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General Affairs and External Relations Council

Volume 491: debated on Thursday 23 April 2009

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 27 April in Luxembourg. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will represent the UK.

The agenda items are as follows:

General Affairs

Croatia-Enlargement

The Council is likely to take stock of the progress of accession negotiations with Croatia, in particular the delay due to Slovenia blocking the nine chapters ready for opening or closing. The Government believe that bilateral disputes should not delay progress of the accession negotiations. We urge both countries to find a mutually acceptable solution to their territorial dispute and support the efforts of Commissioner Rehn to facilitate this. The Council may also take note of concerns about unsatisfactory Croatian co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in failing to produce key documents requested by the prosecution for the trial of General Gotovina. The Government believe full co-operation with ICTY is essential for progress of Croatia’s accession negotiations.

Employment and Energy Summits

The Council will discuss the Employment summit, to be held on 7 May. The summit will be in “extended troika” format, comprising of troika Heads of State and Government (Czech Republic, Sweden and Spain) and a range of social partners. The summit’s aim will be to allow for an exchange of experiences on the extent to which national economic recovery measures have succeeded in supporting employment. The Government support this aim.

The Council will also discuss the Southern Corridor summit in Prague on 8 May. The Southern Corridor is one of the priority areas identified in the Commission’s Strategic Energy Review in November last year, and the spring European Council recently agreed that concrete proposals on its development should be presented by the end of this year. This summit will help give strong political support to the development of the Southern Corridor as a means of diversifying sources and routes of energy supply to the EU. We expect there to be some discussion at the Council on participation at the event. The Government strongly welcome the summit and the concrete actions set out in the draft declaration.

External Relations

European Neighbourhood Policy

The Council will be briefed by Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner on European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), following a Commission Communication on the implementation of ENP in 2008, and the accompanying set of ENP country progress reports, which are due to be published on 23 April.

Burma

We expect the Council to renew the EU’s common position imposing restrictive measures against Burma, which the Government strongly support. We also expect conclusions underlining the EU’s determination to see political reform and respect for human rights in the country. Discussion will review recent political developments, including the lack of progress by the regime in meeting the international community’s demands, their failure to engage with the UN good offices process, and prospects for what look likely to be flawed elections in 2010.

EU-US Summit follow-up

The Council will discuss the follow-up work from the EU-US summit in Prague on 5 April. The main focus of the summit was on the global economy, but there were also substantial and constructive exchanges on climate change and energy security, the eastern partnership, the middle east peace process, Guantanamo and Afghanistan-Pakistan. On Afghanistan, follow-up work includes agreeing the security arrangements which will enable the supply of EU election monitors, as well to establish other ways in which Europeans can contribute to Afghanistan.

Middle East Peace Process (MEPP)

This will be the first GAERC since the formation of the Netanyahu Government. The Czech presidency is awaiting the outcome of the Israeli policy review and does not currently plan MEPP Council conclusions at this Council. We expect Ministers to express their support for a comprehensive and regional approach to the MEPP and to raise continuing concerns on Gaza as well as on Israeli settlement activity. US special envoy Senator Mitchell will have briefed the EU’s Political and Security Committee on 22 April, which may influence discussion at this GAERC.

Iran

Discussions are likely to focus on the US Administration’s decision to engage directly with Iran and play a full role in future E3 plus 3 negotiations. Member states will also look to the Council secretariat to update them on the Iranian response to the E3 plus 3’s invitation to recommence talks as soon as possible.

We will encourage the EU to state its clear support for the new US approach. We will stress the opportunity that the E3 plus 3 offer presents to Iran and the necessity for the EU to give its full backing to the renewed diplomatic efforts and the dual track strategy. We will look to the Council to issue conclusions to that effect. We will encourage further discussions on Iran over the coming months in the EU as the diplomatic situation develops.

Moldova

Elections were held in Moldova on 5 April. Ministers will discuss the conduct of the elections and the demonstrations that followed. The UK condemns acts of violence, including the destruction caused to the Moldovan Parliament and the Presidential Palace. However, there have been reports of alleged ill treatment of detainees, and other human rights violations. Ministers are likely to emphasise the importance the EU attaches to human rights enshrined in its relations with Moldova.

Ukraine

Ministers are likely to focus on recent economic developments, and the news that the Ukrainian authorities and the International Monetary Fund have been able to agree to proceed to the disbursement of the second tranche of the stand-by agreement.

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Eastern Partnership Summit

The Council will look ahead to the Eastern Partnership summit in Prague on 7 May. We expect the presidency to update member states on the objectives and arrangements for the summit.

Migration

There will be a short discussion of illegal migration in the Mediterranean region.