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Development Foreign Affairs, Foreign Affairs and General Affairs Councils

Volume 572: debated on Wednesday 11 December 2013

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will attend the Development Foreign Affairs Council on 12 December, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will attend the Foreign Affairs Council on 16 December, and I will attend the General Affairs Council on 17 December. The Development Foreign Affairs Council and the Foreign Affairs Council will be chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, and the General Affairs Council will be chaired by the Lithuanian presidency. The meetings will be held in Brussels.

Development Foreign Affairs Council

Post-2015 agenda

Ministers will discuss next steps for the EU in the international post-2015 process, following the UN millennium development goals review event in September and current discussions in the open working group. Conclusions on “financing poverty eradication and sustainable development beyond 2015” will be adopted.

Agenda for change

Ministers will receive an update on implementation of the agenda for change, including programming of EU financial instruments. Baroness Ashton will also update on progress on joint programming and the results framework. Ministers will be invited to exchange views on these issues.

Progress on policy coherence for development

Baroness Ashton will reflect on the progress the EU is making on policy coherence for development, and Ministers will adopt conclusions on the 2013 annual report on policy coherence.

Regional issues

Ministers will discuss the great lakes. Other regional items are still to be confirmed.

Foreign Affairs Council

Introduction—Review of the European External Action Service

Baroness Ashton will outline the recommendations made in her review of the European External Action Service and comment on the views received from member states.

Introduction—Democratic Republic of the Congo

Baroness Ashton will cover recent political progress in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during her introductory remarks, focusing in particular on the opportunities this represents.

Iran

Baroness Ashton is expected to update the FAC on the E3+3 talks with Iran taking place on 9-13 December in Vienna. Discussion is likely to focus on the outcomes of the negotiations, the implementation timetable of agreements, and any implication for EU sanctions.

Southern neighbourhood

On Syria, the UK will ensure intensive preparations for the Geneva II peace talks. This will include encouraging the EU to give the National Coalition its political backing, so the moderate opposition can negotiate from a position of strength. We will encourage EU institutions and member states to donate generously at the UN’s humanitarian aid conference in January. We will use the attendance of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to send a united message that the Syrian regime must allow this aid to get to those who need it in Syria.

Lebanon is the country hosting the most Syrian refugees—over 830,000—and most at risk of overspill from Syria. The UK has increased hugely our humanitarian and security support to Lebanon this year. We hope the FAC will agree conclusions reiterating EU support for Lebanon’s stability, and to call for the urgent formation of a new Lebanese Government and for all parties to abide by the policy of disassociation from the Syria conflict.

Eastern Partnership and EU/Russia relationship

Ministers will discuss the outcomes of the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius and how this may impact on EU-Russia relations. Recent events in Ukraine are also likely to be covered. The UK was disappointed with Ukraine’s decision to delay signature of the EU-Ukraine association agreement, which it regards as a missed opportunity. We are watching events in Ukraine closely and continue to call for dialogue between all parties and for the rule of law to be respected. The UK will stress that the door remains open for Ukraine if it decides that it wants to sign the association agreement in the future.

Central African Republic

The Central African Republic (CAR) will be discussed in light of the UN Security Council resolution which authorised the deployment of the African-led international support mission to CAR (MISCA) and the deployment of French forces to support MISCA in the discharge of its mandate.

Middle east peace process

In support of the ongoing talks, the UK will press for a firm offer of EU economic and security incentives to both parties in the event of a deal, while making clear our concern at the possibility of actions that might damage the progress of these negotiations.

Western Balkans

Baroness Ashton is likely to update Ministers on the EU-facilitated Serbia/Kosovo dialogue and Ministers will discuss opening accession negotiations with Serbia, which will also be discussed at the GAC. We were pleased to see broadly successful municipal election reruns in Kosovo, which are a key part of the April dialogue agreement, while acknowledging that there is more to do on other dialogue agreements. The UK is clear that Serbia’s negotiating framework must ensure full normalisation before Serbia can join the EU. We also want to see Kosovo’s stabilisation and association agreement proceed swiftly towards completion in the spring and avoid reopening questions of status.

