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Foreign Affairs Council and Development Foreign Affairs Council

Volume 545: debated on Tuesday 22 May 2012

I attended the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) in Brussels on 14 May. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development attended the Development FAC held later the same day.

Both meetings were chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland. 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/130248.pdf

Foreign Affairs Council

Afghanistan

Ministers discussed Afghanistan ahead of international meetings in Chicago 20 and 21 May, Kabul 14 June and Tokyo 8 July. Conclusions were agreed (see link above) which reaffirmed the EU’s and individual member states’ commitment to support Afghanistan beyond its transition. Ministers agreed to continue to prioritise Afghanistan over the long-term through making an enhanced contribution to support the country. This commitment would be dependent on reciprocal efforts by the Afghan authorities to meet their agreed reform obligations.

Middle East Peace Process

Ministers agreed conclusions (see link above) stressing their commitment to a two-state solution to the conflict, and expressed concern about developments on the ground that could threaten the goal of a two-state solution, including in area C of the west bank and in East Jerusalem. They also reiterated the importance of Israel’s security.

I welcomed the conclusions and expressed hope that the new Israeli coalition could benefit the peace process. I also reminded colleagues of some recent positive steps including the import into the UK of textiles from Gaza for the first time since 2007. There is an urgent need to relax the restrictions imposed on Gaza in order to allow products to be exported to the west bank, Israel and the EU.

Southern Neighbourhood

Ministers agreed conclusions (see link above) and a further round of sanctions against Syria. I made the following statement after the meeting:

“I welcome the EU’s agreement on a new round of sanctions on Syria. As long as the violence and repression continues we will continue to increase the pressure on the regime and its supporters. We will also press others to adopt and implement similar measures”.

“The UK fully supports the work of the joint UN and Arab League special envoy to resolve the crisis in Syria. The regime must implement rapidly and fully its commitments under two unanimous UN Security Council resolutions and Kofi Annan’s plan. This plan remains the best hope of ending the violence, but it is not open-ended and we will not hesitate to return to the UN Security Council if it is not implemented swiftly and in full”.

Ministers discussed Algeria’s parliamentary elections. I had already made the following statement on 12 May:

“I congratulate the people of Algeria on the conduct of these elections and welcome the Algerian Government’s decision to allow EU observers for the first time. Over the past 16 months people across north Africa have clearly expressed their desire for greater openness and accountability, and it is encouraging that the Algerian authorities have responded in this positive way. I particularly welcome the greater representation of women in the new Parliament, in line with Algeria’s recent reforms”.

“I hope this progress will lead to further reforms in the forthcoming discussion of constitutional change, and in the run up to the local elections later this year and the presidential elections in 2014. The UK has a good relationship with Algeria and I am confident that British Parliamentarians will seek to further strengthen ties with their newly elected Algerian counterparts”.

Ministers had a short exchange on Libya where many expressed their concern about increased migration flows through the country. I noted that that the EU’s border management assessment would soon be complete and that following this up should be a priority.

Mexico

Baroness Ashton briefed Ministers on her two recent visits to Mexico and preparations for the EU-Mexico summit due to be held on 17 or 18 June. During the following discussion many stressed that the summit was an opportunity to discuss a number of issues important to EU partners, including the EU-Mexico Free Trade Agreement and wider trade and investment within the region.

Russia

Ministers reviewed Russia in the light of the upcoming EU-Russia summit of 3 and 4 June in St Petersburg. I highlighted the importance of focusing on issues which were priorities for both Russia and the EU. We need to continue to engage with civil society groups. Although many colleagues highlighted the importance of the EU-Russia new agreement, others pointed out that progress on this was likely to be slow.

Ukraine

During discussions some Ministers expressed concerns about developments in Ukraine and the EU’s inability to exert any influence. Many Ministers agreed that it was too early to take any EU-wide decision on governmental attendance at the Euro 2012 championships.

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH)

Under a short AOB item, the Slovenian and Austrian Ministers briefed on their recent visit to BiH. This is likely to be a full agenda at the FAC on 25 June.

Other business

Ministers agreed without discussion a number of others measures, including:

A Council regulation suspending certain restrictive measures against Burma.

Conclusions on Somalia highlighting the steps needed for completion of the transition process, committed to continuing “significant support” for African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISON), and stressing concern over the humanitarian situation. The conclusions also noted the imminent mandate of EUCAP Nestor (Regional Maritime Capacity Building) and extension of the mandate for Eunavfor Atalanta (counter piracy).

Conclusions on Yemen.

A Council decision to extend the EU special representative in Afghanistan.

The fifth implementation report of the EU action plan for Afghanistan.

A common position on the fourth meeting of the EU-Albania Stabilisation and Association Council.

The establishment of the EU’s position for the 15th meeting of the EU-Ukraine Co-operation Council.

Development Foreign Affairs Council

Commissioners Piebalgs (Development), and Potocnik (Environment) attended the meeting chaired by Baroness Ashton.

Council Conclusions on Agenda for Change and The Future Approach to EU Budget Support”

Ministers discussed and adopted Council conclusions for both the “Agenda for Change and The Future of EU Budget Support”. There was broad support for the principle of focusing EU grant funding on the poorest countries, with the exception of Spain who argued for a continued focus on middle-income countries in Latin America. The Secretary of State outlined UK priorities including the focus on results, impact and value for money in all EU aid. He noted the importance of rigorous analysis before providing budget support, support for improvements in domestic accountability during the provision of budget support and the importance of co-ordination within the country receiving the support. Commissioner Piebalgs stated that the EU could learn from the UK on how to better communicate its development results.

2012 Annual Report on EU Development Aid Targets

Ministers discussed the findings of the Commission’s annual report 2012 on EU development aid targets and adopted Council conclusions. Commissioner Piebalgs and Baroness Ashton both stressed the need for the EU to continue to meet its 0.7% aid target. The Secretary of State highlighted that the millennium development goals (MDGs), would not be met if we did not meet our commitments. He argued that it was in the EU’s interest to support development as well as being the right thing for the world’s poor. In spite of the economic climate there was significant public support for continuing development aid. The Secretary of State noted that the Prime Minister had recently been announced as co-chair for the UN’s high-level panel for the post MDG framework.

Burma

Ministers discussed the situation in Burma. The EU would spend €150 million in the next two years. Commissioner Piebalgs made the case for joint programming in the country, supported by a number of other Ministers. The Secretary of State informed EU Ministers that the UK had recently quadrupled its aid to Burma, and that donor co-ordination was essential.

Rio+20

Development Ministers discussed the EU position for Rio+20, stressing that there should be a development focus to the Rio summit. Some Ministers noted their support for a sustainable development Council and sustainable development goals.

Council conclusions on food security under the horn of Africa initiative

Commissioner Piebalgs presented the Commission’s approach to SHARE (Supporting Horn of Africa Resilience) stressing the importance of private sector involvement and the rural sector. The Council adopted conclusions welcoming the approach and recognised the importance of support to build resilience in the horn of Africa. Commissioner Piebalgs informed Development Ministers of ongoing discussions under the G8 regarding food security.

Council Conclusions on Policy Coherence for Development (PCD)

Council conclusions were adopted by Ministers with no discussion.

State of play on Joint Programming

France welcomed the Commission’s written note on joint programming and called for an extension of joint programming to additional countries, adding that partner countries needed to be fully involved.

International Family Planning

The Secretary of State called for financial and political support from EU development Ministers for the family planning summit on 11 July 2012, co-hosted by the UK and the Gates Foundation.

I will continue to update Parliament on future Foreign Affairs Councils.