My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will attend the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) on 23 March. I will attend the General Affairs Council (GAC) on 26 March.
Meeting with EU candidate countries
Ahead of the FAC, on the 22 March, EU Ministers are due to meet their counterparts from EU candidate countries: Macedonia, Iceland, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey. They are scheduled to discuss Afghanistan, Pakistan and the southern neighbourhood.
On Afghanistan, we want the EU and its partners to send a strong message of the international community’s enduring commitment to Afghanistan’s security and economic viability beyond 2014 in build up to the forthcoming NATO Chicago summit and Tokyo development conference.
On Pakistan, we will want to stress the important role it has to play in bringing stability to Afghanistan as the importance of the EU’s relationship with Pakistan in its own right.
The discussion on the southern neighbourhood is likely to be broad. It comes soon after the UN Security Council debate of 12 March, “The Situation in the Middle East: Challenges and Opportunities”, where the Foreign Secretary sought to refocus efforts on transition and the Arab spring. The discussion may also cover Libya and the issue of mistreatment of detainees and Egypt where there are concerns about the pace of transition to civilian government.
Foreign Affairs Council (FAC)
The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, will chair the Foreign Affairs Council on 23 March.
We expect Ministers to consider further sanctions against Belarus in response to the continued detention of political prisoners. Formal conclusions may also be agreed, and Ministers may discuss the political and human rights situation in Belarus.
We are seeking a thirteenth-round of EU sanctions against Syria. Ministers may also consider conclusions reinforcing our messages on humanitarian assistance and on support to the UN Secretary-General’s special representative, Kofi Annan. Ministers are also likely to discuss the next Friends of Syria meeting in Istanbul, in the first week of April.
Ministers are likely to be to be presented with draft conclusions on the Sahel and proposals for a Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) mission to be launched in Niger in 2012. Recent developments in the Sahel—including violence in northern Mali, proliferation of weapons, increasing terrorist activity and a deteriorating humanitarian situation—underline the scope and scale of the challenges faced by countries in the region and the importance of helping to build their institutional capacity.
Although Iran is not yet a formal agenda item, we expect Ashton to update Ministers on the E3 (UK, France and Germany) +3 (US, China and Russia) response to the latest Iranian letter on nuclear negotiations.
Ministers may also discuss the disturbing human rights situation in Iran following the 8 March report of the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Iran to the Human Rights Council. EU member states are expected to review and agree to new designations of human rights violators in Iran.
Lunch with Turkish Foreign Minister
The Turkish Foreign Minister is scheduled to attend the FAC lunch where we expect Ministers to discuss a range of regional issues, including Syria. Baroness Ashton may also provide an update on recent developments in the middle east peace process, including informal Quartet consultations. This discussion is not expected to lead to formal conclusions—which are instead expected at the subsequent FAC in April.
General Affairs Council (GAG)
The GAC will be chaired by the Danish EU presidency.
There are two main items on the GAC agenda in March. The first is follow-up to the March European Council.
The conclusions of the March European Council meeting can be found at: http://www.european-council. europa.eu/council-meetings/conclusions.aspx
The second substantive item is the multi-annual financial framework, where there will be a stock-take of progress made in technical working groups and a discussion on:
Heading One A: Competitiveness for growth and employment, consisting of research and innovation programmes, education, training, trans-European networks, social policy programmes economic integration and accompanying policies.
Heading Three: Citizenship, freedom, security and justice, which includes programmes such as training for legal professionals; strengthening networks, cross-border co-operation on enforcement; information and raising public awareness.
Heading Four: EU as a global player which helps to deliver on global poverty reduction, building stability and security beyond the borders of the EU, specifically in the European neighbourhood and fragile states, supporting the EU’s prosperity agenda with emerging economies and tackling global climate change.
Heading Five: Administration; which mostly constitutes staff salaries and the upkeep of the EU institutions’ estates.
This discussion will inform the drafting of the ‘negotiating box’ which will help to establish the ceilings for all of the headings in the multi-annual financial framework. The negotiating box is like a set of Council conclusions, and though this document is not binding it seeks to establish a set of parameters for the negotiation. My overriding objective will be to ensure that the negotiating box reflects restraint and leads to a final budget that reflects the fiscal consolidation that is being undertaken at home.