Skip to main content

Written Statements

Volume 450: debated on Friday 20 October 2006

Written Ministerial Statements

Friday 20 October 2006

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

I will be representing the United Kingdom at this month’s Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Luxembourg. The Scottish Environment and Rural Affairs Minister, Ross Finnie, will also attend.

The presidency will seek political agreement on Baltic sea total allowable catches and the effort control measures associated with total allowable catches and quotas for 2007.

There will be an exchange of views on the EC/Norway fisheries agreement for 2007 based on a presidency questionnaire.

The Council will also discuss the Commission’s communication on fishing opportunities for 2007.

The presidency will seek a ‘general approach’ (“general approach” being the term for an agreement reached before the European Parliament has issued its opinion) on the proposed regulation on definition, description, presentation and labelling of spirit drinks.

The Council will hold a policy debate on the Commission’s communication on the reform of the wine sector in the EU, structured around two questions posed by the presidency.

The Council will also hold a policy debate on proposals to simplify and improve the current regulations on organic farming, based on a presidency questionnaire.

Under “Any Other Business”, France will request information on the centralised management of expenses in the fishery sector. The Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner will provide a written update on the avian influenza H5N1 outbreak. The Agriculture Commissioner will update the Council on the outcome of a recent conference on the simplification of the common agriculture policy. The presidency will update the Council on the outcome of the Conference of Directors of EU Paying Agencies. The Netherlands and Denmark will raise concerns on the Commission’s proposed changes to the agricultural state aids rules.

Over lunch, the presidency will present its conclusions from the September Informal Agriculture Council discussions, which focused on the European Model of Agriculture and the future of European agriculture policy.

Local Air Pollution Control

Charges to cover the costs of local enforcing authorities in regulating processes which are subject to Part I of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (Local Air Pollution Control (LAPC)) were introduced in April 1991. Interim charges for installations which are subject to the Pollution Prevention and Control Act 1999 (Local Air Pollution Prevention and Control (LAPPC) and Local Authority—Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (LA-IPPC)) were introduced in August 2000.

With the approval of the Treasury to the extent required, and following consultation with local authority associations and industry, I have revised the scheme specifying the scale of fees and charges in respect of the Pollution Prevention and Control Act.

This amendment to the scheme specifies the scale of fees and charges for certain dry cleaning applications. Namely, an increase in the application fee that existing dry cleaners must pay from £134 to £200 with effect from 1 November 2006.

The basis of this increase is set out in the consultation paper, which is available on the DEFRA website at the following website address :

www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/drycleaners-pollutionfee/index.htm

Environment Council

I will represent the UK at the Environment Council in Luxembourg on 23 October.

At this Council, the Finnish presidency will be seeking political agreement on the proposed directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe, following the Council’s agreement on a general approach at the June Council. The directive, the first legal measure to be brought forward under the Commission’s Air Thematic Strategy of September 2005, consolidates and simplifies current EU ambient air quality legislation, retaining existing standards for pollutants in air, but gives member states several new flexibilities to help them comply with the legislation. The UK strongly supports the general approach text as it strikes the right balance between allowing member states some flexibility in meeting targets while achieving a net improvement in public health protection. The UK will continue to oppose the introduction of more flexibility which would make it easier to postpone obligatory standards for various pollutants.

The presidency will be seeking Council conclusions on three items. On climate change, the conclusions will serve as the negotiating mandate for this year’s COP/MOP in Nairobi in November, focusing on the scale and urgency of the climate change challenge while setting out priorities for the Nairobi meeting including adaptation, technology transfer and the various further action tracks. The UK will also be seeking to ensure that the conclusions reflect the emergence of the global carbon market and its important potential for leveraging funding for technology development and transfer, in particular emphasising that the EU emissions trading scheme (EU ETS) is the nucleus of this market and a key driver of its expansion.

Council will also be asked to agree conclusions on the preparations of the eighth conference of the parties to the Basel convention on the control of transboundary hazardous wastes and their disposal. The UK welcomes the inclusion of ship recycling in the Council conclusions, as we are keen that the issue of ship recycling remains on the agenda. The new convention being negotiated under the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is unlikely to enter into force for several years and interim measures are needed to improve environmental conditions at current ship recycling facilities.

The presidency will be seeking Council conclusions on the thematic strategy on the sustainable use of natural resources which forms part of the EU’s sixth environmental action programme. The UK supports the thematic strategy as a first step towards decoupling economic growth from the environmental impacts of resource use. The UK is particularly pleased to see strong links being made to the Commission’s proposed EU sustainable consumption and production (SCP) action plan, which we believe will be an important means of advancing this agenda.

The Council will hold a policy debate on the thematic strategy for the protection of the marine environment and the proposed marine strategy directive. Member states will be asked to consider whether the strategy and directive are adequate, whether an explicit definition of good environmental status (GES) is required in the directive and how to balance and strengthen national measures and regional co-operation. The UK supports an ambitious but realistic definition of GES in the directive. We would like the directive strengthened so that there is a requirement for the EU to take appropriate decisions or actions, within the framework of the common fisheries policy, where fishing is preventing a member state from achieving GES. We support regional co-operation, whilst recognising that implementation of a directive rests with individual member states.

Under “Any Other Business”, the first European congress of conservation biology, a ban on mercury exports from the EU and forest fires in Spain during the summer have been raised by member states. The presidency and the Commission will update Ministers on EU/third country meetings with: the EU/Russia Partnership Council on Environment; Korea; China; ASEM; and India.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

NATO Parliamentary Assembly

The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) has replaced the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) as a Member of the United Kingdom delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

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