I will attend the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) on 22 July and the General Affairs Council (GAC) on 23 July. 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 Italian presidency. The meetings will be held in Brussels.
Foreign Affairs Council
Baroness Ashton is expected to cover the floods in the western Balkans, and the outcome of the 16 July donor conference. She is also expected to update Ministers on relations between Serbia and Kosovo. I do not expect substantive discussion on either item.
Ministers will have a substantive discussion on the situation in Ukraine. I will use this opportunity to update Ministers on the outcomes of my recent visit. I will seek to ensure that the Foreign Affairs Council will adopt the Council decision establishing the EU advisory mission for civilian security sector reform in Ukraine. Adoption would be an important signal of ongoing EU support for Ukraine’s reform trajectory. I will also stress the need to continue to urge Russia to use its influence with the separatists to de-escalate, and to cut the flow of weapons. I will draw attention to the conclusions of the high-level meeting on Ukraine to discuss donor co-ordination and highlight the need to encourage Ukraine to do more to demonstrate commitment and progress on economic reforms.
The UK will be pushing for Council conclusions that include tasking the European External Action Service to develop further options that keep the pressure on Russia in relation to its illegal annexation of Crimea; to encourage the Commission to pursue further trilateral talks with Russia and Ukraine regarding energy supplies; that support the measured approach being taken by the Ukrainian authorities to regain control of the east of the country; and that encourage all parties to engage with the dialogue process and work towards a sustainable peace in Ukraine.
Ministers will discuss the situation in Iraq. While this has stabilised over recent weeks, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other armed groups remain in control of much of northern and western Iraq. I will emphasise the need for the swift formation of an inclusive Government, as the security response to ISIL will need to be underpinned by a political solution if there is to be a lasting resolution to the crisis. As part of that, I will call for member states to continue pressing all sides to remain engaged in the political process and come to an agreement on candidates for Speaker, President and Prime Minister. I will also encourage member states to consider how best to assist the Government of Iraq in the fight against terrorism, and how to tackle the threat of foreign fighters. The discussion may also cover ISIL’s presence in Syria and the impact that they are having there.
Middle east peace process
Ministers will discuss recent developments in the middle east peace process. The UK will want to ensure the EU sends a clear message expressing its concern at the recent escalation in violence in Gaza and Israel, and urging all sides to take steps to deescalate the situation and avoid any further civilian injuries and the loss of innocent life. Recent events reinforce the need to take steps towards a lasting peace.
Ministers will also discuss the Iran nuclear negotiations. The joint plan of action, the interim deal agreed by the E3+3 and Iran in November 2013 and implemented from January, expires just before the FAC, on 20 July. The E3+3 are currently working hard with Iran in Vienna to agree a deal. At the FAC, Ministers will discuss the outcome of the talks and any necessary follow-up action required by member states.
General Affairs Council
The General Affairs Council on 23 July is expected to focus on: the Italian presidency work programme; procedure to follow up on European Council conclusions; the Europe 2020 mid-term review; and Lithuania’s accession to the economic and monetary union.
Italian presidency work programme
The GAC is expected to take note of the Italian presidency programme, “Europe, a Fresh Start”, which was published on 2 July 2014. The UK and Italy share priorities on several aspects of the EU agenda, including: growth; jobs; competitiveness; better regulation; and foreign policy in the Mediterranean region. We welcome Italy’s initiatives to boost growth and investment, particularly their focus on strong manufacturing and service sectors; and support for small and medium-sized enterprises. We also share an interest in further growth-focused institutional reforms.
European Council conclusions follow up
The GAC performs an important role in ensuring that the actions mandated in European Council conclusions are properly implemented. The GAC is expected to discuss its conclusions follow-up role, and consider ways to improve this function in the future.
Europe 2020 mid-term review
The GAC will consider the mid-term review of the Europe 2020 strategy for growth and jobs. Discussions for the mid-term review are in early stages. The UK is developing its position but will be fully engaged with the review.
Good progress has been made in improving the stability and integrity of the euro area and it is essential that the EU does not weaken its general commitment to fiscal sustainability.
Accession of Lithuania to the economic and monetary union
The GAC will adopt the legal acts enabling Lithuania to adopt the euro on 1 January 2015. This follows a recommendation of euro area member states at ECOFIN in June and endorsement of the Commission’s proposal at the June European Council. The Commission’s convergence report of 4 June 2014 assessed that Lithuania meets all the convergence criteria for adopting the euro.