My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary (Margaret Beckett), Sir John Grant (UK Permanent Representative to the EU) and I represented the UK at the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) in Brussels.
The agenda items covered were as follows:
Council's 18-month Programme. January 2007-June 2008
Ministers took note of a presentation by the incoming German and future Portuguese and Slovenian Presidencies on the Council's draft operational programme for the next 18 months.
The priorities include: the future of the Union; the Lisbon strategy for jobs and growth; strengthening the EU's area of freedom, security and justice; and enhancing the role of the EU externally in the areas of security, development and economic relations.
Preparation of the European Council on 14/15 December 2006
Ministers discussed the draft European Council Conclusions covering EU enlargement; Justice and Home Affairs; Innovation, energy and climate change; and external relations with Africa, Afghanistan and the Middle East.
The Council agreed Conclusions on Turkey such that eight chapters of the negotiations would not be opened and no chapter would be provisionally closed until the Commission verifies that Turkey has fulfilled its commitments related to the Additional Protocol to the Association Agreement. It also invited the Commission to report on this in its forthcoming annual reports, in particular in 2007, 2008 and 2009, as appropriate.
The Council also adopted Conclusions on Bulgaria and Romania, welcoming their accession on 1 January 2007, and on Croatia, welcoming the recommendations contained in the Commission's report of 8 November 2006.
Civil Protection Financial Instrument
The Council agreed a draft regulation to establish an instrument for the financing of Community action in the field of civil protection for 2007-2013.
Middle East Peace Process
High Representative Solana briefed the Council on his recent visit to the region.
External Relations Commissioner, Ferrero-Waldner, noted the three-month extension of the Temporary International Mechanism for aid to the Palestinian people.
High Representative Solana briefed the Council on his visit.
The Council agreed Conclusions on the Commission's progress reports on the Western Balkans and reaffirmed the EU's policy based on conditionality as set out in the Stabilisation and Association Process. This includes full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
High Representative Solana briefed the Council on recent discussions between the E3 and 3 (France, Germany, UK and China, Russia, US) on Iran's nuclear programme.
Code of Conduct
The Council discussed a draft common position defining common rules governing the control of exports of military technology and equipment. The draft common position builds on the EU code of conduct on arms exports introduced in 1998.
China arms embargo
The Council exchanged views on the China arms embargo.
The Foreign Secretary gave a brief readout of developments in the Alexander Litvinenko case, including related public health issues.
High Representative Solana noted that a joint Council Secretariat/Commission Fact Finding Mission was in Afghanistan to consider possible future EU activities in the Rule of Law sector.
The Commission reaffirmed its long-term commitment to reconstruction: it would pledge 150 million Euros per year for the period 2007-13.
The Council adopted Conclusions reaffirming the EU's ongoing support for Afghan reform and encouraging the Government of Afghanistan to fulfil their commitments under the Afghanistan Compact.
China Council Conclusions
The Commission welcomed the Council's endorsement of the recent Communication on China Negotiations with China on a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement would start in January 2007.
The Council adopted Conclusions on the EU's strategic partnership with China including collaboration on climate change and non-proliferation.
The Council agreed a draft decision amending ATHENA, the mechanism administering common costs of EU operations with military or defence implications.
The Council exchanged views under AOB, at Lithuania's request, on the proposal to temporarily withdraw Generalised System of Preferences from Belarus.