I attended the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) on 24 June and the General Affairs Council (GAC) on 25 June. The Foreign Affairs Council was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, and the General Affairs Council by the Irish presidency. The meetings were held in Luxembourg.
Commissioners Hedegaard (Climate Action), Ftile (Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy) and Piebalgs (Development) were in attendance for some of the discussions at the FAC.
Commissioners Šefcovic (Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration), Lewandowski (Financial Programming and Budget), and Füle were in attendance for some of the discussions at the GAC.
Foreign Affairs Council
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/137593.pdf.
Baroness Ashton raised the outcome of the elections in Iran and assured Ministers that she would seize any opportunity for greater engagement on the nuclear issue.
Baroness Ashton updated the Council on the situation regarding Turkey, expressing concern about the Government’s and police’s handling of the recent protests while stressing the importance of the EU remaining engaged.
Baroness Ashton noted the good progress made in the association agreement (AA) negotiations with Armenia, Georgia and Moldova, and the real prospect that they would be initialled at the eastern partnership summit in Vilnius in November. The European External Action Service (EEAS) and Commission maintained regular and intense dialogue with Ukraine, underlining the need for the December 2012 FAC conclusion benchmarks to be met.
I underlined that the UK wanted a successful summit and hoped that some of the AAs could be signed/initialled at Vilnius, assuming the documents were technically ready and remaining conditions met. The UK wanted to move forward with Ukraine, but significant concerns remained. In this climate signature at Vilnius could not be guaranteed, so the EU would need to consider alternative measures of success.
Baroness Ashton and Commissioner Hedegaard introduced the second FAC discussion of climate diplomacy following the previous discussion in July 2011. Climate change was a core foreign policy issue given its security, economic and physical impacts. The EU had played a key role in the agreement at the UN climate change conference in Durban in 2011 thanks to our ability to speak with one voice and build the right alliances with over 100 progressive developing countries.
Member states strongly supported the EEAS and Commission work, reflection paper and proposed way ahead. I emphasised that the commitments from Durban were only achievable with political support at the highest levels so, with a critical two years ahead, we needed to raise the issue of climate change at the strategic level, across the EEAS, Commission and member states. Conclusions were agreed and it was decided that the FAC should return to this next year.
Middle East Peace Process (MEPP)
Member states agreed on the importance of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s current efforts and discussed the best ways for the EU to support these. Member states’ views varied as to the most effective use of conclusions this month, which were not agreed. Following the debate, the high representative reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to a two-state solution and stressed that the EU fully supports the current efforts of the US in support of the resumption of direct and substantial negotiations. The FAC will revert to the issue in July.
Over lunch, NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen shared views about Afghanistan’s development post-2014, and how the international community should continue to support the country after military draw-down. Ministers were cautiously optimistic about the recent opening of a political office in Qatar for peace negotiations with the Taliban, and pressed for all stakeholders to participate constructively in the process. The Council agreed that, in co-ordination with other international players such as NATO and the UN, the EU should agree a comprehensive strategy for its engagement with Afghanistan post-2014. This would complement the EU-Afghanistan co-operation agreement on partnership and development, which would hopefully be finalised soon.
I underlined the importance of the EU continuing to send a strong signal of support to Afghanistan beyond 2014 and of prioritising funding for it. EUPOL should be a key part of this, following a strategic review in the autumn. Conclusions were agreed which focused particularly on urging progress on fulfilment of Afghanistan’s commitments under the Tokyo mutual accountability framework and on preparations for the elections in 2014. They also re-stated the EU’s commitment to strengthening civilian policing in Afghanistan, including beyond the transition period.
In Baroness Ashton’s view, overall, the EU had responded to the Arab spring in a comprehensive way that underlined the strategic importance of the region, including through taskforces, enhanced financial support and close contact with civil society. I emphasised the need to continue to evaluate the effectiveness of our engagement, including via a rigorous country-by-country analysis. This would guide decisions on how to calibrate EU support. I welcomed the EEAS and Commission’s focus in their recent letter to the European Council on effective public messaging and enhanced co-ordination. The Commission’s sectoral DGs in particular should adhere more closely to the overall European neighbourhood policy framework.
Baroness Ashton also reported on her recent visit to countries in the region, including Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. This had left her particularly concerned at the prospect of major protests in Egypt on 30 June. She had urged President Morsi to reach out to the opposition.
On Syria, there was broad agreement on the need for the EU to focus on support to the Geneva II process. I set out how the G8 had agreed a strong statement in support of a political settlement, and welcomed the EEAS/Commission communication on the EU approach to Syria. The EU had stepped up by pledging €400 million as part of the overall G8 pledge of $1.5 billion for the UN appeal. But there was still a huge shortfall. Given the unprecedented scale of the humanitarian crisis, I urged the EU to raise that amount to $l billion, and for member states to match that with a further $l billion.
