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General Affairs and External Relations Council

Volume 477: debated on Thursday 12 June 2008

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 16 June in Luxembourg. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will represent the UK.

The agenda items are as follows:

General Affairs

Preparation of the European Council on 19-20 June

We expect the June European Council to focus on the policy implications of high global food and commodity prices, including oil. We need a co-ordinated international response to the challenges posed, and to ensure that we do all in our power to maintain open markets, fair trade and sustainable economic growth. We will push for all partners to reaffirm their development commitments and give fresh impetus to the achievement of the millennium development goals. We expect some discussion of Lisbon treaty implementation, though we continue to stress that no decisions can be made prior to ratification of the treaty. We also expect discussions on freedom, security and justice, and will be pushing for Heads’ consideration of EU input into external relations priorities such as Western Balkans, Burma and Zimbabwe.

External Relations

Western Balkans

Kosovo, Serbia, and Macedonia will probably be the focus of discussion. On Kosovo, Ministers will discuss the adoption of the new constitution on 15 June and progress made in deploying the EU police and rule of law mission, EULEX. The Government continue to support the reconfiguration of international presences in Kosovo, which should continue and intensify following the adoption of the new constitution. On Serbia, Ministers are likely to discuss the latest developments in ongoing coalition negotiations. The Government continue to hope a new Serbian Government will make further progress towards the EU. On Macedonia, Ministers are likely to discuss the recent elections and the reruns that will have taken place on 15 June. The Government are strongly concerned over incidents of electoral malpractice and violence and looks to the Macedonian Government to take the necessary action to prosecute those involved. It also hopes the new Macedonian Government will continue to press ahead with reforms needed to progress towards the EU.

In addition to discussion in these areas, Ministers will also sign Bosnia-Herzegovina’s stabilisation and association agreement. The Government welcome this progress and look forward to Bosnia and Herzegovina building on the agreement to advance reforms.

Middle East

Ministerial discussion is expected to focus on the situation on the ground in Gaza, the West Bank and southern Israel, highlighting the need for progress on the political process. Discussion may also focus on the EU’s relationship with Israel ahead of the EU-Israel Association Council which will be held the same day. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is expected to debrief partners on his 8-9 June visit to Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territories.

On Lebanon, the Government welcome the Doha agreement that brought an end to last month’s crisis in Lebanon. President Sleiman’s election provides and opportunity to rebuild political and economically in the interests of all communities in Lebanon. Agreement on a Government of national unity is a crucial next step.

The Government are committed to supporting the process initiated at Annapolis, which has put the Israelis and Palestinians on a path to real negotiations in 2008, leading to a final settlement of two states living side by side in peace and security.

Great Lakes

Conclusions on the Great Lakes region are expected to acknowledge the progress made towards peace in the region in recent months. The conclusions will emphasise member states’ duty to act to prevent support from reaching the Hutu FDLR militia. The Government recognise the role played by the FDLR in destabilising the region and firmly support such action by EU partners. The GAERC will also focus on the continued suffering caused by abuses of human rights in DRC and call for reform of the security sector in that country. Respect for the rule of law and an end to impunity for those guilty of the worst abuses of the civilian population are crucial. Embedding them is part of a wider effort to improve governance and security as DRC emerges from conflict.

Sudan

We expect detailed conclusions on Sudan, expressing concern over the recent fighting in Abyei, urging respect of the North-South comprehensive peace agreement. We also support conclusions that condemn the Justice and Equality Movement’s attack on Omdurman on 10 May. We supported discussion of further measures against any party impeding the Darfur peace process, blocking UNAMID aid or obstructing humanitarian access.

Zimbabwe

The Government expect the Council to discuss the current situation in Zimbabwe with particular focus on conditions on the ground in advance of the second round of elections and the continued escalation of state-sponsored violence.

Iran

We expect detailed discussion of Iran at this GAERC, following the visit of Javier Solana and E3 political directors to Tehran. Solana will brief on the trip and his delivery of the refreshed E3+3 engagement offer. Following the commitment at the December European Council to consider further EU action in light of a new UN Security Council resolution, the Government fully support the strengthening of EU sanctions and will continue to press partners to take a firm stand on this issue. We will be pressing for a robust EU implementation of UN Security Council resolutions in July in the form of a new common position.

China

The Government expect discussion of China to focus on the upcoming Olympics and attendance by EU Heads of Government/State. Following links made between the March violence in Tibet and calls to boycott the Olympics, the European Parliament has called for a common position on member state attendance; a call which the Government do not support. The Government will be stating that it is for individual member states to decide on Olympics attendance and that our position is clear; my right hon. Friend the Olympics Minister will attend the opening ceremony and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will attend the closing ceremony. The Government are opposed to boycotts of any part of the Olympics, whether at national or EU level.

WTO/DDA

Although discussion of this topic is not yet a certainty, it is likely to focus on the process of the Doha negotiations over the coming weeks. The Government expect partners to express a range of views both on the current state of the negotiations and on the content of the revised texts (issued on 19 May). The Government strongly support the negotiating process led by WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, and our objective at the GAERC will be to ensure continued member state support for the European Commission, in order that it can negotiate the best possible DDA deal in 2008.

Burma

The Council will discuss the current humanitarian and political situation in Burma. We will highlight the continuing severity of the humanitarian crisis, the need for continued pressure on the regime to live up to its commitments on access and the need for the EU and other donors to provide political and practical support to the UN, ASEAN and NGOs on the ground. We will also seek to draw the Council’s attention to the continued lack of political progress, the regime’s unacceptable decision to press ahead with its bogus referendum and to extend the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi by a further year.