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General Affairs Council and Foreign Affairs Council, 20-21 June 2011

Volume 530: debated on Monday 27 June 2011

The Foreign Affairs Council and General Affairs Council were held on 20-21 June in Luxembourg. 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 all conclusions adopted, can be found at:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/122937.pdf.

Sudan

Ministers agreed conclusions (see link) which:

Expressed support for the African Union’s efforts to facilitate a cessation of hostilities in Southern Kordofan.

Called on all parties to stop hostilities.

Denounced the 19 June attack against the UN mission.

Agreed to follow a comprehensive EU approach to Sudan.

The Foreign Secretary underlined the need to support the efforts of the Mbeki panel and continued political dialogue with Khartoum, which should include messages on debt relief. He also emphasised the need for a continuing UN presence after 9 July, to ensure the protection of civilians and humanitarian access.

European Neighbourhood Policy

Ministers agreed conclusions (see link) which endorsed the review of the European neighbourhood policy (ENP), setting out an ambitious new approach to the EU’s neighbourhood. This review is in line with the Government’s goal of an enhanced EU offer to its neighbours, particularly those emerging from the Arab spring, holding out the prospect of profound economic integration for those who engage in meaningful democratic reforms.

Western Balkans

Ministers discussed Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo.

On Albania, Ministers agreed conclusions (see link) deploring the deterioration of the political situation and increase in tensions following disputed municipal election results. They also urged the Albanian authorities to strengthen its reform efforts particularly in relation to the Copenhagen criteria and the 12 priorities identified in the European Commission’s 9 November 2010 opinion on Albania’s application for membership.

The Foreign Secretary and other Ministers welcomed the appointment of Peter Sorensen as the new head of delegation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Foreign Secretary said that Kosovo needed to be given tangible reassurance of its EU future. Ministers also noted Serbia’s EU ambitions.

Immediately following the FAC, I attended the western Balkans forum with other EU Foreign and Europe Ministers and Foreign Ministers from across the western Balkans. The meeting was chaired by Baroness Ashton, the Commissioner for Enlargement (Fule) and the Hungarian Foreign Minister (Martonyi). Many speakers emphasised the continuing importance of regional co-operation in the context of EU enlargement. I made clear that we did not want to see a pause on enlargement after Croatia’s accession. The positive prospect of conditions-based enlargement was a driving force behind economic and political reform and as such demanded clear and collective commitment to the process.

Belarus

Ministers adopted conclusions (see link) and agreed further restrictive measures on Belarus. The conclusions set out the EU’s concerns about the deterioration of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Belarus. On restrictive measures, the Foreign Secretary spoke in favour of including three companies closely linked to the Belarusian leadership. These were agreed.

Syria

Ministers agreed conclusions (see link) which condemned violence, reiterated the call for reform, and laid the ground for further work on sanctions.

On the same day as the FAC, the Foreign Secretary made a statement on Syria:

“President Assad’s speech today was disappointing and unconvincing. If President Assad is to restore any credibility the Syrian people need to see concrete action, not vague promises. We have been clear that rapid and real implementation of substantial reforms, addressing the legitimate demands of peaceful Syrian protesters, is what is urgently needed. There must also be an immediate end to violence by Syrian security forces, the release of all political prisoners, an end to the torture and abuse of those who remain in detention and access given to international humanitarian agencies.”

Libya

Conclusions were agreed (see link) setting out the EU’s approach to a ceasefire and a political solution based on Gaddafi’s departure. The conclusions also referred to sanctions measures, such as the listing of Gaddafi-controlled ports in Libya.

Yemen

Ministers agreed conclusions (see link) which called for all to respect the current ceasefire and reiterated the need for a solution based on the Gulf Co-operation Council’s initiative.

Middle East Peace Process

Over lunch, Ministers discussed the current situation in the peace process, including: the role of the Quartet; the handling of a possible unilateral declaration of Palestinian independence in September; and options for encouraging the two sides to restart negotiations.

General Affairs Council (GAC)

The GAC was chaired by the Hungarian EU presidency (Foreign Minister Martonyi). A draft record of the meeting can be found at:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/genaff/122949.pdf.

June European Council

Ministers examined the draft conclusions for the European Council of 23-24 June. The discussion covered the main agenda items: economic policy (progress on the euro-plus pact and on the EU’s response to the sovereign debt crisis); migration (review of progress in implementing asylum and migration polices); Croatia (review of progress on accession negotiations); and events in the southern neighbourhood.

I emphasised the need for positive language on economic growth, and for the right approach on deregulation for small and medium-sized enterprises. I also sought references on trade, particularly in relation to the Doha round.

On the European neighbourhood policy, I pushed for a clear Council position welcoming the review to be reflected in the Council conclusions.

European Semester

The presidency set out recommendations on national reform programmes submitted by member states under the Europe 2020 strategy for jobs and growth. The Council agreed to forward texts to the European Council. I abstained from voting on the grounds that there had not been sufficient time to complete UK parliamentary scrutiny. I asked that more time be given for the scrutiny processes in future.

18 Month Presidency Programme

Poland, Denmark and Cyprus presented the 18-month programme of the EU presidencies. The programme was endorsed.

I will deposit copies of this note in the Libraries of both Houses, and I will continue to update Parliament on Foreign and General Affairs Councils as and when future meetings are held.