European foreign ministers meeting in Brussels yesterday (19 January) agreed that they need to engage in more dialogue with Europe’s neighbouring Islamic countries to deal with extremism, whilst simultaneously rebutting the Russian news narrative in Eastern Europe.
Ministers agreed to consider a range of measures designed to beef up security in the bloc in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in Paris.
New methods of intelligence sharing should be found within the 28-member bloc, ministers agreed.
But these efforts should be extended to neighbouring North African and Asian countries directly affected by the rise of Islamic extremism, they said.
“We have to address the suggestion that we have a double standard in focusing on Europe, when we know that the first victims of the terrorists are Arabs in Muslim countries,” Federica Mogherini, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, said afterwards.
Ministers agreed that resolving open conflicts in the Middle East and dealing with crises in areas beyond the control of state authorities was crucial to stem the narrative of extremism that is attracting young people, Mogherini said.
“We need to improve relations with the Arab communities, to speak more Arabic, to better explain the Arab world, and to listen to the messages coming from the Arab world,” Mogherini said.
?No détente with Russia
Mogherini also played down the notion of any détente with Russia suggested in a paper circulated to governments in advance of the meeting.
The discussion paper – divulged by Reuters (15 January) – said the bloc might consider reviving joint efforts with Moscow in tackling problems with Syria and Iraq, Libya, Iran, North Korea as well as Ebola and the Palestinian issue.
Lamenting “negative spillover” from Ukraine into many areas of cooperation with Russia, and noting recent EU threats to step up penalties on Moscow, the paper suggested complementing that sanctions strategy with “a more proactive approach” to get Russia to change tack on Ukraine – a carrot as well as a stick.
Mogherini said that ministers were clear that there could be no consideration of lifting sanctions before the implementation of the Minsk agreements, a truce accord agreed in September involving Moscow, Kyiv and the pro-Russian rebels.
She insisted this did not rule out EU states engaging with Russia on issues where there were common interests such as energy and counter-terrorism.
But Mogherini said that foreign ministers agreed on the need to confront Russian propaganda efforts in Eastern Europe.
“We were all agreed completely on the need for more strategic information dissemination, not propaganda but counter-propaganda. A task force to support the freedom of media is under preparation together with Latvian presidency. We will come up with concrete steps,” said Mogherini.