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General Affairs and External Relations Council

Volume 464: debated on Thursday 11 October 2007

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 15 October in Luxembourg. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and I will represent the UK.

Before the Presidency opens the Council, they will update partners on the Intergovernmental Conference on the draft EU Reform Treaty. The IGC legal group concluded on 3 October and a new draft treaty text has been sent to Parliament.

The Council agenda items are as follows:

General Affairs

Reinforcing the EU's Disaster Response

The Council is expected to discuss civil protection capabilities following recent forest fires in Southern Europe. The Government support the existing civil protection mechanism and believe The EU should identify the lessons learned from the recent emergencies while considering the implications for future operation of the mechanism and of community civil protection arrangements more widely.

External Relations

EU-Russia Summit Preparations

The Council is expected to discuss the EU-Russia summit in Mafra on 26 October, which will include discussion of a wide range of international, regional and bilateral issues. The Government support the EU-Russia summit and have been actively involved in the preparations.

Chad and Central African Republic

The Council is expected to discuss Chad, including EU efforts to support stability in the wider region. The Council is likely to adopt conclusions on the deployment of a possible peacekeeping force to Chad and the Central African Republic under the European security and defence policy. The conclusions are also expected to reiterate the EU’s support for Darfur’s political process, in particular the peace talks in Libya starting on 27 October, rapid deployment of the UN/AU hybrid peacekeeping force, and the EU’s readiness to consider further measures against any party who obstructs this process.

Burma

The Council is expected to discuss recent developments in Burma. The Government want the EU to maintain pressure on the regime, including by agreeing a package of EU measures against the regime, while supporting a UN-led reconciliation process.

The Council is expected to adopt conclusions calling on the regime to engage with the UN while leaving open the threat of further measures should the regime continue to block progress towards reconciliation.

Zimbabwe

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will raise the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe, including the increasing humanitarian crisis, and ways the EU can promote and support a democratic process in Zimbabwe during elections in 2008.

Western Balkans

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Carla Del Ponte, is expected to brief the Council on Serbia’s cooperation with the ICTY. The June council Conclusions made clear that full cooperation by the Serb government with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia remains a requirement for the conclusion of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement. The Government fully support this position.

The Council is also expected to discuss ways in which the EU can support the negotiations on Kosovo’s final status and to adopt conclusions expressing full support for ongoing efforts by the EU/Russia/US Troika to reach agreement between Belgrade and Pristina on a status settlement. The Council is also expected to adopt conclusions on the signature of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Montenegro and expressing the EU's support for High Representative Miroslav Lajcak and his efforts to advance key reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Government fully support the conclusions.

Libya

External Relations Commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, is expected to update the Council on plans for an EU/Libya Framework Agreement. The Council is expected to adopt conclusions giving the Commission a mandate to take this forward. The Government believe the EU should move quickly towards a formalised relationship with Libya, which will help secure progress in areas of mutual interest, such as combating illegal migration.

Middle East

The Council is expected to discuss ways in which the EU can provide practical support to strengthen Palestinian institutions. The Government also believe the EU should urgently re-engage and expand the EU mission to support the Palestinian civilian police. The Council is expected to adopt conclusions emphasising support for the international meeting hosted by the US in November and reiterating the importance of continued humanitarian support to Gaza.

The Council is likely to discuss Lebanon in light of the political tensions surrounding the Lebanese parliamentary elections and the recent assassination of the MP Antoine Ghanem on 19 September. The Council is expected to adopt conclusions on Lebanon, which the Government support, condemning the assassination of MP Antoine Ghanem and urging agreement on a consensus presidential candidate through dialogue. The conclusions are also likely to welcome the end of fighting between the army and extremist militants in the Nahr Al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, and support Lebanon’s reconstruction efforts in the damaged camp.

Iran

The Council is expected to discuss steps the EU can take to support the agreed twin track international approach to the Iranian nuclear issue. This includes discussions between the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, and Ali Larijani, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, and incremental sanctions against Iran for continued defiance of the will of the international community, as set out in UN Security Council Resolutions 1696, 1737 and 1747. The Government support the twin track approach and believe it is important that the EU should consider appropriate measures to put pressure on Iran in parallel with the UN process.

Iraq

The Council is expected to discuss EU engagement with Iraq. The Government support work to improve EU initiatives in support of a secure and stable Iraq and welcome discussion of the EU’s financial, technical and political support, including to the Iraq Neighbours process. The Council is also expected to discuss steps to support the UN’s role as set out in UN Securitv Council Resolution 1723.

AOB: Economic Partnership Agreements

The Commission is expected to update the Council on discussion of the Economic Partnership Agreements at the Development Ministers Informal in Madeira on 22 September.