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Foreign Affairs Council

Volume 559: debated on Monday 25 February 2013

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs attended the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) on 18 February. The Foreign Affairs Council was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland. Commissioners Piebalgs (Development), and Füle (Enlargement) were in attendance for some of the discussions.

Foreign Affairs Council (FAC)

A provisional report of the meeting and conclusions adopted can be found at:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/135544.pdf.

Mali

Ministers formally launched the EU training mission to Mali, and discussed the adoption of the road map. There was general support for ensuring that elections were held in line with the road map, and that they took into account the legitimate needs of the north. Ministers also stressed the need to ensure that the Malian Government were engaged on the political track, as well as the security one. There was widespread support for the role of France in this crisis and the leadership they had demonstrated. The discussion also included a focus on what development opportunities could be reinstated in the light of the improving security situation. Conclusions were agreed, which described ongoing efforts in Mali to achieve security and stability.

Eastern Partnership

There was a wide-ranging discussion, with a view to establishing the EU’s priorities ahead of the eastern partnership summit, scheduled to take place in Vilnius in November. Conclusions were agreed outlining this. Ministers discussed how to engage partner countries in the debate, how to encourage them to continue economic and political reforms, and on the need for a differentiated approach to for each country. Several member states stressed the need for the EU to offer a clear European perspective for the eastern partners.

Iraq

The current political tensions in Iraq were touched on briefly, with a more substantial discussion planned for a later date.

Syria

The FAC agreed conclusions which outlined the EU’s strong concern on the ongoing situation in Syria especially the humanitarian crisis, and highlighted its support for the al-Khatib initiative, the opposition, civil society and planning for transition. There was broad agreement that further assistance to people in Syria, particularly the protection of civilians, could be enhanced. The Council conclusions also set out the EU’s decision to amend the EU’s arms embargo to allow the provision of non-lethal support and technical assistance to the opposition, and to renew the restrictive measures for a further three months.

Middle East Peace Process

Ministers agreed that 2013 was a crucial year for the middle east peace process. They welcomed President Obama’s planned trip to the region and agreed that it was important to engage with the US on the increasingly urgent need to make progress on the two-state solution. There was broad agreement that the EU had an important role to play in supporting US efforts.

Zimbabwe

Council conclusions were adopted that repeated the EU’s readiness to suspend the majority of the restrictive measures following a peaceful and credible constitutional referendum. Ministers agreed an amendment to the existing measures that delisted 21 individuals and suspended the travel ban on six Ministers. The restrictive measures were extended for a further 12 months. The EU position supports the reforms that have been achieved so far and encourages further progress.

Other business

Northern Dimension

After the FAC, there was also a meeting of the Northern Dimension, where Iceland, Norway and Russia joined member states in a discussion on practical co-operation in the region, highlighting the opportunities in the High North and the challenge of developing those opportunities in a sustainable manner.

Bourgas

Under any other business, Bulgaria outlined the findings of its investigation into the Bourgas terrorist attack which took place in July 2012.

Other business

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

EU assistance to Kosovo related to the rule of law.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK); The measures that had been agreed previously at the January FAC were strengthened in light of the recent nuclear test on 12 February. The package will implement UN Security Council Resolution 2087, which imposed new criteria allowing the EU to sanction individuals involved in the supply of conventional arms and dual-use goods and banned the export to DPRK of certain materials for ballistic missiles. In addition, a limited range of financial restrictions were agreed in response to the nuclear test, including bans on the sale or purchase of gold, diamonds, precious metals and Government bonds. The EU reiterated its call on the Government of DPRK to urgently improve the human rights situation in their country. Together with Japan, the EU will propose, at the Human Rights Council, the creation of an independent inquiry mechanism in support of the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK.

EU priorities in UN human rights forum: Council conclusions were agreed on the EU’s approach to UN human rights forum in 2013. Among the priorities for strong action at UN-level are the human rights situations in Syria, DPRK, Burma, Belarus, Sri Lanka, Mali and Iran, and the right to freedom of religion or belief.