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Foreign Affairs Council and General Affairs Council

Volume 543: debated on Thursday 19 April 2012

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will attend the Foreign Affairs Council on 23 April. I will attend the General Affairs Council on 24 April. Both meetings will be held in Luxembourg.

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.

Burma

We expect conclusions that recognise positive progress in Burma against the EU benchmarks agreed at the Foreign Affairs Council of 23 January. These benchmarks include the release of political prisoners, a number of initial ceasefire agreements with some ethnic groups, and the generally positive conduct of by-elections on 1 April. We will also push for the suspension of EU sanctions except those relating to export of military equipment. The Prime Minister set out our approach during his visit to Burma of 13 April.

The conclusions may make reference to remaining issues, such as the lack of humanitarian access to conflict areas and a number of remaining political prisoners. We would also like the conclusions to stress that any commercial engagement by EU companies should promote the highest standards of integrity and corporate social responsibility.

Syria

We are working for conclusions that give the EU’s full support to the UN advance monitoring mission to Syria and to UN Security Council Resolution 2042. Agreed on 14 April, the resolution authorises an advance monitoring mission and calls on the Syrian Government to implement urgently and comprehensively Kofi Annan’s six-point plan. We may also work for a further round of EU sanctions on the regime to be adopted at the FAC should we decide further pressure on the regime is appropriate

Afghanistan

We expect Ministers to discuss EU support for Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) ahead of the NATO Chicago summit and the Tokyo conference on development in Afghanistan. We want the EU to make a significant contribution to the ANSF and Afghanistan’s development needs.

Sahel /Mali

We expect Ministers to be presented with conclusions reiterating the EU’s support for the economic community of west African states-led (ECOWAS) response to last month’s coup d’état in Mali. The conclusions should also reiterate the importance of implementing the EU’s strategy for security and development in the Sahel, including the common security and defence policy (CSDP) mission to Niger. We want the EU to reaffirm its support for the prompt regional response to the coup that led to the inauguration of an interim civilian President on 12 April. We also want to record our concerns about the deteriorating security situation in the north of the country where, in the absence of state control, Tuareg insurgents, some with links to al-Qaeda, have taken control of key cities.

Middle East Peace Process

We expect a substantive discussion on the middle east peace process, with a particular focus on the settlements and area C. Baroness Ashton is likely to brief on the recent Quartet Principals’ meeting.

Iran

Baroness Ashton will brief Ministers following E3+3 (UK, France, Germany, US, China and Russia) talks with Iran in Istanbul on 14 April. We will underline that we welcome this new round of engagement and that Iran must urgently take concrete and practical steps to restore international confidence in the nature of their nuclear programme.

General Affairs Council (GAC)

The GAC will be chaired by the Danish EU presidency.

There are two main items on the GAC agenda in April: the multi-annual financial framework (MFF) and cohesion policy. The first will be a discussion on resources for structural and cohesion funds and the common agricultural policy (CAP), and text for the negotiating box in headings 1 and 2 of the budget. The presidency intend for the negotiating box to establish parameters for the 2014-20 multi-annual financial framework discussions at June European Council. The second will be on cohesion policy. The presidency seek agreement of a partial general approach on elements of the package of regulations published by the Commission in October. The package of regulations establishes how cohesion funding is allocated, how the funds are used and the rules that govern their use.

My overriding objective for the discussions on the MFF will be for the negotiating box to reflect the UK’s objective of delivering a restrained EU budget, limited to a real-terms freeze. Within a restrained budget, a greater share should be seen in priority areas (such as external action, research and climate change).

On structural and cohesion funds, we have a principled position that supports targeting of funds to poorer member states and regions where they are needed most and can offer the most value for money. We oppose any extension of macro-economic conditionality (the proposal for which allows the Commission to suspend all or part of structural and cohesion fund payment if effective action to meet macro-economic goals is not taken). There should also be a very substantial reduction in the size of the CAP budget with a higher proportion of CAP for projects which offer benefits to the wider society such as climate change reduction and away from market distorting subsidies.

On cohesion policy, the partial general approach should cover aspects of how the funds are used, including ex-ante conditionality, which establish requirements to be met before member states can receive structural and cohesion funds; and monitoring and evaluation, which ensure that the funds have been used as intended.