German foreign minister Heiko Maas emphasized the need to achieve coherence in the European Union's foreign policy on Monday after a meeting with the foreign ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in Tallinn.
Speaking at a press conference in Tallinn, Maas said: "The European Union will only be strong if all 27 countries speak with one voice and represent their common interests together, although from time to time this may be difficult to achieve."
Earlier at the conference Mass had said: "We are discussing how to strengthen the European Union's foreign policy and how to be an equal player to China and the United States, not being a ball in their playing field.
"We are seeing in the European Union how China, and others to, are trying to single out European countries and to pursue a separate policy with them. But we would like to present a common front."
Maas met the Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics, Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevicius and Estonian minister Urmas Reinsalu in Tallinn after a four month delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic. They discussed foreign and security policy and Germany's goals for the presidency of the European Council, including Turkey and Brexit. The meeting is an annual event.
U.S troops in Europe
Speaking about the rumors that U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Germany, the three Baltic ministers said they would prefer it if there were more U.S. troops in Europe not less.
Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu said: "We would be happy to host American troops but not at the expense of other European countries. This should come in the framework of NATO, not at the expense of friends and allies in Europe."
Rinkevics and Linkevicius both agreed with Reinsalu's comment.
Rinkevics said the European Union also need to work on its transatlantic relations: "There are sometimes disagreements but still we believe the transatlantic security relationship is absolutely needed for the security of Europe."
Linkevicius called transatlantic relations "irreplaceable".
Nord Stream 2
Maas was asked by a journalist at the conference about Germany's view on Nord Stream 2, an oil pipe which carries oil from Russia to Germany. All three Baltic countries are against the construction of the second pipe which will be built on the bed of the Baltic Sea citing security concerns.
He said: "This is a project which we have discussed a lot in the European Union and it's clear for us that states have different opinions ... so exactly as in relation to Nordstream 2 and the gas directive in the European Union a compromise was reached, we should try to do the same here. We should engage in dialogue with European partners."
Maas also expressed support for the European Union's Eastern Partnership scheme, which strengthening ties with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.
As strengthening the European Union's foreign policy is a priority for Germany during its council presidency Maas said: "We would like to keep supporting civil society in countries which are our neighbours - this is clearly in our common interests."
Lithuania's Linkevicius said they see the potential to improve the Eastern Partnership and wants it to become "more dynamic and developed" in the future.
"This is the only project which is maybe challenged by others because of the choice of our partners, five out of six members of the Eastern Partnership programme have conflicts on their territories. Some of these conflicts because of that of European choice," he said referring to Ukraine.
All four countries agreed it was important to keep sanctions in place against Russia for the country's activities in Ukraine.
Maas said: "It's not only about continuing sanctions which are linked to developments in Ukraine, and that we all agreed on this. But we also need Russia in various conflict zones such as Libya and Syria so we need to continue a discussion with them but we need to do this on clear principles."
All three Baltic ministers also touched on Russia's recent misuse of history. Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote an article which said the Baltics willingly joined the Soviet Union, airbrushing out the occupation of the three countries.
Rinkevics said the ministers discussed the "bullying when it comes to our history" and said Russia's actions are "not [as much] about history as about the present and the future".
Reinsalu said it was important the European Union maintain a consistent and united policy towards Russia. He also said Georgia and Ukraine deserved strong support.
You can watch the whole press conference below.
Editor: Helen Wright