To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the outcome was of the General Affairs and External Relations Council held on 19 to 20 May; what the Government's stance was on the issues discussed, including its voting record; and if he will make a statement. 
The information is as follows:
Outcome of the 19–20 May General Affairs and External Relations Council
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I represented the UK at the General Affairs and External Relations Council in Brussels on 19 May. My noble Friend the Secretary of State for International Development represented the UK at Council discussions on development issues on 19 and 20 May. Following the signature of the Accession Treaty on 16 April, this was the first General Affairs and External Relations Council at which the 10 EU Accession States participated (as active observers).
Conclusions on the European Security and Defence Policy, Western Balkans, the Middle East Peace Process and Indonesia were agreed by consensus. No formal votes were taken during the External Relations session. At the General Affairs Session, the Presidency's compromise package on Reform of Staff Regulations was agreed by Qualified Majority Vote.
General Affairs Session
I represented the UK.
Preparation of the Thessaloniki European Council (20–21 June)
The Presidency noted that discussion at Thessaloniki would centre on the Convention on the Future of Europe, with Parts I and II of the draft Constitution being formally presented there. Ministers agreed that the Accession Countries should participate fully in the Inter-Governmental Conference later in the year. The new EU Treaty would be signed only after Accession was completed on 1 May 2004.
Reform of Staff Regulations
The Council agreed a compromise package by QMV on reform of staff regulations. The package's measures included promotions on merit rather than seniority and significant changes to the pension scheme, including for existing staff. Officials are finalising the remaining technical details before the final package is submitted to Ministers for approval at the 16–17 June GAERC.
Progress of Work in other Council Configurations
The Presidency gave a standard progress report on work in other Councils. There was no discussion.
The Role of Gender in External Relations
The Presidency presented a paper on integrating gender considerations across the full range of the EU's external relations policies ("gender mainstreaming").
External Relations Session
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary represented the UK.
The Council discussed Iraq within the context of negotiations in New York on draft UNSC Resolution 1483. The UK, France, Spain and Germany briefed Partners on the state of play and looked forward to the possibility of early agreement. Commissioner Patten said the Commission was in contact with the UN and World bank about a needs assessment in Iraq. The EU was already providing significant humanitarian assistance and was looking at how to provide assistance for reconstruction. The Council decided not to agree conclusions on Iraq, given that events were moving forward quickly both in Iraq and in the Security Council.
The Council agreed that early implementation of the Road Map was essential. The Secretary of State said that a peaceful resolution of the Arab/Israel conflict would contribute to curbing terrorism, but that it was clear the terrorists did not want progress on the Road Map, or for Abu Mazen to succeed. Ministers agreed that UN Security Council endorsement of the Road Map would be helpful.
Foreign and Defence Ministers agreed conclusions on the development of military and civilian capabilities for crisis management within the framework of the European Security and Defence Policy. Ministers also endorsed the annexed report on capability development.
EU Operation Commander Admiral Feist reported on the first seven weeks of operation CONCORDIA, stressing the coherence of EU-NATO activity. He reported that a mid-term review would be carried out in June to examine options for mission termination or continuation beyond 30 September.
Commission Communication on the Defence Industry
Commissioner Patten set out Commission thinking on the European defence equipment market and how this could better support ESDP. In making his presentation, Commissioner Patten acknowledged the essential interests of member states in the military field. The High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana said the European defence industry had already largely been restructured, but that the EU could contribute to its consolidation as the Commission had suggested. Certain Community instruments, provided that they respected the special status of the defence sector, could help strengthen the European defence market.
The Presidency invited Partners' views on how the EU could increase assistance to the Western Balkans. The Commission said that it would publish its proposals for the Thessaloniki European Council on 21 May. These would include looking at ways to enrich the Stabilisation and Association Process in the Western Balkans.
