On 27 - 28 March, Foreign Minister Maris Riekstins attended the EU informal meeting of foreign ministers (Gymnich), which took place in Hlubok near Vltava, in the Czech Republic. Among the issues on the agenda were the situation in the Middle East, the development of EU civil capability in the context of Europe's security and defence policy, and Belarus.
During the meeting the foreign ministers discussed EU strategy in the Western Balkans. There was also an exchange of views with ministers from the Western Balkan region about recent developments in the region, as well as about issues related to EU enlargement and accession negotiations by the candidate states.
In the exchanges of opinion on Belarus, Foreign Minister Riekstins observed that Belarus is a full member of the Eastern Partnership initiative and in this regard it is important for the EU to send positive signals to Belarus about its involvement in this new EU policy, including the Eastern Partnership summit meeting which has been planned for 7 May, currently in the process of preparation.
In debates about the EU strategy in the Western Balkan region, the Latvian Foreign Minister noted with satisfaction the Adriatic-Baltic-Atlantic meeting that took place in Riga earlier in the week. "Within the framework of this meeting, and also in bilateral talks, our Western Balkan colleagues have clearly expressed their wish and readiness to work intensively on continuing their reform path, however united support from the European Union is of crucial significance for the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of these countries," Minister Riekstins pointed out, underlining also that already in 2009 progress should be made in the relaxation of visa requirements. Foreign Minister Riekstins added that it is vital to achieve closer regional co-operation in the Western Balkans, and reiterated support for efforts by the EU in seeking a solution to the sea border dispute between Croatia and Slovenia, which has already affected the progress of Croatia's accession negotiations.
The aim of the informal EU foreign ministers meeting format is to provide an opportunity for open and in-depth debates and exchanges of opinion on current issues on the foreign policy agenda. These meetings, which are organized once per each term of EU Presidency, were named Gymnich after the castle in Germany where in 1974 this type of informal meeting of foreign ministers took place for the first time.