The Foreign Affairs Council will meet on 27 February and the General Affairs Council on 28 February. Both meetings will take place in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will attend the Foreign Affairs Council. I will attend the General Affairs Council.
foreign affairs council (fac)
We hope to secure Council adoption of strong conclusions and a new package of sanctions to put pressure on the Assad regime, in the light of the UN General Assembly resolution of 16 February and the Friends of Syria group meeting in Tunis on 24 February. We also hope that the FAC will agree to press for more EU action on the humanitarian front, and highlight the need for more support for the Opposition.
The Council will reflect on the transition in Egypt, which is at a key point following parliamentary elections. Further progress on the elections is threatened by the continued deterioration in the economy, crackdown on civil society and recent violence. We hope the Council will adopt conclusions that maintain the pressure for progress and set out EU support for Egypt, once there has been a fair and free transition to civilian rule.
We expect Ministers to discuss progress in the EU-facilitated dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo. This will be followed by a more in-depth discussion at the GAC the following day, where member states will consider whether to grant Serbia EU candidate status. The Government welcome progress made by Serbia and Kosovo in the dialogue so far, and urge both sides to maintain a constructive engagement in the process. The Government urge Serbia to continue to make every effort to meet the requirements set out by the European Council in December. The Government are also a strong supporter of Kosovo’s EU future.
Over lunch, Ministers will be updated on contact between the Israelis and Palestinians, with an assessment of the current state of Palestinian reconciliation talks. This discussion is not expected to lead to formal conclusions—which are instead expected at the subsequent FAC in March.
Ministers hope to discuss developments of the EU’s engagement in the south Caucasus since the last FAC discussion in June 2010, when the Council agreed the following conclusions:
We expect conclusions to be adopted covering the EU’s relationship with the three countries of the south Caucasus, and covering efforts to achieve peaceful settlement of the conflicts in the region. We believe the conclusions should emphasise that forthcoming elections in the south Caucasus should meet internationally recognised democratic standards.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary hopes to brief the Council on developments at the 23 February London conference on Somalia. This may be followed by further, concrete EU action to be agreed at the March FAC.
Baroness Ashton may brief on her recent visits to Brazil and Mexico. Following this, there may be a short discussion on the current state of the EU’s relationship with each of these emerging powers.
general affairs council (gac)
March European Council
Ministers will discuss preparation for the March European Council being held the following week (1-2 March); which will focus on economic policy; preparation for international summits (G8 in May, G20 in June and the Rio plus 20 in June) and Serbia.
i) Economic Policy
Ministers will discuss economic and employment policies with an emphasis on green growth and on structural reforms to increase competitiveness and create more jobs, in line with the statement from the January informal European Council. That Council agreed to accelerate action on the digital single market and legislation that will strengthen further the single market; for instance in the services and energy sectors.
The statement of the January informal European Council can be found at:
In preparation for the March European Council, the Prime Minister jointly wrote a letter with 11 other EU member states to Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, and Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, to outline a plan for growth in Europe. I have placed copies of this letter in the Libraries of both Houses.
There will also be a discussion on the reforms implemented under the European semester and the Commission will announce their new recommendations for 2012. The UK specific recommendations for 2011 focused on addressing the fiscal deficit, housing benefit reform, encouraging financing, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises and measures to tackle unemployment.
The UK specific recommendations can be found at:
ii) International Summits
Ministers will discuss the EU’s approach to the upcoming G8, G20 and Rio plus 20 conferences. The May G8 summit in Chicago will focus on political and global issues. The June G20 summit in Mexico will focus on economics and finance and is expected to include green growth. The June Rio plus 20 will cover green growth in the context of sustainable development and institutional reform.
The March European Council is expected to endorse the decision on Serbia reached at the General Affairs Council (please see link).
Ministers will be expected to make a decision, in the light of the discussion at the Foreign Affairs Council, on whether to grant Serbia candidate status. The discussion was deferred to this GAC from the December European Council. The December European Council tasked the Council with examining and confirming whether Serbia has continued to show credible commitment and made further progress in the dialogue, among other issues.
The December European Council conclusions can be found at: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms data/docs/pressdata/en/ec/126714.pdf.
Bulgaria and Romania
We expect Council conclusions in relation to Bulgaria and Romania’s progress on the co-operation and verification mechanism (CVM), a safeguard measure to monitor progress for acceding states in the areas of freedom, security and justice. The Council is expected to welcome the interim reports on the progress in Bulgaria and Romania under the CVM and acknowledge the continued efforts by Bulgaria and Romania to meet the objectives set under the mechanism. Further reports are expected in the summer of 2012 including the overall assessment of progress since accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU in 2007.
Lunch with Herman Van Rompuy
Following the GAC, Herman Van Rompuy will present, over lunch, the latest progress on the intergovernmental treaty. The intergovernmental treaty is expected to be signed in the margins of the March European Council on 2 March.