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General Affairs Council/Foreign Affairs Council

Volume 523: debated on Wednesday 16 February 2011

The Foreign Affairs Council and General Affairs Council will meet in Brussels on 21 February. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will attend the Foreign Affairs Council. I will attend the General Affairs Council.

General Affairs Council (gac)

February and March European Councils

Ministers will discuss follow-up to the February European Council, which covered energy, innovation and Egypt. Following the Council, the Prime Minister reported the outcomes to the House in his statement on the “EU Council and North Africa”. The statement can be found at the following link:

http://www.parliament.uk/business/news/2011/february/statement-on-eu-council-and-north-africa.

The conclusions of the February European Council meeting can be found at:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/en/ec/l 19175.pdf.

They will also discuss preparation for the March European Council. The formal agenda has not yet been published. However, we expect discussions at the Council to focus on:

legislative proposals for economic governance in the eurozone;

European Council decision amending article 136 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union and intergovernmental arrangements setting up the European stability mechanism.

These were agreed at the December European Council, see link:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms data/docs/pressdata/en/ec/118578.pdf.

Cohesion

Ministers will review the fifth cohesion report and the ongoing public consultation. The report and details of the public consultation can be found at:

http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/sources/docoffic/official/reports/cohesion5/index_en.cfm.

The Government are in the process of forming a response, which will be presented to Parliament in due course.

Foreign Affairs Council (fac)

EU-UN

Ministers will be briefed on informal consultations held in New York on 14 February between EU member states and the wider UN membership on the draft EU resolution on the “participation of the EU in the work of the UN”.

EU human rights

Baroness Ashton will brief Ministers on the EU’s priorities for the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council. These are likely to include securing Council adoption of strong resolutions expressing concern at the human rights situation in Burma and the DPRK, and resolutions promoting children’s rights and freedom of religion.

EU Southern Neighbourhood (Egypt/Tunisia)

This is an opportunity for Ministers to follow-up the February European Council debate on Egypt and Tunisia and take stock of the recent momentous events. Baroness Ashton is visiting the region this week and will set out her thoughts on the way ahead for the EU. A number of options for EU support to the region are being considered, including election monitoring and a re-evaluation of the European neighbourhood partnership (the EU’s main vehicle for promoting reform in the region). We want to see an ambitious package of support to the region, but would also like to see more conditionality attached to this assistance; as the Prime Minister emphasised to Parliament on 8 February when he reported back on the February European Council.

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH)

We expect Baroness Ashton and Commissioner Fule to follow-up the discussion in last July’s FAC (which I reported in my written ministerial statement) of a reinforced EU presence in BiH, by providing more information about EU planning in this regard. The Government agree that there should be a reinforced EU presence in BiH, able to deploy deterrents as well as the incentives inherent in the EU accession process. We will therefore support proposals for the development of an “EU toolbox” of positive and negative measures. We believe that in parallel, the civilian executive (“Bonn”) powers need to be retained, that the conditionality for eventual closure of the Office of the High Representative continue to apply, and that the executive mandate of the EU military force, EUFOR Operation Althea, should be upheld. We will continue to insist on these points in EU and wider international negotiation.

Sahel

We expect Ministers to be presented with a draft security and development strategy for the Sahel region, which they requested at the last October’s FAC. The murder of two French nationals in Niger in January and the kidnap of an Italian in Algeria this month underscore the severity of the terrorist threat in the region. Baroness Ashton reacted to the first event in the following statement on 19 January:

http://www.europa-eu-un.org/articles/en/article_10584_en.htm.

Somalia

Baroness Ashton is expected to give an oral presentation of the outline of the EEAS’s Horn of Africa strategy. The strategy is expected to focus on regional and cross-cutting issues, looking in particular at the main causes of conflict and poverty. There will be a more substantive discussion at the March FAC, where we expect the adoption of formal conclusions.

Freedom of Religion

Following discussion at the 31 January FAC, we expect conclusions to be adopted on the issue of “Intolerance, discrimination and violence on the basis of religion or belief”. We believe these conclusions should send a strong statement of the Council’s concern at instances of persecution or discrimination based on religion and its commitment to upholding the right to freedom of religion or belief.

Iran: human rights

EU member states will discuss the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran, particularly following the unacceptable execution of dual Dutch/Iranian national Baahrami. Baroness Ashton released a statement on behalf of the EU on 27 January:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms Data/docs/pressdata/en/cfsp/118966.pdf.

Middle East Peace Process

Baroness Ashton is likely to provide an update on preparations for the March Quartet meeting and report on her recent visit to the middle east. There is also likely to be a discussion of the implications of wider developments in the region for the MEPP.

The Foreign Secretary will also brief his counterparts on his visit to Tunisia, Jordan, Yemen, UAE and Bahrain. Related press releases can be found on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s website: www.fco.gov.uk.

Zimbabwe

There is a possibility of a short discussion of Zimbabwe, following the adoption of renewed EU targeted measures. A full written ministerial statement on this will be laid before the House shortly.