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General Affairs and External Relations Council

Volume 464: debated on Friday 19 October 2007

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, Kim Darroch (UK Permanent Representative to the EU) and I represented the UK at the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) in Luxembourg.

Before the Presidency opened the Council, it briefed Partners on the Intergovernmental Conference on the draft EU Reform Treaty, ahead of the European Council on 18-19 October. The UK was assured by the Presidency that the language in the Reform Treaty which allows national parliaments to challenge proposed EU legislation on subsidiarity grounds is permissive and contains no obligation, and that the Treaty text will be amended to reflect this.

The Government are content that all the UK red lines have been achieved and are reflected in the new draft Treaty text published by the Presidency on 5 October, a copy of which has been sent to Parliament.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

General Affairs

Reinforcing the EU's disaster response

The Council discussed the EU's response mechanisms, following the recent natural disasters in Europe. The Council invited the Commission to develop proposals on the basis of the lessons learned from the recent emergencies, which the Government support.

External Relations

EU-Russia Summit preparations

The Council discussed preparations for the EU-Russia Summit in Mafra on 26 October. Discussion at the Summit is expected to cover climate change, energy and international issues including Kosovo, the Middle East Peace Process, Iran, Afghanistan and Moldova. The Government support the EU -Russia Summit and have been working closely with Partners on the preparations.

Chad, Central African Republic and Sudan

The Council discussed the situation in the wider region, before agreeing a Joint Action on the proposed EU peacekeeping force in Chad and the Central African Republic (EUFOR Tchad-CAR), under the European Security and Defence Policy, supporting the multi-dimensional UN Security Council mandated presence by contributing to the protection of refugees and internally displaced people, and facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

The Council adopted Conclusions supporting ongoing efforts by the UN and African Union to resolve the conflict in Darfur and expressing the EU's commitment to improving the security situation in the wider region through the deployment of EUFOR Tchad-CAR. The Conclusions, which the Government fully support, expressed concern about the recent announcement by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement to suspend its participation in the Government of National Unity, and urged the continuation of regional dialogue to achieve reconciliation including full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

Burma

The Council discussed the deteriorating situation in Burma before agreeing a package of EU measures against the regime including a trade and investment ban in the timber, gems and precious metals sectors, which the Government fully support.

The Council adopted Conclusions condemning the violent use of force against the demonstrators and calling on the regime to engage with the UN-led reconciliation process while expressing the EU's readiness to review these measures in light of developments, with the threat of further measures if necessary —including a ban on future EU investment, as called for by the Prime Minister.

Zimbabwe

The Council discussed sending an envoy to Zimbabwe to report back on the economic and humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe. The Presidency and the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, is taking this forward.

Western Balkans

The Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) briefed the Council on Serbia's co-operation with ICTY.

The Council adopted Conclusions, which the Government support, welcoming the signature of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Montenegro and expressing the EU's support for High Representative Miroslav Lajcak and efforts to progress key reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina in particular police reform. The Council also expressed full support for efforts by the Troika (EU, Russia and US) to secure a negotiated settlement on the status of Kosovo.

Libya

The Council discussed Libya following the release of the medical workers sentenced to death in connection with the infection of children with HIV/AIDS in Benghazi.

The Council adopted Conclusions giving the Commission a mandate to open negotiations with Libya on a framework agreement in areas of mutual interest including illegal migration. The Government support the Commission's work in this area.

Middle East Peace Process

The Council adopted Conclusions, which the Government support, encouraging the continued dialogue between President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert, reiterating the hope that the meetings will lead to meaningful negotiations on final status. The Council Conclusions also expressed full support for the Annapolis meeting in November hosted by the US and stressed the importance of the EU: providing financial support to the Palestinian Authority as soon as possible; urgently re-engaging and expanding the EU Police Mission in the West Bank (EUPOL CORPS); and opening the crossings into Gaza.

The Council adopted Conclusions on Lebanon condemning the assassination of MP Antoine Ghanem and urging agreement on a Presidential candidate through dialogue.

Iran

The Council discussed ways the EU could contribute to international efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue, which include the E3+3-led (UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and US) twin-track diplomatic approach supported by the Government, offering Iran a substantial package of benefits if they co-operate, but incremental UN sanctions if they continue to defy international law.

The Council adopted Conclusions which fully reflect the Government's position, reiterating its support for the efforts by the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, to encourage Iran to return to talks on a long-term solution, and calling for Iran's full and timely implementation of all measures required by or agreed with the International Atomic and Energy Agency, while expressing the EU's intention to consider what additional measures it might take to support the UN process and the shared objectives of the international community.

Iraq

The Council reaffirmed its commitment to supporting the Government of Iraq to bring stability, security and prosperity to all of its citizens. It discussed ways in which the EU could enhance its engagement with Iraq, including through supporting implementation of the UN's role as set out in UN Security Council Resolution 1723; building the capacity of central institutions; and providing humanitarian assistance. The Government welcome this discussion and support deeper EU engagement in Iraq.

Democratic Republic of Congo

The Council discussed the deteriorating situation in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

AOB: Economic Partnership Agreements

The Commission briefed the Council on developments in the Economic Partnership Agreements with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.