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Foreign Affairs Council and General Affairs Council

Volume 525: debated on Thursday 17 March 2011

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

Foreign Affairs Council (FAC)


Japan is not currently on the agenda for the FAC, and the constantly evolving situation makes it difficult to predict the nature of a possible discussion. But we would expect Ministers to review the EU’s response to the devastating earthquake and tsunami, and to take stock of the latest developments on the nuclear issue. The EU’s response so far has been summarised in the press release below. guiLanguage=en

EU Southern Neighbourhood

On Libya, Ministers will want to take stock following the extraordinary European Council of 11 March, at which EU leaders called on Gaddafi to “relinquish power immediately” as his regime had lost all legitimacy and was no longer an interlocutor for the EU. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister stressed to Parliament in his statement of 14 March, Official Report, columns 25-27 (see link below), HMG’s position is that Europe must seize this opportunity to support ordinary people in north Africa and across the middle east in their aspirations for a more open and democratic form of government. The EU now needs to follow through on its declaration of 11 March with a real and credible offer to these countries, based around the massive economic opportunities which lie in greater trade and co-operation with Europe. Discussion of Libya and other specific country issues will depend on events in the next few days.


The Sahel is one of the poorest regions of the world. It faces a number of challenges to its security and development simultaneously, including terrorism and frequent food shortages. At the FAC, Ministers are expected to review proposals for an EU strategy to deal with the Sahel’s security and development needs in a coherent way. The proposals are particularly important given recent instability in the region.


Ministers should be asked to agree conclusions on Somalia, the first since July 2009. Discussion is expected to focus on handling of the planned end of the transitional period in August 2011 and on tackling piracy. We want to see a clear statement that there can be no extension of the Transitional Federal Institutions beyond August without reform to make them more representative and legitimate in the eyes of the Somali people. We will look to emphasise the importance of tackling the causes of piracy on land and continue to push for the European External Action Service to play a leading role in co-ordinating donor activity in those regions most affected by piracy, including in Puntland.

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH)

We expect conclusions to be adopted on BiH on proposals to reinforce the EU’s presence there. We are supportive of the package in which there was broad agreement at the February FAC. The conclusions should also address the political situation in BiH, where a Government is yet to be formed nearly six months after elections.


Ministers are due to discuss the political and human rights situation in Belarus. We hope the discussion will focus on what further measures the EU can take to apply political pressure on the regime to release all political prisoners and cease the ongoing repression of human rights defenders.


Baroness Ashton will update Ministers on the EU-facilitated dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade. Following appointment of the new Kosovo Government on 22 February, the first meeting of the dialogue took place in Brussels on 8-9 March. We expect EU member states to give Baroness Ashton strong support for her efforts on the dialogue as a way of building co-operation between Kosovo and Serbia and of helping both countries make progress towards the EU.

Iran human rights

We seek conclusions which pave the way towards EU targeted measures on Iran, including a travel ban and asset freeze on human rights offenders; and which develop the EU’s human rights dialogue with Iranian civil society.

Middle East Peace Process

Baroness Ashton will report on the 2 March Quartet envoys’ meeting and provide an update on work being done in preparation for the April meeting of Quartet principals. The UK will continue to make clear that the peace process must not become a casualty of uncertainty in the region, that it is too important to fail or falter, and that we must strive for a breakthrough this year. The UK has set out views on this with France and Germany in our explanation of vote on the draft UNSCR on settlement; see link below:

We also expect Baroness Ashton to update on progress in implementing her proposal for EU support to Gaza.

General Affairs Council (GAC)

European Councils

Ministers will review follow-up to the extraordinary European Council of 11 March, which discussed the EU’s response to the current crisis in Libya and the southern neighbourhood. The declaration made by the Council on 11 March can be found at:

In addition to the Prime Minister’s statement of 14 March (see earlier link), an FCO report of the European Council can be found at:

Ministers will also discuss preparation for the spring European Council on 24 March. The current draft agenda includes:

the southern neighbourhood and EU action to promote stability in the region (see comments on FAC);

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: