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General Affairs and External Relations Council

Volume 493: debated on Friday 12 June 2009

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 15 June in Luxembourg. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of State for Europe will represent the UK.

The agenda items are as follows:

General Affairs

Preparation of the 18-19 June European Council

The GAERC will discuss the presidency’s agenda for the June European Council. The European Council will focus on EU institutional issues, including Ireland’s guarantees on the Lisbon treaty and Commission President Barroso’s re-appointment.

The Council will also discuss the economic, financial and social situation, taking “first decisions” on financial regulation based on the Commission’s proposals on the de Larosière report as well as examining the progress of the G20 summit outcomes. There will also be a discussion of climate change funding mechanisms in order to help develop an EU position ahead of the Copenhagen climate change conference in December. Illegal migration in the Mediterranean is likely to be discussed, as is the Ukraine/Russia gas dispute.

Finally, on external issues, we expect coverage of the situation in Afghanistan / Pakistan, the Middle East and Burma.

The Government support these discussions at the June European Council. In particular, we welcome the continued co-ordinated EU response to the economic and financial situation.

Enlargement

The Council is likely to take stock of the progress of accession negotiations with Croatia, delayed due to Slovenia blocking the nine chapters ready for opening or closing. The Government believe that bilateral disputes should not delay the accession negotiations. We continue to urge both countries to find a mutually acceptable solution to their territorial dispute and support the efforts of Commissioner Rehn to facilitate this.

External Relations

Middle East Peace Process (MEPP)

The GAERC is likely to reiterate EU support for a two state solution in accordance with previous agreements between the parties; access to Gaza and a comprehensive, regional approach. We also expect Ministers to express their support for the US commitment to the MEPP, and reaffirm the EU’s readiness to work in close co-operation with the US and other international partners towards achieving a lasting peace. The EU-Israel Association Council will take place in the margins of the GAERC.

Cuba

Ministers may discuss Cuba on the occasion of the annual review of the EU’s common position and the parallel review of the recently re-instated EU-Cuba political dialogue. The Council is likely to adopt conclusions which: renew the EU’s commitment to the common position and dual track engagement with Government and civil society; confirm the continuation of the political dialogue; and express concern at the lack of concrete progress on our human rights concerns. The Government remain concerned about the human rights situation in Cuba, but continue to support a policy of engagement. Continuation of the political dialogue will allow more time for it to achieve results.

Burma

On Burma, we expect the Council to discuss developments in the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, and in particular the need for a robust EU response in the event of a guilty verdict. It is not yet clear whether a verdict will come before the GAERC. Were Aung San Suu Kyi to be subjected to a further period of house arrest, or worse, imprisoned, this would remove the last shred of credibility from elections planned for 2010. In such circumstances we would expect the Council to issue strong conclusions outlining the steps the EU planned to take in response.

Western Balkans

On the Western Balkans, Ministers will agree conclusions on visa liberalisation, regional co-operation, and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The UK is not a party to the Schengen agreement and so does not participate in decisions on visa liberalisation. On BiH, the EU will underline the importance of further reform, and reaffirm its commitment to the five objectives and two conditions that need to be completed before transition from the office of the high representative to a solely EU special representative-led mission can occur. Ministers may also discuss co-operation by the countries in the region with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

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Moldova

Ministers may discuss the EU’s relationship with Moldova, and the current political uncertainty following the failure to elect a new President and the requirement for new parliamentary elections. They will emphasise the importance of holding free and fair elections.

Illegal Migration

There will be a short discussion of illegal migration in the Mediterranean region, at the request of Greece. We expect Ministers to focus on increasing and strengthening co-operation in Europe to tackle the increasing flows of illegal migration. The UK supports this and recognises the particular challenges that are faced by Greece and other Mediterranean countries. We are also keen to further the UK’s bilateral relationship with Greece on migration through the provision of technical advice and assistance.

Georgia

Ministers’ discussions are likely to focus on the continued role of the EU monitoring mission (EUMM), whose mandate is due for renewal in September. Ministers are also likely to take into account the outcome of discussions in New York on the renewal of the UN mission’s mandate, and the possibilities for increased co-operation between international missions on the ground.