi, attended yesterday’s meeting, widely seen as a forerunner to next month’s summit where EU leaders are expected to focus on the resurgent terrorism threat in Europe.

Ministers also discussed a stalled EU directive to share passenger name records between countries which has returned to the political agenda in Brussels as EU member states struggle to contain the threat of terrorism coming from “foreign fighters” returning from Syria and Iraq.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan echoed the comments of a number of EU ministers yesterday by urging the European Parliament to expedite the directive through the parliamentary process. The proposal, which was published by the commission almost three years ago, has met resistance in the European Parliament due to concerns over data privacy rights.

As EU foreign ministers agreed to share information between member states, Belgium remained in a heightened state of alert yesterday, with the army continuing to protect strategic sites in the cities of Brussels and Antwerp.

Officials said yesterday that they had requested the extradition of a 33-year-old Algerian man detained by Greek police in Athens on Saturday in connection with last week’s terrorist threat in Belgium.

Two men were arrested in Brussels Airport yesterday afternoon by police, amid reports that they were travelling to Syria, via Athens.

On Thursday, members of the US-led coalition against Islamic State will gather in London for talks on the ongoing offensive in Iraq and Syria, at a meeting chaired by US secretary of state John Kerry and British foreign secretary Phillip Hammond.

Belgium, along with France, the Netherlands and the UK, joined the US offensive against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria last year, an intervention that was prompted in part by public outrage over the gruesome killing of western citizens, including US journalist James Foley.

The conflict in Ukraine and the EU’s relationship with Russia also featured during yesterday’s discussion, which took place against the backdrop of escalating violence in eastern Ukraine. A paper circulated by Federica Mogherini last week ahead of today’s meeting, which appeared to propose greater engagement with Russia on certain issues, met resistance by some member states last week.

EU ministers agreed on Monday that sanctions would not be relaxed under the current circumstances. “In light of the current events in eastern Ukraine, no one had the idea of loosening the sanctions,” German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.