Saturday, 23 August 2008

Who or what is Gymnich?

'Gymnich' format: "informal meetings of foreign ministers, with an agenda but without decisions." (full explanation below)

These days, from 5 to 6 September 2008, the foreign minsters of the European Union, the High Represantative for the Common and Defence Policy Solana (who by the way is also the Secretary General of the EU Council), and some members of the European Commission will come together for the semi-annual Gymnich meeting (see preliminary program).

Gymnich is a castle in the western part of Germany (see location) and earlier it was the guest house of the (West) German government, probably because the city of Bonn, the seat of the government during the division of Germany, is quite close. It was the place where the first informal EU foreign ministers meeting took place in 1974.

According to the website of the French EU-Council Presidency,
"[t]hese meetings are informal in that participants engage in free and in-depth discussion on a limited number of subjects, but they do not draw up any formal conclusions. Many current international affairs may be raised such as the Middle East and EU relations with its main partners and thus European policy for the coming months more effectively prepared."
This semester's meeting will be held at the Palais des Papes (Popes' Palace) and at the Petit Palais in Avignon (France). Delegations have been invited to come to Avignon by TGV from Paris, where (according to the French Presidency) they can already start informal discussions.

With regard to Gymnich meetings, Antonia Missiroli from the European Policy Centre recalled that
"what would become the CFSP was initially developed outside the Treaties - through the EPC framework - and only later inserted in the Single European Act (SEA) and in the Maastricht Treaty. It is worth recalling, too, that the 'Gymnich' format (informal meetings of foreign ministers, with an agenda but without decisions) has been preserved and resorted to even after that insertion."
And what I learnt from some other scholars is that
"[t]he external role of the Presidency was confirmed in 1974 by the so called 'Gymnich formula'. This provided that the Presidency, in the name of the member states of the Community, should take charge of the process of informing and consulting allied and friendly nations. In a similar way, the final communiqué of the Paris Summit of 1974, which established the European Council, specified that the Presidency should assume the function of a spokesman for the Nine and set out their views on international affairs."
So there is quite some history and meaning behind a simple foreign ministers meeting.

I suppose that the agenda has been set by the events in Georgia (see the last paragraph of page 2 of the conclusions of the recent EU Council meeting). Maybe our foreign ministers can figure out informally - with a bottle of Russian vodka or a glass of Georgian wine - how the Union's relations with the rest of the continent (including Russia) will develop in the coming month. But probably they won't.

Luckily, Gymnich meetings have no conclusions so nobody will realise it...