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Foreign Affairs Council

Volume 574: debated on Monday 27 January 2014

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs attended the Foreign Affairs Council on 20 January in Brussels. 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 Füle (Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy), Georgieva (Humanitarian Aid), and Piebalgs (Development) were in attendance for some of the discussions at the FAC.

Foreign Affairs Council

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

Southern Neighbourhood

On Syria, Ministers agreed conclusions which supported the Geneva II process and the national coalition’s decision to participate, condemned the regime for bearing the overwhelming responsibility for recent atrocities and blocking humanitarian access, and emphasised the importance of the participation of women in the Geneva II process. The Foreign Secretary said that the national coalition’s participation in Geneva II was indispensible for a transition to a democratic and pluralist Syria. He repeated his concern about the deepening humanitarian crisis, acknowledged the substantial humanitarian aid pledges made by the EU and its member states but stressed that more was needed.

Ministers also expressed concern about the destabilising effect of the Syria conflict on the region, in particular in Lebanon and Iraq.

Ministers took stock of the situation in Egypt, following the constitutional referendum of 14 and 15 January. Baroness Ashton issued a statement raising concerns over restricted political space, while welcoming progress on the road map, which can be found at: http://eeas.

The Foreign Secretary set out how decisions in the run-up to the referendum were not conducive to long-term political stability, and set out the importance of the EU continuing to raise concerns with the interim Government. He also urged the European External Action Service (EEAS) to send a full Electoral Observation Mission for the presidential and parliamentary elections.

Middle East Peace Process

Ministers discussed latest developments in the middle east peace process. The EU fully supports the ongoing efforts of the parties and of the US towards a just and lasting settlement for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Baroness Ashton is in regular contact with the key parties. The EU has said that it is ready to contribute substantially to post-conflict arrangements for ensuring the sustainability of a peace agreement.

The Foreign Secretary praised US Secretary of State John Kerry’s tremendous energy and commitment, and stated that following on from the December FAC conclusions the EU should focus on developing a truly unprecedented offer of incentives, and accompany this with significant public diplomacy efforts.


On Afghanistan, Ministers agreed conclusions that set out the priorities for the EU’s engagement strategy to 2016: promoting economic development, supporting democracy and human rights, strengthening the rule of law and fostering regional co-operation.

The Foreign Secretary expressed condolences for the deaths in Kabul over the weekend, including two British nationals. He said it was important for the EU to have a clear and realistic strategy for Afghanistan, and welcomed the priorities set out in the conclusions, particularly the emphasis on the rights of women and girls. The Foreign Secretary supported an electoral observation mission and suggested that there were grounds for relative optimism in terms of the technical preparations under way: the electoral roll was being increased and a third of recent registrations were by women.


Ministers agreed the revised Council decision and regulation which bring into force the six months suspension of relevant EU sanctions, as agreed in the E3+3/Iran agreement in Geneva on 24 November. This followed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmation that Iran had taken the steps they had committed to under the agreement. The US also brought into force limited sanctions relief on 20 January. However, the bulk of sanctions, including core oil and financial sanctions, remain in place. Baroness Ashton looked forward to negotiations on the comprehensive agreement which she expects to begin in February. The Foreign Secretary made a statement following the FAC welcoming the deal and reiterating that sanctions relief was limited. Pressure on Iran needed to be maintained in order to reach a comprehensive settlement.


Ministers discussed relations with Russia over lunch, in view of the EU/Russia summit on 28 January. The EEAS highlighted that the upcoming summit would not be treated as “business as usual”. The Foreign Secretary recommended the EU take a clear, confident and united approach to the EU/Russia relationship.


In the light of continuing anti-Government protests and recent violence, Ministers agreed conclusions on Ukraine which called on all actors to exercise restraint, on the authorities to protect the rights of protesters to freedom of assembly and speech, and for investigations into all acts of violence. The conclusions also expressed concern about the recent adoption of legislation restricting fundamental freedoms, and called on all parties to seek, through inclusive dialogue, a democratic solution to the current political crisis that would meet the aspirations of the Ukrainian people.

Central African Republic

Ministers agreed conclusions setting out the EU’s continuing concern over the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) and its readiness to support efforts focused on restoring peace and stability, including through Commission funding streams. They also approved the crisis management concept for an EU military operation, agreeing that accelerated planning should continue, subject to a Council decision and a United Nations Security Council resolution. The Foreign Secretary commended action taken by France and the African Union to date and highlighted the UK’s contributions, both to the French Operation Sangaris, and the £15 million of bilateral humanitarian aid provided to CAR.

In parallel, a high-level meeting in Brussels on humanitarian action in CAR, co-chaired by Baroness Amos, Head of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and Commissioner Georgieva, raised $496 million. Of this, $200 million would be dedicated to humanitarian and relief efforts with the rest funding longer-term development programmes. Commissioner Georgieva said that political support and a continued physical presence in the country were vital.

South Sudan

Ministers discussed the continued need to focus on the deteriorating situation in South Sudan and to lend full support to regional efforts to mediate a solution, including a readiness to consider targeted measures against individuals who sought to frustrate the political process. The situation of 4.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and nearly half a million internally displaced people living in dire conditions was outlined. The security situation was making it increasingly difficult to deliver assistance. Ministers welcomed the vital role played by the UN in co-ordinating the humanitarian response and agreed to continue pressing all parties to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access. Conclusions were adopted underlining the need for continued EU engagement and support for regional efforts aimed at securing peace and stability in South Sudan, and readiness to support such efforts.


Under AOB, Baroness Ashton noted that the Polish paper on Eastern Partnership financing that had been circulated, and said that this would be discussed at the February FAC.

In addition, Italy raised the case of its marines that had been under house arrest in India for more than two years without formal charges being brought, following an incident in which two Indian sailors had died.

Other business

Ministers agreed without discussion a number of other measures:

The Council approved a regulation concerning certain procedures for applying the EU/Serbia stabilisation and association agreement and the EU/Serbia interim agreement.

The Council adopted the provisional agenda for the first meeting of the EU/Iraq Co-operation Council, to take place on 20 January 2014.

The Council amended the regulation concerning restrictive measures in view of the situation in Libya. The no claims and the non-liability clauses were changed to bring them into line with the guidelines on the implementation and evaluation of EU restrictive measures.

The Council allocated €1.04 million to cover the expenditure of the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia, Mr Philippe Lefort, for the period from 1 January 2014 to 30 June 2014.

The Council repealed the mandate of the EU Special Representative for the middle east peace process, Mr Andreas Reinicke.

The Council authorised the opening of negotiations with Georgia as well as with Albania for agreements between the European Union and each country respectively on the security of classified information.

The Council approved technical amendments to the EU restrictive measures against Belarus.