The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 16 March in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I will represent the UK.
The agenda items are as follows:
Preparation of the European Council, 19-20 March
The GAERC will discuss the presidency’s agenda for the Spring European Council (SEC). The SEC will once again focus on the EU’s response to the economic downturn, continuing the discussions from the Informal European Council on 1 March and advancing the EU position ahead of the G20 summit. There will also be reference to the de Larosière report on financial supervision in the EU.
The SEC will also discuss options for the climate finance offer ahead of the Copenhagen Climate Change conference in December and an action plan for EU energy security in accordance with the second strategic energy review. In addition, the SEC will examine the Eastern partnership, with a view to launching the initiative at a summit in May, while taking stock of the union for the Mediterranean.
The Government support the presidency’s priorities for the SEC. We welcome a continued co-ordinated response to the economic and financial crisis and look forward to the SEC providing credible options for an ambitious climate finance offer and securing agreement on a practical action plan on EU energy security.
European Economic Recovery Plan
The Council will discuss elements of the European economic recovery plan (EERP) and will return, we expect, to discussion of potential means of financing the Commission’s proposals for energy and broadband infrastructure projects. The Government will continue to scrutinise the Commission proposals in detail.
We expect Ministers to focus on Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). There will be Conclusions.
Discussion will review progress towards meeting the conditions for closure of the Office of the High Representative (OHR). Ministers may consider how to strengthen the role of the EU Special Representative (EUSR) following eventual OHR closure, in order to tackle effectively the political challenges in BiH. We want to reinforce the messages sent by EU Foreign Ministers at the November 2008 GAERC on the need for BiH leaders to focus on the reforms that will be necessary for OHR closure. We will also underline the need for a robust EUSR mandate as and when OHR closes. Ministers may also discuss the EU’s military mission in BiH, operation ALTHEA. Subject to completion of the selection procedure, Ministers are also likely to be asked to endorse CFSP High Representative Solana’s nomination of a candidate to succeed Miroslav Lajcak in his double-hatted role as High Representative and EUSR.
The Council will review progress made by Belarus since the temporary suspension of travel restrictions for six months in October 2008. The Council will decide whether to renew the suspension of restrictions for a further six month period and adopt Conclusions accordingly. During the past six months, the Belarusians have introduced a number of small reforms. However, we are concerned by the recent detention of three activists, two of whom were internationally recognised as political prisoners when detained previously, and the refusal to register the human rights non-governmental organisation (NGO) Nasha Vyasna. The UK’s decision on whether to support renewal of the suspension will depend upon our assessment of the most effective way of supporting reform.
Sudan-International Criminal Court
The scope and content of any debate will depend on further developments following the 4 March ICC decision to issue an arrest warrant for President Bashir, and the Sudanese government’s subsequent decision to expel 13 international humanitarian NGOs. The Czech presidency made a statement on the ICC decision on 5 March and on the NGO situation on 9 March. If the situation on the ground deteriorates, the Council may need to discuss options for further action.
The Council will discuss an EU agenda and objectives for the EU-US summit in Prague on 5 April, to which President Obama, Secretary Clinton and the leaders and Foreign Ministers of all EU member states will be invited. That meeting is likely to focus on foreign policy issues not covered at the London summit on 2 April and the NATO summit on 3-4 April, including climate change and energy. We will continue to reiterate our line at the Gymnich discussions in September and November 2008, namely that the EU should set out what it can do for the US, rather than just a list of expectations or hopes for US action.
Middle East Peace Process (MEPP)
Since the GAERC in February, the Gaza reconstruction conference has been held in Sharm where $4.5 billion was pledged by the international community. The key issues on the ground remain the same and there is continuing uncertainty over the make-up of the future government of Israel.
Any MEPP discussion is likely to focus on the Egyptian-led Palestinian reconciliation talks in Cairo. Ministers should receive an update on progress following an EU Troika (High Representative Solana, Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner and Czech Foreign Minister Schwarzenburg) dinner with the Egyptian, Jordanian and Palestinian Foreign Ministers on 15 March.
We expect Ministers to adopt without discussion Conclusions reaffirming the EU’s long-term commitment to the people and government of Afghanistan to promote stability, reconstruction and development, in particular through providing assistance with the 2009 elections and strengthening the EUPOL police reform mission.
EU Foreign Ministers will then discuss Afghanistan and the wider region at the Spring European Council, where we also hope to see Conclusions.
We expect Ministers to adopt without discussion Conclusions welcoming the successful transition from the EU military mission, EUFOR Chad, to the UN peacekeeping mission MINURCAT, due to take place on 15 March; and noting the contribution of EUFOR Chad to the protection of civilians during the mission’s one-year mandate.
Information on the G8 presidency programme
We expect Foreign Minister Frattini to update the Council on the Italian G8 presidency priorities for the La Maddalena Summit and G8 Foreign Ministers’ meeting in June. The key issues on the summit agenda will be the global economy, climate change and international development. The Italian G8 presidency has also been active in promoting the co-ordination of humanitarian assistance to Gaza.
Ministers may also discuss how best to handle Montenegros application for EU membership. We believe that the Council should forward the application to the European Commission in a timely manner. The Commission should then produce an Avis (‘Opinion’) on the merits of the application, based on the rigorous criteria governing the conditions-based accession process.