My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will attend the Foreign Affairs Council on 17 March, and I will attend the General Affairs Council on 18 March. 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 Greek presidency. The meetings will be held in Brussels.
Foreign Affairs Council (FAC)
Baroness Ashton is expected to provide a short update in her introduction to the FAC on the Iran nuclear talks and on her visit to Tehran on 8-10 March. The first round of negotiations between the E3+3 and Iran on the comprehensive solution was on 18-20 February in Vienna, chaired by Baroness Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif. The E3+3 and Iran will meet again on 18-20 March.
Ministers will discuss the latest developments in Ukraine. We expect the discussion to focus on the next steps to be taken following the Heads of State and Government meeting held on 6 March. The Prime Minister set out the UK’s position in his statement to the House of Commons on Monday 10 March 2014, Official Report, column 25.
Ministers will discuss the latest developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), focusing on the EU’s response to the recent protests. Ministers will consider how the EU can encourage Bosnian leaders to address the socio-economic grievances of their population, and how best to offer support to BiH to implement the wide range of reforms needed to progress on its EU path. The UK will emphasise the right to peaceful protest, and the importance of BiH’s leadership responding rapidly and comprehensively to the population’s legitimate demands for change. The UK will underline that we remain committed to working in partnership with BiH’s leaders to deliver substantial reform.
Middle East Peace Process
Ministers will discuss the latest developments in the middle east peace process, and the prospects for the special privileged partnership as set out in the FAC conclusions in December 2013. The UK will encourage EU partners, in particular Baroness Ashton, to emphasise publicly the benefits that could be obtained from the special privileged partnership, supplying more detail on the proposed content of the package, and setting out a positive vision of a shared future with deep cultural, political and economic links.
The discussion at the Foreign Affairs Council will take place two days after the third anniversary of the uprising. The discussion will focus on the latest developments, including the agreement of the UN Security Council Resolution 2139 on humanitarian access. The UK will focus on the need to reinvigorate the political process, to implement the resolution, and to increase pressure on the Syrian regime, Russia and Iran to behave constructively.
Ministers will discuss preparations for the EU-Africa summit in Brussels on 2-3 April, in particular progress on proposed summit outcomes. The UK will reiterate our commitment to Africa, and underline the increasing importance of the EU-Africa relationship and welcome the opportunity that the summit presents to reinforce this.
Ministers are expected to discuss greater integration of energy security considerations in foreign policy objectives. The UK will note how events in Ukraine highlight the significance of energy issues and the need for an international approach to energy security. The discussion will explore areas in which the European External Action Service (EEAS) might support and complement action by member states and international energy organisations.
General Affairs Council (GAC)
The General Affairs Council on 18 March will focus on: the preparation of the 20 and 21 March European Council; and the European semester. A further possible agenda item is the presentation of a Commission communication on the rule of law mechanism.
The Preparation of the 20 and 21 March European Council
The GAC will prepare the 20 and 21 March European Council, which the Prime Minister will attend. The March European Council agenda is expected to include: the European semester; industrial policy; the energy and climate 2030 package; and EU-Africa relations including the preparations for the EU-Africa summit to be held on 2 and 3 April.
Following on from the 6 March Emergency European Council, there may also be further discussion of the EU’s response to events in Ukraine.
UK priorities for the European Council are likely to be: securing substantive conclusions on the climate and energy 2030 package; and agreeing firm actions to boost industrial growth, as highlighted in the Prime Minister’s speech in Davos.
The European Semester
The GAC will consider the synthesis report on the 2014 semester exercise. This is a policy discussion and there are no anticipated outputs at this stage. We welcome the focus of the annual growth survey on jobs and growth and emphasise that the semester should not be diluted by the inclusion of other agendas.