Burma

Our priority is to agree conclusions that incorporate language calling for reform of the Burmese constitution in advance of the report from Burma’s parliamentary constitutional review committee, which will present its recommendations for reform on 31 January 2014. We will stress the importance of reviewing those clauses which prevent the participation of individuals from being selected for Burma’s presidency on the basis of the foreign nationality of spouses or offspring. We expect the conclusions will also reflect the outcomes of the Baroness Ashton-led EU-Myanmar taskforce which visited Burma on 14 and 15 November.

Lunch with Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will join Ministers for a discussion over lunch at the FAC. The UK will use this as an opportunity to reiterate the benefits that can accrue when the EU and Russia co-operate fully, for example, the E3+3 negotiations on Iran. We will also set out our view that the EU’s relationship with Eastern partners will bring benefits to Russia as well as the region and that Russia’s pressure on the region is counter-productive.

General Affairs Council

The General Affairs Council (GAC) on 17 December will focus on: preparation for the 19-20 December European Council; the review of the European External Action Service; and the enlargement and stabilisation and association process. The GAC will also receive a debrief from the informal ministerial meeting on cohesion policy held on 26 November in Vilnius.

Preparation of the 19-20 December European Council

The GAC will prepare the 19 and 20 December European Council, which the Prime Minister will attend. The December European Council agenda will focus on three main issues: common security and defence policy (CSDP); economic and monetary union; and economic and social policy. There will also be conclusions on enlargement, the content of which will be discussed at this GAC. I additionally expect there to be an update on the Taskforce for the Mediterranean and on completing the internal energy market.

The UK priorities for the European Council are likely to be: protecting the integrity of the single market, in relation to economic and monetary union; and on CSDP, agreeing a range of actions to improve CSDP’s effectiveness, strengthen European nations’ capabilities and improve competition and transparency in the European defence market, in a way that is complementary to NATO.

European External Action Service

The presidency hope to agree GAC conclusions on the review of the European External Action Service (EEAS). The review was sent to Foreign Ministers by Baroness Ashton in July 2013. As the Government set out in their 27 August explanatory memorandum to Parliament on this issue, we welcome the review as an opportunity to strengthen the EU’s collective weight in the world in areas that support and complement UK international objectives.

We agree that despite a difficult start, the EEAS has started to contribute to UK and wider EU foreign policy objectives, including Baroness Ashton’s role in securing the Serbia-Kosovo agreement and in leading the E3+3 process with Iran. We support Baroness Ashton’s assessment in the review of the three main elements of EU foreign policy to have emerged from the first two years of operation of the EEAS; namely the “neighbourhood”, the “comprehensive approach to crisis management”, and “international issues where our collective weight allows the EU to play a leading role in the world”. Of course, the EEAS is not perfect and there are still some outstanding issues to be resolved. To this end, we broadly welcome the proposals for change in the EEAS review.

Enlargement and stabilisation and association process Council conclusions

The GAC will discuss the Commission’s annual enlargement package, published on 16 October, and agree conclusions on the enlargement strategy and the western Balkans, Turkey and Iceland. The December GAC is the annual opportunity for the Council to take stock and give direction to the EU’s enlargement strategy and pre-accession reform priorities for individual countries.

The Government’s views on the package were set out in my explanatory memorandum of 28 October 2013. We will broadly welcome the Commission’s approach in this year’s package, reiterating our continued firm support for future EU enlargement on the basis of strict but fair conditionality, with countries moving forward on merit as they meet the conditions. We will also take the opportunity to introduce our thinking, in the context of future enlargement, on how to return the concept of free movement to a more sensible basis and look forward to a future debate.

The GAC will be considering progress by all of the western Balkans countries and Turkey, with particular attention on Serbia and Albania.

Cohesion policy

Ministers with responsibility for cohesion policy met in Vilnius on 26 November to discuss progress in preparing programmes for the 2014-20 funding period. This included their experiences to date in applying new arrangements in the regulatory package agreed between the Council and European Parliament, such as the preconditions to be met before spending on specific priorities can start, the requirement to concentrate funding on a limited number of objectives, the strengthening of results orientation and improved co-ordination between different funds. For this item, the presidency will present its conclusions from the meeting.