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General Affairs and External Relations Council

Volume 485: debated on Monday 8 December 2008

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 8 December in Brussels. 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 11-12 December 2008

The Council will discuss the Presidency's draft agenda for the December European Council, which will be dominated by the EU’s response to the next stage of the economic downturn and the financial crisis. We can also expect substantial discussions on the 2020 climate change package. Other agenda items include the Lisbon Treaty ratification process, the Common Agricultural Policy, the European Security and Defence Policy and the Eastern Partnership.

The Government broadly support the presidency’s priorities for the December European Council. We welcome a continued co-ordinated response to the economic and financial crisis; and remain fully committed to reaching an ambitious agreement on the 2020 climate change package by the end of 2008. On the Common Agricultural Policy, we would not support any language that pre-empts the EU budget review.

Enlargement

We expect Ministers to agree Conclusions on EU enlargement that reconfirm the Council’s consensus in support of enlargement on the basis that the EU should stick to its commitments, apply conditionality fairly and rigorously, and improve communication. We expect Ministers to welcome the European Commission Communication of 5 November on enlargement strategy and progress reports for candidates and potential candidates. They will take stock of the progress of accession negotiations with Turkey and Croatia, urging both countries to redouble their efforts to implement the necessary reforms, given that the pace of the negotiations depends on this. In the case of Croatia the Commission has proposed a conditional road map for the conclusion of negotiations in 2009. We expect Ministers to express support for the forthcoming Czech Presidency’s plans for an event to mark the anniversary of the fifth wave of enlargement in 2004.

External Relations

World Trade Organisation (WTO)—Doha Development Agenda (DDA)

It now appears likely that a WTO ministerial on the DDA will be convened later in December. The discussion is likely to focus on the EU position and tactics ahead of the proposed ministerial. The Government expect partners to express a range of views on the likely outcome and success of the negotiations, reiterating in this context domestic concerns. Achieving agreement in the DDA remains the Government’s top trade priority and our objective at the GAERC will be to ensure Partners’ continued support for the European Commission, so that it can negotiate the best possible outcome for the EU.

Western Balkans

Discussion is likely to focus on Kosovo, and in particular deployment of the EU’s rule of law mission, EULEX. Kosovo has made clear its agreement to EULEX deployment while, following last week’s presidential statement in the UN Security Council, Serbia has also announced that it would support it. The Government believe EULEX should rapidly become operational throughout Kosovo.

Ministers are also likely to discuss Serbia’s progress towards the EU. The Government believes that Serbia has in recent months significantly improved its co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. While we would be happy for the EU to recognise that improvement—for example by allowing the entry into force of the “Interim Agreement”—we believe that Serbia will need to demonstrate full co-operation with ICTY before its stabilisation and association agreement with the EU can be ratified.

Middle East

The Council will discuss the renewed EU action strategy for peace in the Middle East, recognising the need for a comprehensive regional approach utilising the Arab peace initiative. Ministers will reaffirm the EU’s commitment to focus on supporting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and assisting Palestinian state building efforts.

We expect Council conclusions to: condemn all violence; urge a halt to new settlement activities; and call for an urgent improvement in the Gaza humanitarian situation, the release of Gilad Shalit and an increase in the numbers of Palestinian prisoners released.

The Council will confirm that the Middle East Peace Process is a top priority for the EU and will remain so into 2009, and urge the next US Administration to participate in early engagement on this issue.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Discussion is likely to focus on progress towards a political resolution of the conflict in eastern DRC. Ministers will consider how the EU can support the efforts of former President Obasanjo, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to the region. They are also likely to discuss ways of alleviating the very serious humanitarian consequences of recent fighting. As the CNDP militia—rebels loyal to Laurent Nkunda— retreats from positions it has captured recently, it is vital that humanitarian aid can reliably reach the people who need it. This requires appropriate military capacity and Ministers are likely to consider what role the EU can play in the augmentation of the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC).

Zimbabwe

We expect conclusions to condemn the ongoing failure to reach an equitable power-sharing agreement in Zimbabwe. We anticipate that the Council will express serious concern at the deepening humanitarian crisis and the rising incidents of cholera in Zimbabwe. The EU will reaffirm its commitment to the alleviation of suffering through the provision of aid.

Pakistan

We expect conclusions to welcome Pakistan’s return to democracy and commitment to step up measures to counter terrorism and extremism. We also expect Ministers to commit to further developing EU political dialogue in a number of areas including: trade and development; intercultural exchange; non-proliferation; human rights; counter-terrorism; and radicalisation and education. The Council will discuss how best to intensify political dialogue in line with EU commitments to enhance engagement with Pakistan. The Council will also acknowledge Pakistan’s request to initiate the process for an EU-Pakistan Free Trade Agreement and will commit to examining all the options aimed at enhancing trade relations.

European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP)

Ministers will consider efforts to improve the capabilities of the EU Member States; teaching partnerships with organisations such as NATO and UN; and ongoing EU operations, including the operation to improve maritime security off the coast of Somalia, which will be commanded by a British Rear Admiral from the UK’s multinational headquarters at Northwood. Ministers will also agree statements on increasing co-operation between the European Defence Agency (EDA) and the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR); a voluntary scheme for the exchange of young military officers; civilian and military capabilities; and on international security. The Government welcome this opportunity to underline the importance we attach to further improving the EU’s ability to stabilise countries emerging from conflict.

We also expect Ministers to approve a review by high representative Solana of the implementation of the European Security Strategy. The document is intended to complement—not replace—the 2003 Strategy which was the EU’s first high level security strategy. The review text focuses mainly on what has been achieved and what has changed. It highlights new threats to stability since 2003: climate change, energy security, globalisation, proliferation, cyber security, piracy. The Government can welcome the broad direction of the document and its key policy conclusions—greater coherence, engagement with the neighbourhood and capabilities.