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EU Foreign Ministers

Volume 474: debated on Thursday 3 April 2008

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary represented the UK at the informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers (“Gymnich”) in Brdo, Slovenia on 28 and 29 March 2008.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

Middle East Peace Process

The Presidency and High-Representative Solana briefed Ministers on recent developments in the region. Ministers reiterated their commitment to the Annapolis process, and agreed that the EU, in its capacity as a member of the Quartet, should continue to focus on practical efforts to support the political process. The EU should focus particularly on continuing its work on Palestinian economic development and security sector reform, including capacity-building measures within the judiciary and police.

Ministers shared concern about Syria’s policies in the Middle East and concluded that the EU needed to speak with one voice to Syria. While Ministers recognised Syria’s importance in helping to resolve the conflict in the Middle East, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary emphasised the need to send a clear message that Syria’s continued interference in Lebanon was unacceptable. He also called for the EU to do all it could to continue to support the Lebanese Government.

Russia

Ministers discussed how to take forward EU-Russia cooperation under the Medvedev administration. Ministers agreed that the relationship was strategically significant, not just in the context of economic sectors such as energy, but with regard to issues in the common European neighbourhood and promoting security and stability more broadly. The majority view was that swift progress on a mandate to open negotiations on a successor Partnership and Co-operation Agreement with Russia would therefore be useful in providing a framework for the relationship. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary underlined the importance of maintaining EU unity when dealing with Russia.

Western Balkans

In a joint session with colleagues from the Western Balkans countries, Ministers focused on the region’s prospects for joining the EU. The presidency’s subsequent statement, which the Government broadly support, emphasised that it was important for the Western Balkans countries to make rapid progress on political and economic reforms, reconciliation and protection of ethnic minorities; welcomed the Commission’s Communication on the Western Balkans; and called upon the EU to reaffirm its commitment to the success of enlargement within the region, so long as those countries aspiring to EU membership meet the established criteria.

Tibet

Ministers stressed their strong concern over events in Tibet. They stated that the EU condemned all violence and called for it to cease, while asking that those arrested be treated in conformity with international standards; wished to uphold the transparency of information and free access by the press to Tibet. Ministers also noted the Dalai Lama’s recent public commitment to non-violence and to the autonomy not independence of Tibet; and called for substantive and constructive dialogue that addressed core issues such as preservation of the Tibetan language, culture and traditions. The Government supported this position.

Intercultural Dialogue

Ministers discussed the release of “Fitna”, a controversial short film on Islam, by the Dutch MP Geert Wilders. They reaffirmed that the right of freedom of expression was a basic value of the EU but stressed the importance of respect for others’ religious beliefs.