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General Affairs and External Relations Council

Volume 468: debated on Thursday 6 December 2007

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 10 December in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will represent the UK.

The agenda items are as follows:

General Affairs

Preparation of the European Council on 14 December

The Council will discuss preparation of the European Council on 14 December in Brussels. The Government expect the European Council to focus on discussions of the mandate for a “Reflection Group” (“Group of the Wise”), and the adoption by the Council of a Declaration on Globalisation. The presidency will seek, with the Government’s strong support, a signal from the European Council that, with the signing of the Lisbon treaty on 13 December, the EU now has a stable institutional framework for the foreseeable future and should focus on delivering concrete results for its citizens.

Discussion at the European Council is also expected to cover Justice and Home Affairs; a renewed commitment to the Lisbon Strategy for Jobs and Growth; energy and climate: change; and external relations where the Government’s priorities will be Kosovo and Iran.

2007 Enlargement Package

The Council is expected to take stock of progress on EU enlargement following the publication of the Commission’s enlargement strategy and progress reports on 6 November. The Government hope the Council will adopt conclusions reaffirming its commitment to enlargement on the basis of the conclusions of the European Council in December 2006, while welcoming the Commission’s reports and recommendations for further progress. This will encourage continuation of reform efforts by all the candidates and potential candidates.

External Relations

European Neighbourhood Policy

The Commission is expected to brief the Council on its latest communication on the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) which is likely to take stock of the progress made on ENP since last year’s communication, and to make proposals for how to take the policy forward. The Government endorses ENP as a vital framework for supporting our EU neighbours in implementing their political and economic reforms, and as a means of tackling common challenges such as economic integration, energy and climate change, terrorism and extremism, migration, and good governance, to the benefit of all member states.

Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs)

The Council will discuss the regulation implementing Economic Partnership Agreements in signatory African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACPs) from 1 January 2008. The Commission will also present a paper recommending options compatible with the World Trade Organisation for those non-least developed countries who are unable to conclude negotiations by the end of the year. The Government wants duty-free quota-free access for all ACP exports to the EU market and will work to ensure that countries who have showed willingness to engage in the negotiations are not worse off in January 2008.

Western Balkans

Discussion of the Western Balkans is expected to focus on Kosovo and will coincide with the end of the period of talks facilitated by the EU-US-Russia Troika. All indications are that Belgrade and Pristina will not have reached agreement on Kosovo’s status. The Government will be pushing for the EU to take a leading role in charting the way ahead after the talks, acting decisively to ensure that Kosovo’s status is rapidly resolved so that the whole region can move forward.

The Council is expected to adopt conclusions on enlargement and the Western Balkans. The Government support the EU perspective for the Western Balkans—it has driven key reforms and helped the region move forward from the conflicts of the 1990s.

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. The High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, is expected to brief the Council on his recent meeting with Saeed Jalili, Secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council, on 30 November.

Middle East

The Council is expected to welcome the progress made at the Annapolis Conference and to discuss the forthcoming Paris donors’ conference. The Council is also expected to adopt conclusions focusing on the Annapolis Conference and EU action in support, including work to strengthen Palestinian security capacity through expansion of the EU mission to support the Palestinian civilian police, and the Paris donors’ conference in December. The Government are committed to supporting the shared goal at Annapolis,

“to immediately launch good faith bilateral negotiations in order to conclude a peace treaty resolving all outstanding issues, including all core issues without exception, as specified in previous agreements.”

The Council is also expected to discuss Lebanon, following the departure of President Lahoud on 23 November. The Government remain concerned about the divisions between the Lebanese Government and the opposition over the election of a successor, which has been a major cause of tension in Lebanon. There now appear to be encouraging signs of progress.

The Council is expected to adopt conclusions urging a swift, peaceful and democratic outcome to the process. The Government welcome the EU’s sustained engagement on Lebanon and continues to support French efforts to facilitate a compromise between the Lebanese political parties.

Burma

Burma has been added to the agenda at the Government’s request in order to maintain EU focus on Burma and to support the work of the UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari and the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Sergio Pinheiro. The Government also want the Council to take stock of the continuing detailed, follow-on work on EU sanctions being undertaken following decisions at the October and November Councils.

Sudan

The Government want the Council to send a strong statement on Sudan-Darfur and Chad through conclusions reiterating the EU’s support for the ongoing UN-African Union (AU) led efforts to achieve a sustainable peace settlement in Darfur. The Government also expect the Council to call on all parties to do all they can to ensure prompt deployment of an effective AU-UN peacekeeping force, UNAMID, which will assume authority from the current AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS) by 31 December 2007, and to call for the early deployment of the planned EU mission to Chad and the Central African Republic.