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G7 in Lübeck

Bettina Marx / sgb April 14, 2015

Foreign ministers of the G7 nations are meeting in Lübeck. Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier began by signing the book of condolence for Günter Grass, but serious business awaits him, DW's Bettina Marx reports.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, G7 Außenministertreffen in Lübeck
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Rehder

The northern German city of Lübeck fell under an off-white veil of clouds. The weather forecast promised the sun by late afternoon but failed to deliver. The picturesque Hanseatic port seemed somewhat melancholic, as if in mourning for its great son Günter Grass, who had died the day before.

The city streets were deserted. Hardly a car ventured into the compact city center; buses stopped running, shops were deserted, only a few pedestrians were out and about.

Instead, there are plenty of police. Some 3,500 officers are here to protect the ministers of the seven largest industrialized countries who have gathered here for their two-day conference. But at noon there was only a small group of demonstrators in the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The mostly young people carried red flags and banners in protest against the proposed free trade agreement with the US. A sound truck bore the slogan, "This is our city, not your backdrop." A young speaker on the truck bed criticized the policies of the industrialized countries toward the countries of the Third World.

Just warming up

At the same time, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini met with young people from Germany and elsewhere in a so-called "G7 Warm-Up" to discuss the policies of the European Union. Previously they had visited the home of the late Günter Grass and added their names to the book of condolences.

G7 Außenministertreffen in Lübeck
Steinmeier in LübeckImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Schreiber

The students asked the two politicians about arms exports, the future of Greece, development assistance and social justice. Steinmeier talked about the European Union, the lessons to be learned from Europe's bloody history, his commitment to nuclear disarmament and the situation in Ukraine.

"None of us thought it possible that we could experience such a thing seven decades after the Second World War," he said, unable to conceal his concern over the ongoing crisis.

He said he had not thought it possible that borders in Europe could be altered. "There are lines that must be drawn, even in conflict," he explained. Russia's annexation of the Crimea had crossed this line, he said.

Threats and opportunities

Mogherini added that there was now a big question mark over security. Threats included economic problems, armed conflicts and terrorism. She warned against talk of a Greek exit from the euro in response to Athens' financial problems and called for more flexibility and patience in dealing with the troubled country.

EU Außenministertreffen in Riga
EU foreign policy chief, Federica MogheriniImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Valda Kalnina

Steinmeier and Mogherini also praised the nuclear negotiations with Iran, saying important progress had been made in Lausanne. If an agreement with Tehran succeeded, it would be a great success in disarmament efforts, Steinmeier said. Mogherini added that she hoped that an agreement would lead to an opening of Iran and the liberalization of life in the country.

Man overboard

The G7 foreign ministers will be talking for just under 24 hours in Lübeck. The meeting is intended to set the groundwork for the G7 summit of heads of state and government in Bavaria in June. But for now, the ministers from the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada will focus on the crisis in Ukraine and the situation in the Middle East.

In addition, the German G7 presidency will also put forward two initiatives of its own. It wants more attention to be paid to the African continent - in particular, what lessons can be learned from the Ebola crisis and how such diseases may be preventable or manageable in future.

The German government also wants to put maritime security on the agenda for the first time. Around 90 percent of world trade is transported by sea, three-quarters of it on routes that pass through sensitive or critical regions, German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schäfer said shortly before the meeting began. Steinmeier, therefore, hoped the G7 ministers would adopt a declaration on maritime security in Lübeck.

US Secretary of State John Kerry had to fly to Washington for a hearing on the Iran negotiations and will not be meeting his counterparts until the second day. He will then brief them on the status of the nuclear talks.