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General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) (16-17 October 2006)

Volume 450: debated on Friday 20 October 2006

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, Sir John Grant (UK permanent representative to the EU) and I represented the UK at the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) in Luxembourg. My right hon. Friend, the Minister for Trade, Investment and Foreign Affairs and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development represented the UK for Trade and Development Ministers’ discussions.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

Trade Ministers

Ministers discussed progress on the Doha development agenda and regional trade agreements with Commissioner Mandelson over dinner.

Development and Trade Ministers

Doha Development Agenda

Commissioners Mandelson and Michel briefed Ministers on the latest state of play, emphasising this remained a top priority. It was important to move forward on achieving the development aspects of the agenda.

Economic Partnership Agreements

Commissioner Mandelson briefed Ministers on developments in trying to conclude economic partnership agreements with Africa, Caribbean and Pacific countries.

Aid for Trade

The Council adopted conclusions which re-emphasised the commitment made in 2005 for €2 billion a year to be made available for “Aid for Trade” by 2010, unconnected to progress in the WTO Doha development round. The initiative aims to build the capacity of developing countries to take advantage of trade opportunities that result from changes in trade rules and globalisation.

Development Ministers

Governance Issues in Development Policy

The Council adopted conclusions on governance. Over lunch Ministers discussed how the EU could ensure a coherent approach to governance and efforts to address corruption.

The Effectiveness of Development Aid

The Council adopted conclusions setting out the guiding principles for two aspects of aid effectiveness: complementarity and division of labour. In discussion, Council welcomed the push to improve complementarity and division of labour, and emphasised the importance of both volumes and quality of aid. Germany said it would continue work on complementarity and division of labour in its presidency.

AOB: Reform of the UN Development System

Mr. Thomas drew partners’ attention to the forthcoming report on UN reform by Kofi Annan’s high-level panel and pressed for continuing EU ministerial attention to UN development reforms. The presidency said it intended to offer recommendations to the December Council, based on the report’s findings.

Migration and Development

Over dinner, Ministers discussed migration agreeing that it was a key issue and that brain drain was a major concern for development: an important way to address this was to improve conditions in originating countries through development assistance.

Development and Foreign Ministers

Policy Coherence for Development

The Council adopted conclusions on integrating development concerns into Council decision-making. In discussion, Ministers agreed that further work was needed to improve policy coherence for development in order to help achieve the UN’s millennium development goals, particularly in light of the EU’s broader objective to strengthen its external policies. Germany said it would continue work on this area during in its presidency.

The EU Strategy for Africa

The Council agreed to move forward with the EU strategy for Africa, welcoming the progress report by High Representative Solana and Commissioner Michel. The Commission asked member states to report on national actions to help deliver the strategy. Ministers agreed to review implementation at the GAERC and European Council in December.

Foreign Ministers

Enlargement

Council conclusions welcomed the Commission’s report on Bulgaria and Romania, noting it supported EU entry for both countries on 1 January 2007.

Sudan/Darfur

Ministers noted the still deteriorating situation in Darfur and committed to continuing to provide support to the African Union mission in Sudan. Commissioner Michel reported on his visit to Sudan with the Commission President and their meetings with President Bashir. The Foreign Secretary briefed partners on the visit by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development on 16 October: the situation was critical and we had to maintain political pressure on Khartoum for transition to a UN force together with international partners. Ministers agreed conclusions setting out Council concerns and welcoming consultations between the AU and the Sudanese Government on transition to a UN mission.

Zimbabwe

Ministers exchanged views on the deteriorating situation and agreed on the need for continued engagement with African partners to promote reform in Zimbabwe.

Middle East

The Council adopted conclusions on the Middle East Peace Process, calling for an end to violence and restraint on both sides. It offered its support to President Abbas in his attempts to form a Government based on the Quartet principles and highlighted the need for progress on movement and access to improve the situation of ordinary Palestinians. It welcomed the expansion of the temporary international mechanism, which would provide support to an even greater number of vulnerable Palestinians. The Commission noted the importance of strengthening capacity within Palestinian institutions.

On Lebanon, Council conclusions welcomed the deployment of Lebanese Armed Forces and UNIFIL to the south, and noted the almost complete withdrawal of Israeli troops, calling on Israel to complete withdrawal as soon as possible. It offered its support to the Lebanese Government in asserting its authority across Lebanon and in taking forward political, social, economic and security reform.

Western Balkans

On Bosnia and Herzegovina, Council conclusions welcomed elections and looked forward to the formation of new Governments, emphasising also the need for progress on the reforms necessary to conclude negotiations for a stabilisation and association agreement.

On Serbia, conclusions welcomed the holding of the second EU-Serbia Troika and expressed willingness to move forward with stabilisation and association agreement negotiations once Serbia achieved full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

On Kosovo Ministers agreed on the need to support UN special envoy Marti Ahtisaari’s work. Conclusions called on the parties to work closely with special envoy Ahtisaari and welcomed preparatory work on a European security and defence policy mission to Kosovo.

Iran

High representative Solana briefed partners over lunch. Conclusions expressed deep concern that Iran has not yet suspended its uranium enrichment related and reprocessing activities as required by the International Atomic Energy Agency board and UN Security Council, and confirmed EU support for consultations on a new Security Council Resolution imposing measures under article 41 of the UN charter.

Georgia/Russian Federation Relations

Ministers discussed the recent escalation of tensions between Georgia and Russia and agreed conclusions expressing grave concern at the measures adopted by Russia and calling for restraint from both sides. The Council also reaffirmed the EU’s willingness to work with both sides to facilitate mutual confidence building and contribute to a peaceful resolution of the crisis.

North Korea

Ministers discussed North Korea over lunch and agreed conclusions condemning the test, committing the EU to fully implementing the provisions of all relevant UNSC Resolutions, notably 1718 and 1695 and urging North Korea to return to the six-party talks, to comply with its NPT obligations and sign and ratify the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty.

EU-Ukraine Relations

Poland raised relations with Ukraine under AOB, including in the context of the European neighbourhood policy. The EU-Ukraine summit will be held in Helsinki on 27 October.