The Council adopted conclusions that included welcoming the recent the conduct of Presidential elections in Serbia and Montenegro; urging the transfer of all remaining ICTY indictees to the Hague; stressing the need for all parties in Kosovo to avoid any unilateral act that would jeopardise stability in the region; and encouraging all political parties in Macedonia to honour their commitment to fully respect the Ohrid Framework Agreement and its principles.
EU/Russia Summit Preparation
The Presidency updated the Council on negotiations with Russia on a joint statement for the 31 May Summit. A joint statement has since been agreed.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Over lunch, Javier Solana reported that UN Secretary General Annan had asked whether the EU could play a part in helping to stabilise the situation in Bunia, Ituri region, North Eastern DRC. Ministers agreed that officials should begin work on a possible mandate and identify countries willing to become contributing nations.
Council Conclusions expressing concern about the breakdown of negotiations and the outbreak of violence in Aceh were agreed without discussion.
Terrorist Attacks in Saudi Arabia
The Council agreed that the Presidency's statement condemning the attacks in Saudi Arabia should be reissued as formal Council Conclusions.
Terrorist Attacks in Casablanca
Ministers agreed a Presidency Declaration on the terrorist attacks in Casablanca on 17 May.
ECOWAS/Cote D 'Ivoire
The Netherlands highlighted the need for further funding for the ECOWAS peace monitoring force in Cote D'Ivoire.
Development Issues Session
My noble Friend the Secretary of State for International Development represented the UK.
No formal votes were taken. Conclusions on migration and development, the role of non-state actors in development, the follow-up to the Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development, untying of aid and the establishment of an EU Water Fund were agreed by consensus.
The Commission outlined its plans for humanitarian assistance in Iraq. Baroness Amos briefed partners on developments at the UN. All were agreed on the UN taking the leading role on humanitarian assistance, with the EU and bilateral donors working through or alongside the UN agencies. The Presidency concluded that the financial implications for the 2004 budget should be considered.
EU Water Fund
The Council agreed Conclusions taking note of the Commission's proposal for an EU Water Fund as a part of the implementation of the EU's pledges at the World Summit for Sustainable Development. The Conclusions invited the Commission to bring forward specific proposals for further discussion by the Council. The EU Water Fund will be designed to increase resources for the water sector in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.
Reproductive Health and Poverty Diseases Regulations
Two regulations on aid for policies and actions on reproductive and sexual health rights and on aid to combat poverty diseases (HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis) in developing countries were agreed. The regulations will be adopted as an A point at the GAERC on 17–18 June.
Follow up to Monterrey
The Council agreed Conclusions on the Commission's progress report on the EU's Monterrey commitments. Ministers welcomed the good progress towards meeting the EU's commitments and most, including Baroness Amos, stressed the need for further progress on harmonisation of donors' approaches and coherence among the EU's external policies. A number of Ministers from the Accession Countries highlighted their commitment to the process but noted that they would need time to achieve the Monterrey targets.
Untying of Aid
The Commission welcomed the Council's consensus on the untying of Community aid, a Monterrey priority. Discussion of the Conclusions on the Commission Communication on untying of development assistance focused on whether to include a reference to untying bilateral assistance of member states. Although most member states, including the UK, favoured this, the Council was unable to reach consensus.
Commission Programme of Action/Reform of the Management of External Action
The Council welcomed the Commission's 2003 Programme of Action and its efforts to reform the management of external actions, including development assistance. The Council agreed that poverty reduction must remain the main objective of EC development assistance, both in low and middle-income countries but recognised that certain new initiatives following from international conferences or from new internal EU concerns would need to be taken into account.
The Commission noted that the main problem in reforming the management of external action remained the spending backlog, mainly for the European Development Fund, and for Asia and Latin America. The Council encouraged the Commission to continue its reform efforts. While recognising that progress had been made to reduce delays in decision-making and implementation, the Council considered that the level of outstanding unpaid commitments could be further reduced. Baroness Amos looked forward to a first response to the UK's reform proposals before the July Budget Council, and a further discussion by Development Ministers in the autumn.