On Somalia, I raised last week’s terrorist attack on the UN compound in Mogadishu under AOB. The Somali National Security Forces and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) had been a central part of the response, demonstrating the importance of continued EU support to AMISOM. I emphasised that the technical issues on funding needed to be resolved.
Also under AOB, Sweden raised the recent Arctic Council meeting and the EU’s efforts to become an observer.
Ministers agreed without discussion a number of others measures, including:
The Council adopted the agenda for the EU-Gulf Co-operation Council joint council and ministerial meeting, to be held on 30 June in Bahrain.
The Council adopted guidelines on the promotion and protection of all human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, on the basis of existing international legal standards in this area.
The Council adopted EU guidelines on the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief.
The Council allocated EUR 5 million from the EU budget in support of physical security and stockpile management activities to reduce the risk of the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons and their ammunition in Libya and its region.
The Council decided to suspend the application of the EU travel ban on Vladimir Makey, Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs, with a view to facilitating diplomatic contacts between Belarus and the EU and its member states. This does not imply any change in the EU’s policy of critical engagement with Belarus.
The Council amended regulation 881/2002 imposing specific restrictive measures directed against persons and entities associated with the al-Qaeda network. Changes were made to implement decisions taken at the UN.
The Council prolonged the mandate of Mrs Patricia Flor, EU Special Representative for central Asia, until 31 October 2014.
The Council extended the mandate of the EU Special Representative for the southern Mediterranean, Mr Bernardino Leon, until 30 June 2014.
The Council took note of the sixth implementation report of the EU action plan for Afghanistan, covering the period from March 2012 until March 2013.
The Council adopted the EU priorities for the 68th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations that will convene from 17 September 2013.
General Affairs Council
A provisional report of the meeting and conclusions adopted can be found at: http://www.consilium.europa. eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/genaff/137614.pdf.
The 25 June GAC focused on EU enlargement and preparation for the 27-28 June European Council. There was also a discussion on a rule of law initiative.
In addition, there was a meeting with the President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, which also focused on the June European Council.
The FAC and GAC both discussed the good progress that Serbia and Kosovo had made in recent months, including in reaching and starting to implement the historic April 2013 agreement between the two sides. On the basis of this progress in meeting the conditions set out in December, the GAC recommended that the June European Council: agree to open accession negotiations with Serbia in January 2014 at the latest; agree a negotiating framework should be drawn up, which will also address the normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina; and agree that pre-screening work on the acquis is started, particularly focused on justice and home affairs reform issues. The GAC also asked the Commission and HR/VP to report further on implementation of the April agreement by December to inform final decisions on the adoption of the negotiating framework and the start of accession negotiations. The GAC started procedures for member states to adopt the necessary texts to open negotiations on a stabilisation and association agreement with Kosovo.
The GAC agreed in principle the EU’s common negotiating position on chapter 22, which looks at regional policy, but delayed the inter-governmental conference (at which the chapter will be formally opened) until the autumn. The presidency agreed to write to the Turkish Government to clarify the situation. They did so on 25 June.
Proposal for an initiative on Democracy, Fundamental Values and the Rule of Law
Denmark, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands sent a letter to the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, asking for a discussion on their initiative for a new mechanism to safeguard fundamental values of the Union in member states and a greater role for the European Commission in safeguarding these. At the GAC on 22 April further discussion was scheduled for this meeting.
Consequently in this meeting the signatories of the letter to President Barroso called again for the Commission to propose options for a specific mechanism.
I highlighted that this issue is already being discussed in the Justice and Home Affairs Council and there is a danger of confusion if the issue is pursued in separate Councils formations. There was also a risk of duplication with the work of the Council of Europe in relation to human rights so we should guard against setting up new initiatives that could be duplicative or otherwise unnecessary.
Preparation of the 27-28 June European Council
The GAC discussed the 27-28 June European Council with the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy. Discussion focused on how to promote growth and tackle youth unemployment. There was also a discussion on strengthening economic and monetary union (EMU) which largely focused on the timetable for progress on this issue. I stressed that action on youth unemployment or otherwise should not prejudge the unresolved multi-annual financial framework (MFF) negotiations. We need to establish what resources will be available before committing to programmes that could be undeliverable. On EMU, I also emphasised that the rights of all 27 member states needed to be respected as work in this area progressed.
The GAC also approved the reports on the European semester and recommendations on national reform programmes.
The Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF)
The GAC discussed the MFF with the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, following a presentation on the progress of the trilogue negotiations between Ireland (as President of the Council), the European Parliament and the European Commission.
I highlighted again that there was little room for further manoeuvre within the mandate agreed at the February European Council which any deal must respect.