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General Affairs Council and Foreign Affairs Council

Volume 512: debated on Tuesday 22 June 2010

The General Affairs Council (GAC) and Foreign Affairs Council (FCA) were held on 14 June in Brussels. My right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Development Secretary represented the UK at the FAC. I also attended, and represented at the GAC.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

Foreign Affairs Council (Development Ministers)

The provisional report of the meetings of both Development and Foreign Ministers, including conclusions, can be found at:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/App/newsroom/loadbook.aspx? BID=78&LANG=1&cmsid=1850

Development Ministers discussed the millennium development goals (MDGs), an EU gender action plan, and development and piracy in East Africa.

Ministers adopted conclusions on the MDGs (see web link above) which will form the basis for EU negotiations ahead of the New York UN MDG summit in September 2010. The Development Secretary strongly encouraged EU member states to uphold their collective commitment to provide 0.7% ODA/GNI by 2015, and called for annual leaders’ discussions on ODA.

The Development Secretary also stressed the importance of maternal and child health, two of the most off-track MDGs, and was supported in his recognition of the importance of policy coherence, aid effectiveness and transparency. The Development Secretary further supported the adoption of an EU gender action plan for 2010-15, and welcomed the High Representative’s (Baroness Ashton) aim to launch a comprehensive strategy for the horn of Africa to deal with the problems of piracy and development in this region.

Foreign Affairs Council (Foreign Ministers)

Gaza

Tony Blair, representing the quartet, briefed Ministers on Israel’s undertakings to ease the Gaza blockade and to hold an inquiry on the Gaza flotilla incident. Following a substantive discussion of the flotilla incident, Ministers set out their views on wider middle east process issues including Gaza access, and the helpful role played by other states in the region. The Council agreed conclusions that can be found at the web link quoted above.

Western Balkans

Ministers heard a presentation from International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Chief Prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, on Serbia’s and Croatia’s co-operation with the court.

Ministers agreed to submit Serbia’s stabilisation and association agreement to their respective parliaments for ratification. They also agreed to return to the issue of Serbia’s accession application at a later time.

The Council agreed conclusions welcoming the outcome of the high-level meeting on the Western Balkans in Sarajevo on 2 June, which emphasised the EU’s commitment to the European perspective of the Western Balkans countries in line with the Thessaloniki agenda. Ministers also expressed concern about the political situation in Albania and discussed the situation in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Iran

Ministers discussed Iran following the adoption of United Nations Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 1929 concerning Iran’s nuclear programme. The Foreign Secretary set out his strong support for the UNSCR and advocated an endorsement of a draft declaration for the June European Council.

Ministers agreed conclusions (see web link above). They also agreed a draft declaration for the June European Council inviting the next Foreign Affairs Council to agree measures to implement UNSCR 1929 and a range of additional EU measures.

Child Labour

Ministers agreed conclusions on child labour (see web link above).

Somalia/Piracy

Over lunch, Ministers heard a presentation from Rear Admiral Hudson (UK), the outgoing operational commander of the EU’s counter-piracy mission (Atalanta) now replaced by Major-General Buster Howes RM (UK). The Council agreed that the EU should extend the operation for a further two years and the Foreign Secretary stated the UK would be willing to offer Northwood as the operation headquarters until the end of 2012. When the formal Council decision to extend is prepared later this year, it will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny in the usual way. Ministers agreed conclusions (see web link).

Cuba

Ministers discussed Cuba in the context of the evaluation of the EU’s common position. There were no conclusions, but Ministers may revert to the issue in September.

Haiti and Disaster Response

The Commissioner for International Co-operation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, Kristalina Georgieva, presented lessons learned on the EU’s Haiti disaster response. The Commissioner noted opportunities under the Lisbon treaty for better co-ordination and institutional management of responses and ensuring planned rather than ad hoc humanitarian, civil protection and military responses.

Corfu Process

Baroness Ashton set out priorities ahead of the informal OSCE ministerial in July which will discuss the Corfu process.

Kyrgyzstan

This was added to the agenda following recent violence over the weekend. Ministers adopted conclusions that stressed the need to restore public order and respect for the rule of law, to pursue the political process, and underlined the need for dialogue. The conclusions also reflected the EU’s readiness to respond to the most urgent humanitarian needs.

General Affairs Council

The provisional text of the Council’s discussion and agreed conclusions can be found at:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/App/newsroom/loadbook.aspx? BID=72&LANG=1&cmsid=1851

European Citizens Initiative (ECI)

The presidency sought agreement for a revised “general approach” to its proposal implementing the ECI: an initiative from the Lisbon treaty that will enable EU citizens to ask the Commission to bring forward legislative proposals if there are at least 1 million signatories from a significant number of member states.

I supported the principles of the ECI, but expressed concern about the level of bureaucracy in the proposal; specifically, dual admissibility checks, verification processes and the lack of an impact assessment. However, I noted that this was only the start of a process, and that the “general approach” would evolve. As parliamentary scrutiny is still outstanding, I said that the UK would abstain from supporting at this time. The presidency concluded that it had sufficient support to proceed with the “General Approach”, but acknowledged the UK’s concerns and recognised that the UK had captured the mood of the Council.

June European Council (JEC)

Ministers examined draft conclusions for the European Council meeting to be held on 17 June. The discussion covered: jobs and growth and the adoption of the Europe 20202 strategy; preparations for the G20 summit in Toronto millennium development goals; and climate change. The Prime Minister will report to Parliament on the outcome of the JEC.

I set out the UK’s positions on MDGs, economic governance and education targets.

European External Action Service (EAS)

The presidency and the High Representative set out progress in the ongoing negotiations with the European Parliament on the establishment of the EAS.

The Council also agreed conclusions on:

economic and social cohesion in the EU;

the EU’s outermost regions;

common practices in consular assistance and crisis co-ordination;

maritime policy.