Timmermans and Slovak counterpart Lajčák looking forward to EU Presidency in 2016

In Bratislava on Wednesday, foreign minister Frans Timmermans met with his counterpart Miroslav Lajčák. The Netherlands will hold the EU Presidency in the 1st half of 2016 and Slovakia will take over in the 2nd half of the year. 'It's good to talk now, so that we can take a joint approach to the EU agenda,' Mr Timmermans said. 'Together we can work to ensure that both our Presidencies are a success.'

The meeting covered the situation in Ukraine and the Middle East, as well as human rights and the modernisation of the Dutch diplomatic service.

Mr Timmermans touched on the Netherlands' contribution to the International Visegrad Fund, which is aimed at strengthening democracy and civil society in the countries on the EU's eastern borders. Half of the money will be earmarked for Ukraine.

The ministers' discussion of Ukraine included the effect of the crisis on the energy market. Slovakia is a key transit country for Russian gas piped through Ukraine to Western Europe.

Mr Timmermans also expressed his reservations about the adoption of a controversial amendment to the Slovak constitution which will further frustrate attempts to legalise same-sex marriage. 'I am concerned that such measures will have a stigmatising effect,' the minister explained. 'We must continue urging that Slovakia also work to ensure equal rights for LGBTs.'

Mr Timmermans placed his concerns about the constitutional amendment in the wider context of EU cooperation. 'The European project is bigger than "Brussels" alone. Our Union promotes a set of norms and values, and one of them is tolerance.'

The minister also addressed the annual Slovak ambassadors' conference, where he told the assembled diplomatic corps about the Netherlands' experience of modernising its diplomatic service. 'We are not afraid to be open and show the world how our diplomats represent Dutch interests abroad,' he said.