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General Affairs and External Relations Council

Volume 478: debated on Monday 23 June 2008

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and I represented the UK at the General Affairs and External Relations Council in Luxembourg.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

General Affairs

Preparation of the European Council on 19 and 20 June

Foreign Ministers discussed the agenda of the June European Council, including freedom, security and justice; the policy implications of high global food and oil prices; economic, social and environmental issues; the Western Balkans (covered separately below); and external relations issues, in particular the European neighbourhood policy; and the millennium development goals (MDGs).

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary broadly supported the draft European Council conclusions on food and oil prices, and called for the reiteration of commitments on carbon capture and storage. He also supported the text on MDGs, but asked that it include both the full text of the overseas development aid targets agreed at the Development Council in May and language supporting the EU Agenda for Action on the MDGs.

Ministers discussed follow-up to the Irish referendum on the Lisbon treaty. I refer hon. Members to the statement that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made to the House on 16 June.

Foreign Ministers will meet at the European Council. The agenda will cover Kosovo, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Sudan, China/Tibet and transatlantic relations.

Presentation of the draft three-Presidency 18-month programme

France, Sweden and the Czech Republic presented a programme setting out the joint priorities for their presidencies, running from July 2008 to the end of 2009. These priorities included reassessing the EU budget; climate change; ensuring secure, competitive and environmentally sustainable energy; implementing the Lisbon strategy for jobs and growth; promoting the EU’s competitiveness; sustainable development; reviewing the common agricultural policy; developing an area of freedom, security and justice; enlargement; the Western Balkans; strengthening relations with the EU’s eastern and southern neighbours; the relationship with Africa; the European security strategy and meeting the MDGs. The Government broadly support the programme.

External Relations

Western Balkans

Ministers agreed Council conclusions, which the Government support, reiterating the EU’s commitment to the Western Balkans’ European perspective and encouraging the countries of that region to meet the necessary conditions. The Council also condemned the violence during the 1 June elections in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), and regretted shortcomings in the conduct of those elections. It called on the authorities to investigate these incidents and take appropriate action.

Ministers also discussed draft European Council conclusions on a range of Western Balkans issues and signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), which the Government welcome. The Council encouraged BiH to sustain the reform momentum by implementing the agreement and the priorities set out in its European partnership. Ministers further welcomed visa liberalisation roadmaps setting out requirements for Western Balkans countries working towards visa-free travel to the Schengen area. These do not impact on the UK, which is not a party to the Schengen agreement.

Lack of time prevented discussion of Kosovo, which Foreign Ministers agreed to cover at the June European Council.

Middle East

Ministers discussed the state of play on the middle east peace process and the EU-Israel Association Council, which met in the margins of the GAERC.

Great Lakes

Ministers approved without discussion conclusions that acknowledged the progress made towards peace in the region in recent months; and reaffirmed the EU’s contribution to reform of the security sector in DRC through two ESDP missions and commission activity, which will help protect civilians by curtailing human rights abuses, upholding respect for the rule of law and ending the culture of impunity.

Sudan

International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Ocampo briefed Ministers on the ICC’s activities concerning Sudan. Ministers adopted Council conclusions that reiterated the EU’s support for the work of the ICC, deeply deplored the Government of Sudan’s continued non co-operation with the ICC and noted that the Council stood ready to consider measures against individuals responsible for not co-operating, should the obligation under the UNSC Resolution 1593 on co-operation with the ICC continue to be disregarded. The conclusions expressed concern over the recent fighting between north and south Sudan armed forces in the disputed border region of Abyei, welcomed the Abyei Roadmap agreed on 8 June, and called on both sides to fulfil the obligations under the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA). The conclusions condemned the justice and equality movement’s attack on Omdurman on 10 May; reiterated the Council’s readiness to take further measures against any party impeding UNAMID, obstructing humanitarian access, or failing to constructively engage in the Darfur political process; and called on the Governments of Chad and Sudan to adhere to the Dakar agreement.

Somalia

Ministers approved without discussion Council conclusions that reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to a comprehensive and sustainable approach for a settlement of the Somali crisis; reiterated the urgent need to continue the momentum of an inclusive dialogue for a sustained political solution; welcomed UN Security Council Resolution 1816 of 2 June 2008 on acts of piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia; and commissioned work on options for implementing all commitments contained in the Council conclusions of 26 May, as well as contributing to the implementation of UNSCR 1816.

Zimbabwe

Lack of time prevented discussion of Zimbabwe, which Foreign Ministers will now cover at the June European Council.

Iran

High Representative Solana briefed Ministers on his visit to Tehran on 14 and 15 June, during which he presented an updated package of proposals to the Iranian authorities, on behalf of France, Germany, the UK, China, Russia, the US and the EU.

China

Ministers briefly discussed dialogue between the Chinese authorities and representatives of the Dalai Lama, welcoming the renewal of talks.

Georgia

High Representative Solana briefed Ministers on his visit to Georgia on 5 and 6 June, where he discussed Abkhazia. Ministers broadly agreed that the EU should make a practical contribution to confidence-building measures.