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Eu General Affairs Council

Volume 300: debated on Wednesday 12 November 1997

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will report on the outcome of the General Affairs Council in Brussels on 10 November. [15910]

At the General Affairs Council in Brussels on 10 November the nine A points in document 11996/97 were approved, and the EP resolutions of 20–24 October in document 11109/97 were noted. The texts will be placed in the House as soon as they become available.

The Commission presented a Communication on the future of ACP—EU relations which formed the basis for an orientation debate. This will help inform Commission drafting of an EU mandate for the renegotiation of the Lomé Convention. There was a general welcome for the way ahead set out by the Commission and in particular for the emphasis on poverty, enhanced political dialogue and integration of ACP economies into the world trading environment.

The Council took stock of discussions on enlargement and Agenda 2000. In particular, it considered the role of the Council in the Accession Partnerships of the reinforced pre-accession strategy. The Committee of Permanent Representatives will continue discussion this week.

The Council Secretariat introduced a paper on the incorporation of the Schengen Secretariat into the General Secretariat of the Council. It was agreed that the Schengen Secretariat would be invited to give its opinion on the matter, which will then be discussed further in the Committee of Permanent representatives, before returning to Council.

The Council held a preliminary discussion on the Council Secretary General's paper on implementation of the Declaration annexed to the Amsterdam Treaty on the creation of a Policy Planning and Early Warning Unit. There was wide support for the new CFSPD High Representative taking up his duties as soon as the Amsterdam Treaty is ratified; and for the new Unit to become operational at the same time. The Political Committee and Committee of Permanent Representatives were tasked to take forward detailed work on the Unit and to report back to the Council.

The Council discussed EU relations with Turkey. The Presidency announced its intention to arrange an informal ministerial meeting with Turkey on 24 November.

The Council discussed preparations for the forthcoming visit to the Middle East by the Presidency of the Council and Vice President Mann of the European Commission. The Council agreed on the importance of close co-ordination with the US Administration in support of US efforts to bring about a full resumption of negotiations in the Middle East Peace Process. It also agreed on the need for the Presidency to emphasise EU concerns about the effects of continuing Israeli settlement activity on the prospects for progress and about the postponement of the further redeployments of Israeli troops from Palestinian areas foreseen in the Hebron Agreement.

The Council considered a report from EU Special Envoy Moratinos on ways in which the EU might support agreement between Israel and the Palestinians on the opening of Gaza Airport, the construction of Gaza seaport and the establishment of the "safe passage" arrangements for Palestinians travelling between the West Bank and Gaza. The Council agreed that the report should be considered further at technical level.

The Council discussed negotiations between the EU and Switzerland in the light of new Swiss proposals on the question of land transport through the Alps. It was decided that the Committee of Permanent Representatives should report back to the Council on how the negotiations might be brought to a successful conclusion.

The Presidency reported on preparations and arrangements for the Employment Summit on 21 November.

The Council discussed EU/Albania relations. Ministers agreed that the 1992 Trade and Cooperation Agreement between Albania and the EC should be reactivated to help with the process of economic and political development. A Ministerial level Political Dialogue and official level Joint Committee under the Agreement might be held early in 1998.

The Council adopted a review of the situation in former Yugoslavia in the context of the conditionality in the EU regional approach; and a message to the people of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia setting out the EU' s policy. On Bosnia the Council supported the conclusions of the 6 November Steering Board and the High Representative's efforts to reform the Republika Srpska media.

Under any other business, the Council discussed ways of promoting observance by EU Member States of the eight common criteria on arms export agreed by the Council in 1991 and 1992. The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs drew partners attention to our intention to work during our Presidency for an EU Code of Conduct of Arms sales.

Sweden highlighted the opportunity presented by the entry into force 1 December 1997 of the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA) to tackle some of the irritants in the EU/Russia relationship. Ministers confirmed that a full discussion of the relationship would take place at the 24 November General Affairs Council in preparation for the inaugural Co-operation Council, to be held during the 8-9 December General Affairs Council.