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General Affairs and External Relations Council

Volume 459: debated on Friday 20 April 2007

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 23 April in Luxembourg. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will represent the UK.

The agenda items are as follows:

External Relations

World Trade Organisation/Doha Development Round

The Commission is expected to update the Council on its latest contacts, including the G4 ministerial in New Delhi.

Bilateral Mandates for Negotiations of Free Trade Agreements and Association Agreements

The Council is expected to agree mandates for the Commission to negotiate free trade agreements with the ASEAN countries, India and South Korea and Association agreements with the Central Americas and Community of Andean Nations.

Gulf Cooperation Council

Commissioner Mandelson is expected to brief the Council on progress on negotiations between the EU and the Gulf Cooperation Council on a free trade agreement.

EU-US Summit

The presidency is expected to brief the Council on preparations for the EU-US summit on 30 April including plans for a declaration covering political, economic and climate change issues. The Government support the presidency’s objectives for the summit, particularly its desire to move transatlantic cooperation on economic and climate security issues forward.

Sudan

The Council is expected to discuss recent developments in Sudan and will be briefed by UN Special Envoy for Darfur Jan Eliasson. Although the Government of Sudan have now accepted the second phase of the UN support for the African Union peacekeeping force, they have yet to accept the third phase, a hybrid African Union/UN force. The Government want the EU to maintain pressure on Khartoum to accept the full African Union/UN peacekeeping force as well as the ceasefire and reinvigorated political process agreed in Addis Ababa last November.

Zimbabwe

The Council is expected to discuss the situation in Zimbabwe and adopt conclusions that the Government will argue should condemn recent and ongoing human rights abuses and extend the EU’s visa ban list in response while welcoming the commitment of the Southern African Development Community to engage in efforts to resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe.

Somalia

The Council is expected to discuss the situation in Somalia and adopt conclusions expressing concern about the recent violence in Somalia and stressing the importance of implementing the UNSCR 1744 in addressing the political, security and humanitarian challenges in Somalia. The Government will stress the need for the EU to continue to work for full implementation of UNSCR 1744, particularly for the National Reconciliation Congress in Mogadishu to convene as soon as possible and for the rapid deployment of further elements of the African Union’s mission to Somalia.

Central Asia

The Council is expected to discuss the presidency’s plans for an EU Central Asia strategy and agree conclusions noting the second round of EU-Uzbekistan expert talks on Andizhan and the decision to establish a regular, results-orientated human rights dialogue with Uzbekistan.

The Government support the presidency’s plans to increase engagement in the region, which it will want to ensure reflects the EU’s human rights concerns.

Iran

The Council is expected to agree a common position implementing UNSCR 1747. The Government will underline Iran’s lack of progress against United Nations Security Council, International Atomic Energy Agency and EU benchmarks and the consequent need to maintain international pressure, which is beginning to prompt debate within the regime.

The high representative for the common foreign and security policy Javier Solana, is likely to brief the Council on contacts with Ali Larijani, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, as part of the EU’s agreed twin track approach.

Western Balkans

The presidency is expected to update the Council on the situation in the western Balkans.

The February Council conclusions set out the EU’s support for former President Ahtisaari’s proposals on Kosovo’s status and make the restart of stabilisation and association agreement talks with Serbia conditional upon concrete action by a new Serb Government on co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. The Government fully support this position.

Middle East Peace Process

The Council is expected to welcome the Arab League Peace Initiative and to extend the temporary international mechanism for support to the Palestinians for three months while setting out that the EU’s long-term goal is to resume direct budgetary assistance once there is a Palestinian Government whose policy and actions reflect the three Quartet principles. The Council should also highlight the importance of building the capacity of Palestinian institutions, a position the Government support as essential in achieving success in political negotiations.

International Moratorium on the Death Penalty

Italy has asked to discuss EU action to promote a global moratorium and eventual abolition of the death penalty. The Government fully support this important EU objective.