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General Affairs and Foreign Affairs Councils Agenda (25 October)

Volume 516: debated on Friday 22 October 2010

The Foreign Affairs Council and General Affairs Council will meet in Luxembourg on 25 October. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will attend the Foreign Affairs Council. I will attend the General Affairs Council.

General Affairs Council

EU Summits with Third Countries

The Foreign Minister of Belgium (which holds the rotating EU presidency) will chair the GAC. The Council President Herman Van Rompuy will host a dinner the previous evening, at which he intends to focus on EU summits with third countries. Drawing on the experience of the recent summit with China, he will invite Ministers to look ahead to summits with the US, Ukraine and Russia later this year. The Government believe that the EU needs to focus these summits on a few key priorities, including advancing the EU’s trade relationships. This issue will be discussed further at the following day’s FAC (see below).

October European Council

Ministers will look ahead to the October European Council, which takes place in Brussels on 28-29 October and will be attended by the Prime Minister. The Council agenda includes economic governance, the Single Market Act, climate change, the Seoul G20 summit, and the EU-US summit. There may also be discussions on the EU-Russia summit, Pakistan (see below) and the EU budget review.

Serbia

Ministers will debate whether to take the next step on Serbia’s EU membership application. The Government support doing so, by referring Serbia’s application to the Commission for an assessment of its readiness to begin membership talks (an “avis”).

September European Council

Ministers will consider follow-up to the September Council. The key UK interest here is on Pakistan. The September Council invited the Commission to present in October a proposal for “immediate and time-limited reduction of duties on key imports from Pakistan, in conformity with WTO rules”. This would be part of an ambitious trade and development package for Pakistan. The Government support quick passage of the trade proposal adopted by the Commission on 7 October, providing Pakistan with significant trade concessions until 2014.

European External Action Service (EEAS)

The compromise texts for the Amending Staff and Financial Regulations for the EEAS have been agreed and should be adopted by November. Member states may take the opportunity of the GAC to congratulate the presidency and Baroness Ashton for their work in completing the procedures necessary to get the EEAS up and running. It is unlikely that there will be substantial discussion. We will stress the importance of budget neutrality and the need for progress on efficiency savings. We will also emphasise the need for recruitment to be meritocratic, and for the EEAS to support member states’ foreign policy objectives, complementing rather than replacing national diplomatic services.

foreign affairs council

EU Summits with Third Countries

Baroness Ashton will chair the FAC. Following the GAC discussion on EU third country summits (see above), we expect the FAC to focus on specific objectives for the US, Ukraine and Russia summits. The Government would like to see an agreement on the importance of support to Pakistan and a revitalised Transatlantic Economic Council with the US; a reaffirmation of the importance of the EU-Ukraine free trade agreement; and a push on Russian WTO accession with a view to finalising an ambitious EU-Russia New Agreement with trade provisions.

Cuba

Discussion on Cuba was deferred from the June FAC, to allow time for Cuba to make progress on an anticipated release of political prisoners. The EU will discuss how to respond to these recent developments in Cuba. The Government recognise that some progress has been made on prisoner releases, and believe that any EU response should be measured, and aimed at encouraging further progress.

Middle East Peace Process

Baroness Ashton will update Ministers on her recent visit to the region. Ministers will discuss developments in the latest talks and what the EU can do to support progress. The Government believe that the EU has a role to play, in supporting US-led efforts to broker peace in the region.

Sahel

Ministers will discuss Sahel on the basis of a recent joint paper by the Commission and the General Secretariat of the Council on security and development issues in that region. The discussion is likely to highlight increasing concerns about security in the Sahel and the importance of the EU’s political, security and development engagement.

Union for the Mediterranean

There will be a discussion of proposals from Baroness Ashton for a one-year transitional arrangement for the EU co-presidency of the Union for the Mediterranean. The Government have concerns regarding this proposal, including around the basis on which the Commission would represent the EU at this intergovernmental meeting. We would like a long-term solution to be found on a legal basis that is acceptable to all member states, and which respects national sovereignty.

The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP)

We expect a brief discussion on the Commission’s consultation exercise on the ENP with member states and partner countries. The Government believe that the ENP needs to be more ambitious, with access to EU markets linked to demonstrable progress by partners on economic and political reforms. The application of this conditionality should be the basis of the EU’s engagement.

Georgia

We expect a short stocktake of bilateral EU-Georgia relations, following recent Georgian elections. Ministers may cover the EU’s role in continuing efforts to foster regional conflict resolution, and Georgia-Russia relations.

EU-UN

Although not currently on the FAC agenda, some member states may raise the EU’s status at the UN following last month’s “no action” motion in the General Assembly.

NATO-EU

Following the NATO Defence and Foreign Ministers’ meeting of 14 October, there is the possibility of a FAC discussion on NATO-EU co-operation.