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Foreign Affairs and General Affairs Councils

Volume 575: debated on Wednesday 5 February 2014

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will attend the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) on 10 February, and I will attend the General Affairs Council (GAC) on 11 February. The FAC will be chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, and the GAC will be chaired by the Greek presidency. The meetings will be held in Brussels.

Foreign Affairs Council

Eastern Partnership

The FAC will discuss the Eastern Partnership, focusing on the situation in Ukraine and how the EU can encourage all parties to take immediate action to defuse tension and increase trust. Ministers will also discuss how to contribute to finding a long-term solution which addresses the aspirations of the Ukrainian people and provides them with the prosperity and stability they deserve. The UK will stress the importance of the EU supporting Georgia and Moldova in their efforts to sign their association agreements this year.

Syria

Ministers will discuss the latest developments, concentrating on the Geneva II process, and the effects of the conflict on the wider region. The UK will stress the importance of the Geneva II talks reconvening on 10 February, noting that the National Coalition has been the only party willing to engage on the issue of political transition to a democratic and pluralistic model of governance. The UK will argue for the EU to give more political and material support to the National Coalition, and encourage member states to do more to put the Syrian regime under pressure, urging it to engage seriously in the second phase of the Geneva II talks. The UK will also stress the importance of encouraging Russia to use its influence over the Syrian regime to end its appalling violence against civilians and engage on the issue of political transition.

Southern neighbourhood: Libya, Egypt and Tunisia

Ministers will discuss the situation in Egypt including the conduct of the recent constitutional referendum and concerns over recent violence. They are likely to touch on the recent terrorist attacks; the closure of political space; political detentions; and restrictions on freedom of expression and of the media. The UK will highlight the importance of the EU providing a full election monitoring mission for the parliamentary and presidential elections. We will also encourage the EEAS and member states to consider how to maximise their influence with Egypt during its political transition. Conclusions are likely.

On Tunisia, Ministers will welcome the significant progress made recently, including the agreement in January on a new democratic constitution followed by the National Constituent Assembly’s vote of confidence for the new technocratic Government after several months of political impasse. Progress reinforces Tunisia’s position as a model for the region. Conclusions will welcome progress in the context of the EU’s “more for more” approach to encouraging reform, and reiterate the EU’s support for tackling the socio-economic and security challenges facing the Government and the holding of new elections in late 2014. The UK will note the importance of concrete support further to incentivise progress.

On Libya, the UK will encourage the EEAS and member states to do all they can to support a lasting political settlement and emphasise the need for the Libyan Government and General National Congress to work together in leading Libya to achieve a stable and democratic political transition. We will encourage member states to support international efforts to respond to the Libyan Government’s request for assistance in addressing the destabilising impact of weapons proliferation.

Yemen

Ministers are expected to discuss the conclusion of the national dialogue conference (NDC). The UK will stress the importance of continued EU support for the next steps of Yemen’s transition. The Council is expected to adopt conclusions on the NDC’s outcomes, urge for their timely implementation, and express concern for both the slow pace of economic recovery, and the security and humanitarian situation in Yemen.

Central African Republic

The 20 January FAC agreed that accelerated planning for an EU military operation in the Central African Republic should continue, subject to a Council decision. We therefore expect the discussion at this FAC to focus on the progress made on planning. There may also be a Council decision to establish the operation. In this context, the UK has been clear to EU partners about the importance it places on parliamentary scrutiny procedures.

General Affairs Council

The GAC on 11 February will focus on preparation for the 20-21 March European Council. The GAC will also hear a presentation of the Greek presidency’s work programme and consider the proposed authorisation of a type of GM maize for commercial planting.

Preparation of the 20-21 March European Council

The GAC will prepare the 20-21 March European Council, which the Prime Minister will attend. I expect a draft agenda to be circulated shortly before the GAC. At this early stage the agenda looks likely to cover: climate and energy, including the Commission’s 2030 framework; and industrial policy.

Presentation of the presidency’s programme

The programme of the Greek EU presidency was published on 8 January, and is due to be presented at the February GAC. The programme is partly shaped by the inherited Lithuanian agenda. Priority areas for the Greeks are the promotion of growth and jobs, eurozone integration, and maritime issues.

There is a good degree of convergence between the UK’s EU priorities and those of the Greek presidency. We welcome areas of the programme that reflect the growth and jobs agenda, such as the focus on deepening the single market, better regulation and trade agreements. We also welcome items relating to further stabilising the eurozone, and achieving a consensus on the 2030 climate change and energy framework. The Greeks also have a natural interest in migration given the pressures they face. The UK is particularly supportive of a focus on tackling illegal migration in countries of origin and transit.

GM maize 1507

The GAC will take a decision on the cultivation in the EU of a type of genetically modified (GM) maize known as 1507. The Government take a science-based approach to GM regulation and, given the scientific evidence in favour of approval in this case, the UK will support EU authorisation.