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General Affairs and External Relations Council

Volume 494: debated on Monday 22 June 2009

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) was held on 15 June in Luxembourg. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of State for Europe represented the UK. The agenda items covered were as follows:

General Affairs

The full text of conclusions adopted, including ‘A’ points, can be found at: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/App/NewsRoom/loadDocument.aspx?id=349&lang= EN&directory=en/gena/&fileName=108527.pdf

Preparation of the 18-19 June European Council

The GAERC discussed the presidency’s agenda for the June European Council. The European Council will focus on EU institutional issues; financial supervision and regulation; climate change funding mechanisms; employment; illegal migration across the Mediterranean; and external relations.

On institutional issues, there was widespread support for a positive outcome from the June European Council on Irish legal guarantees, with a view to securing the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty.

On financial supervision and regulation, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary agreed the system for micro-prudential supervision needed to be reformed; however, the new supervisory authorities should not have the power to impose decisions on national supervisors or firms, where those decisions would require member states to take fiscal action. On macro-prudential supervision, he agreed with the establishment of a European systemic risk board, but made clear that its chairmanship should be representative of the EU as a whole, not only the eurozone. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary also noted the importance of G20 summit follow-up and preparation.

On employment, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear that any accelerated mobilisation of the social fund should remain within the existing financial perspective ceilings. He also suggested that June European Council conclusions should call for increased EIB lending, particularly to business and critical infrastructure projects, in order to accelerate economic recovery.

On climate change, the presidency said that the conclusions language would go forward to the June European Council, an outcome that the Government support.

On illegal migration, Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Malta emphasised the scale of the problem in the Mediterranean and its disproportionate impact upon them; they were looking for other member states to help share the burden. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary agreed with the need to address the issue at its roots — it was not enough just to deal with migrants when they arrived, we needed to take a more long-term approach, which prevents the migrants from travelling to the EU in the first place.

On external relations, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary welcomed the inclusion of an Afghanistan/Pakistan declaration in the European Council conclusions, and looked forward to the Pakistan summit on 17 June. He also noted that Aung Sung Suu Kyi’s birthday would coincide with the European Council; even before a verdict in her trial, it would be appropriate for EU heads to send a message of support from the Council to her, and to demonstrate commitment to democracy in Burma. The presidency confirmed that there would be European Council conclusions on Burma, which would send a clear message of the EU’s intention to act.

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 presidency decided to drop this item from the GAERC agenda.

External Relations

The full text of all conclusions adopted can be found at: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/App/NewsRoom/loadDocument.aspx?id=349&lang=EN&directory=en/gena/&fileName=108525.pdf

Middle East

High Representative Solana debriefed Ministers on his recent visit to the region and noted that continued EU-US co-operation would be vital, especially over the next few weeks. There was widespread agreement on the importance of further EU-US co-operation, addressing settlements, securing access to Gaza, and supporting a comprehensive, regional approach. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary agreed and urged the EU to encourage support for the Arab peace initiative.

Ministers agreed conclusions on the MEPP, welcoming the US Administration’s commitment to pursuing a two-state solution and a comprehensive peace. They also confirmed the EU’s readiness to work actively with the US and other Quartet members to achieve this goal and contribute substantially to post-conflict arrangements aimed at ensuring the sustainability of peace agreements.

Following the outcome of the elections in Iran, Ministers agreed conclusions without discussion, based on a UK text, setting out the EU’s concerns about the post-election situation, focusing on the need to respect freedom of expression and, while underlining the EU’s willingness to engage with Iran, stressing the need for Iran to meet its own responsibilities.

Ministers spoke positively about the conduct of elections in Lebanon, noting the longstanding EU contribution to help stabilise the situation there, and adopted conclusions that congratulated the people of Lebanon and encouraged all parties to co-operate with President Sleiman.

Cuba

The Council adopted conclusions, which renewed the EU’s commitment to the common position and extended the EU-Cuba political dialogue for a further 12 months. The Council undertook to review these in June 2010, based on an assessment of progress on issues raised in the conclusions, in particular human rights and political reforms. The conclusions called for the Cuban Government to allow unimpeded contacts with civil society in the margin of high level EU visits. The presidency commented that practically no progress had been made by Cuba on human rights and civil liberties, however the EU would continue its two-track approach and keep open the door for continued dialogue. Developments would be closely monitored with a view to reporting back to the Council by the end of 2009.

Burma

Discussion of Burma in the context of the June European Council is recorded in the section “Preparation of the 18-19 June European Council”.

The presidency noted that member states were united in their condemnation of the trial of Aung Sung Suu Kyi and in their desire for a robust response to the verdict. They underscored the importance of engaging Asian partners, of working to address circumvention of the existing measures and working through EU special envoy Fassino.

In terms of additional measures against the regime, there was consensus around the need to keep these under further consideration, pending the verdict of the trial.

Western Balkans

International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Chief Prosecutor Brammertz briefed Ministers on the co-operation of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia with the ICTY. Following an exchange of views on implementation of Serbia’s Interim Agreement and following Brammertz’s report on Serbia, Ministers noted that Heads of Government would discuss the issue at the June European Council.

The Council adopted conclusions on visa liberalisation, regional co-operation and Bosnia and Herzegovina — all of which the Government support.

AOB

Sudan

The Netherlands highlighted the need for a discussion in the autumn. Sweden, as incoming presidency, confirmed that this was in their plans.

EU attendance at international meetings

Sweden voiced its concern at the level of EU attendance at the recent ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) Ministerial and EU-ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) Foreign Ministers meetings; they urged the EU to plan meetings carefully and ensure proper attendance to deliver impact. The Commission supported.

Illegal Migration

Ministers discussed this issue in the context of preparations for the June European Council, as reported above.

Georgia

The presidency decided to drop this item from the GAERC agenda.