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General Affairs and External Relations Council

Volume 485: debated on Monday 15 December 2008

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary represented the UK at the General Affairs and External Relations Council in Brussels.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

General Affairs

Preparation of the European Council on 11and 12 December 2008

The presidency said that the December European Council would concentrate on the economic and financial crisis, the 2020 climate change package and the Lisbon treaty.

On the economic and financial crisis, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary noted the importance of the discussion at the December European Council, in particular on the need for fiscal stimulus.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary also noted that agreement of the 2020 package was important in order for the EU to continue to lead global efforts against climate change.

The Government broadly welcome the presidency’s agenda and strongly support their intention for Foreign Ministers to discuss the middle east in the margins of the European Council.

Enlargement

Ministers agreed GAERC conclusions on EU enlargement that: reconfirmed 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; welcomed the European Commission Communication of 5 November on enlargement strategy and progress reports for candidates and potential candidates; and took stock of the progress of accession negotiations with Turkey and Croatia, urging both countries to redouble their efforts to implement the necessary reforms.

External Relations

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

The presidency recalled the November statement by the G20 on the need to make progress by the end of the year. The UK spoke in support of the Commission’s efforts in negotiating on behalf of the EU and noted that the financial crisis made a deal now more valuable than in July; it was important as a demonstration that member states could act on the G20 statement and provide a global response to a global problem. The presidency noted that if, as expected, a WTO ministerial were called later in December, the GAERC would meet in a parallel special session, as it did during the last ministerial in July.

Western Balkans

Ministers welcomed the deployment of the EU’s rule of law mission, EULEX, which began operating throughout Kosovo on 9 December 2008. They also approved conclusions, which the Government support, largely sharing the assessments in the Commission’s progress reports for Western Balkans countries.

The Council welcomed the Commission’s intention to present a study in autumn 2009 that will examine ways of taking forward Kosovo’s European perspective in line with the European Council conclusions of December 2007 and June 2008.

Ministers also recognised Serbia’s progress in improving co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), while reiterating the requirement for full co-operation. Ministers also underlined the importance of Serbia taking a constructive approach to regional co-operation. They highlighted again that Serbia had the capacity to accelerate its progress towards the EU, including attaining candidate status, once the necessary conditions had been met.

Ministers once again expressed concern at the political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They urged Bosnian leaders to address themselves to the reforms necessary for the country to move towards the EU and to meeting the objectives and conditions needed for closure of the Office of the High Representative. The EU would need to strengthen its role in Bosnia.

Middle East

Ministers adopted conclusions that reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to supporting the Middle East Peace Process into 2009 through a comprehensive regional approach. In particular the EU condemned all violence especially in Gaza and rocket attacks against civilians. The conclusions urged a halt to settlement activity and call for the improvement of the humanitarian situation in Gaza with the reopening of crossing points. The European Union also expressed support for the Egyptian mediation efforts for Palestinian reconciliation and welcomed efforts by the Arab League to put the Arab Peace Initiative back on the table.

The Council also approved in principle the building up of relations between the EU and Israel, while insisting that this deepening of relations encourage the Israeli authorities to do more to improve living conditions on the ground in the Palestinian authority and contribute to advancing the peace process. At the same time, Ministers welcomed the deepening of the EU’s relations with the Palestinian authority and looked forward to further progress, including the possibility of a Summit.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

The Council agreed conclusions that reiterated its support for efforts by the UN Mission in DRC (MONUC) on the ground and encouraged it to continue to strengthen its deployment in North Kivu; welcomed the adoption on 20 November of UN Security Council Resolution 1843 authorizing the expansion of MONUC; took note of the UN Secretary-General’s request to High Representative Solana for an interim European military force to support MONUC; and asked Solana and the Commission to prepare rapidly elements for a technical, humanitarian and political response, taking into account comments submitted.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary expressed a desire to see continued EU engagement in the DRC; any specific options required further study.

Zimbabwe

The Council conclusions, which the Government strongly supports, reiterated the EU’s deep concern at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe, particularly as a result of the cholera epidemic and the continuing violence against supporters of the MDC; and recalled the importance of reaching a fair and viable power sharing agreement without delay; and demanded respect for the principles of humanitarian aid and, in particular, respect for the principle of impartiality and equal access to humanitarian aid for the entire Zimbabwean population.

The Council extended EU measures against the ZANU-PF regime, adding a further eleven names to the asset freeze and visa ban list.

Pakistan

The Government supports the Council conclusions, which welcomed Pakistan’s return to democracy and commitment to step up measures to counter terrorism and extremism, while underlining the importance of improving relations between Pakistan and its neighbours, particularly India and Afghanistan.

Ministers also committed 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. They also agreed to intensify political dialogue in line with EU commitments to enhance engagement with Pakistan including, if possible, at an ad hoc summit under the Czech presidency in the first half of 2009. The conclusions acknowledged Pakistan’s request to initiate the process for an EU-Pakistan Free Trade Agreement and committed to examining all the options aimed at enhancing trade relations.

The Council adopted separate conclusions condemning the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India; strongly encouraging the strengthening of regional cooperation in the fight against terrorism; expressing the EU’s hope that Pakistan will cooperate fully with India on the investigation into the attacks; and supporting continued dialogue between India and Pakistan to enable greater bilateral cooperation and overall regional stability.

European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP)

Ministers agreed declarations on improving the military capabilities of EU member states and on international security; and formally approved the operation to improve maritime security off the coast of Somalia.

Ministers also approved a review by High Representative Solana of the implementation of the European Security Strategy, which Solana will present to heads at the December European Council. The Government can welcome the broad direction of the document and its key policy conclusions—greater coherence, engagement with the neighbourhood and capabilities.