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General Affairs Council and Foreign Affairs Council

Volume 520: debated on Tuesday 21 December 2010

The Foreign Affairs Council and General Affairs Council were held on 13-14 December in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I represented the UK.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

Foreign Affairs Council (FAC)

The FAC was chaired by Baroness Ashton. A provisional report of the meeting and adopted conclusions can be found at: data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/118456.pdf


Conclusions were adopted (see link).

Dame Rosalind Marsden, EU Special Representative in Sudan, briefed Ministers on preparations for the 9 January referendum. The Development Commissioner (Piebalgs) highlighted engagement with southern Sudan and the need to tackle Sudan’s debt burden.

The Foreign Secretary stressed the need to focus on the EU’s contingency planning, building capacity in the south, and engaging with the north.


During a broad discussion on Somalia, many Ministers stressed the need for a more comprehensive EU strategy covering development, support for the Transitional Federal Government, counter-piracy and security work, and engaging the regional states. The Foreign Secretary encouraged the European Commission to enhance its engagement with Puntland.

Côte d’Ivoire

Conclusions were adopted (see link).

Ministers exchanged views on the recent presidential election. The conclusions include an intention to adopt restrictive measures against those who are obstructing peace and national reconciliation and jeopardising the proper outcome of the electoral process.


Baroness Ashton summarised recent developments in Afghanistan and the NATO summit, which she had attended. The Foreign Secretary and others emphasised the need for the EU to focus on supporting governance, training capacity and delivering on the EU action plan agreed in October 2009 (see link below). data/docs/pressdata/en/gena/110789.pdf.

Middle East Peace Process

Conclusions were adopted (see link).

The Foreign Secretary welcomed the adoption of the conclusions, particularly the readiness of the EU to assist in the reconstruction and economic recovery of Gaza.

Baroness Ashton acknowledged frustrations over the lack of progress with the peace process, but noted the EU’s collective commitment to continue supporting US-led efforts.

Western Balkans

Ministers briefly discussed the Kosovo elections of 12 December. Baroness Ashton and the Enlargement Commissioner (Füle) made a statement on this:

There was broad consensus on the need for the EU-facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina to start as quickly as possible. There was a brief discussion of the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and agreement that there should be a fuller discussion early next year.


Baroness Ashton briefed Ministers over dinner on the talks she attended with the E3+3 countries (France, Germany, UK, China, Russia and the US) and the Iranian nuclear negotiator in Geneva on 6-7 December. Details were set out in my earlier written ministerial statement looking ahead to this FAC/GAC.

Strategic Partners

Baroness Ashton set out her thoughts on the EU’s relation with strategic partners, particularly China, Russia and the US, ahead of her presentation to the European Council on 16 December. There was a broad agreement for the UK’s suggestion to operationalise Baroness Ashton’s ideas with objectives and deliverables for each strategic partner. This was also discussed at the GAC (see December European Council below).

Priorities for 2011

Baroness Ashton presented her priorities for the external action service. These include the Western Balkans, the Middle East Peace Process, Iran, Syria, Maghreb, Sahel, Turkey and the Eastern Neighbourhood.


Ministers had a brief exchange on Moldova’s elections of 28 November and the continuing negotiations on forming a Government.

OSCE Summit

Ministers assessed the outcome of the OSCE summit in Astana of 1-2 December. Baroness Ashton underlined that the summit declaration provided a mandate to take forward work on the action plan which the EU would support. See link:

Lithuania set out its 2011 OSCE chairmanship-in-office programme. Priorities will include: developing a dialogue with Central Asia; greater co-operation between the OSCE, EU and NATO; media freedoms; and energy and cyber security.

General Affairs Council (GAC)

The GAC was chaired by the Belgium Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Steven Vanackere (EU Presidency). The President of the Council, Herman Van Rompuy, joined Ministers over lunch.

A provisional report of the meeting and adopted conclusions can be found at: data/docs/pressdata/EN/genaff/118495.pdf.

European Citizens Initiative

The Council endorsed an agreement on the initiative, which aims to make it possible for EU citizens to call for a legislative proposal to be made on specific issues. I said that we agreed in principle with the initiative, but regretted that more was not done to minimise the burdens on member states. For this reason, and for reasons of parliamentary scrutiny, I noted that the UK would abstain from the vote.

December European Council

The main part of this discussion took place over lunch with Herman Van Rompuy.

Ministers examined draft conclusions for the Council to be held on 16-17 December. The December Council will look at the outline of a permanent crisis mechanism to safeguard the stability of the euro area and a limited amendment to the EU treaties required to create such a mechanism. Additionally, Ministers reviewed the EU’s relationship with strategic partners ahead of Baroness Ashton’s presentation to the December European Council.

I set out UK concerns about treaty change. There should be no transfer of competence to the EU. I emphasised that article 122(2) of the treaty of the functioning of the EU (TFEU) should not be used to provide assistance for economic or financial crises; that absolute clarity was necessary that the UK would not be bound by the new provisions; and that no liability should accrue to the EU budget or to non-participating states. On strategic partners, there was considerable support for my proposal for an annual review of the EU’s relations with partners at European Council level.

EU Enlargement

After much discussion. Ministers agreed enlargement conclusions (see link) on the basis of the Commission’s enlargement package published 9 November. I successfully argued for the inclusion of language on the need to protect the credibility of the enlargement process to ensure members states’ continuing support and our ability to advance reforms in candidate countries. The UK’s key concerns were protected in the individual country conclusions. One issue was referred to the European Council: the Commission’s recommendation to grant candidate status to Montenegro.

February European Council

There was a brief review of the agenda for the February European Council, which includes energy policy and innovation.

Europe 2020

The presidency made a short presentation on the implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy for jobs and growth. The next step will be a publication of the annual growth survey on 12 January. Europe 2020 will also be reviewed at the December European Council.

Cohesion Policy

There was short presentation by the Commissioner for Regional Policy (Johannes Hahn) on the Commission’s report on structural cohesion funds (see link).