My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs attended the Foreign Affairs Council on 20 October, and I attended the General Affairs Council on 21 October. The Foreign Affairs Council was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, and the General Affairs Council was chaired by the Italian presidency. The meetings were held in Luxembourg.
Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, Štefan Füle, Commissioner for International Co-operation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, Kristalina Georgieva, and Commissioner for Health, Tonio Borg, were in attendance for some of the discussions at the FAC. Commissioner for Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration, Maroš Šefcovic, was in attendance for some of the discussions at the GAC.
Foreign Affairs Council
A provisional report of the meeting and conclusions adopted can be found at: http://www.consilium.europa. eu/uedocs/cms data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/145218.pdf
Baroness Ashton expressed cautious optimism at the recent elections in Bosnia, and hoped for the quick formation of a new Government. She briefed Ministers on the E3 plus 3/Iran negotiations, where parties were still a long way apart on key issues.
Ministers discussed the need for a rapid and significant increase in the response to the Ebola outbreak in west Africa. The Foreign Secretary called for a rapid and up-scaled response from the EU and its member states, and outlined the UK’s ongoing significant efforts in Sierra Leone. Ministers agreed conclusions which set out an EU guarantee of appropriate care for international health responders, including medical evacuation, and an EU “clearing house” system to help deploy more health workers more quickly.
Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, Bernardino Leon, briefed that a deal among Libyans was achievable and the parties were not far apart. The threat of sanctions had provided leverage. The Foreign Secretary agreed and called on the international community to support the UN facilitated dialogue and to refrain from divisive actions. Ministers agreed conclusions reinforcing the 18 October E3, Italian and US joint statement urging all parties to observe a ceasefire and supporting Leon’s efforts to broker a political solution.
Ministers agreed conclusions which firmly endorsed UK priorities, pledging EU action to defeat ISIL and supporting military action. They also endorsed a strategy to tackle foreign fighters and underlined that Assad cannot be a partner. Ministers agreed to ban the export of jet fuel to Syria and extended sanctions to 18 new entities associated with the Assad regime.
Middle east peace process
Baroness Ashton briefed Ministers on the 12 October Gaza reconstruction conference in Cairo, where the EU had pledged €450 million, and reiterated that the EU was ready to support a durable ceasefire. There was consensus that the EU should press for the Palestinian Authority to return to Gaza and for restrictions to be lifted, while expressing frustration at the lack of progress and continued Israeli settlement expansion. The Foreign Secretary welcomed international generosity at the Cairo conference. He stressed that the EU’s priority must be supporting a sustainable ceasefire in Gaza, including through a reactivated and potentially expanded border management mission (EUBAM Rafah).
The Foreign Secretary and a number of other Ministers set out the importance of maintaining pressure on Russia and enhancing support to Ukraine. The Commission outlined its financial support and preparations for a donors’ conference, but called for maintaining conditionality, highlighting the importance of reform. The Foreign Secretary and others pressed for a response to rising humanitarian needs as winter approached, and hoped for an early deal with Russia on gas. Ministers agreed conclusions stating that Russia must implement its commitments, including on: withdrawing troops/arms from eastern Ukraine, control of the border, and local elections in separatist-controlled areas.
Ministers agreed without discussion a number of other measures:
The Council adopted conclusions on Bosnia and Herzegovina; Yemen; Afghanistan; Sudan and Somalia.
The Council approved the 17th progress report on the implementation of the EU strategy to combat illicit accumulation and trafficking of small arms and light weapons and their ammunition covering the EU’s activities from 1 January to 30 June 2014.
The Council amended EU sanctions against Somalia.
The Council reinforced EU restrictive measures against the Syrian regime.
The Council amended the EU restrictive measures in view of the situation in Libya to take account of changes approved at the UN.
The Council extended the EU restrictive measures against five persons from the Republic of Guinea.
The Council approved the High Representative’s report on the 26th monthly review of Operation Althea.
The Council adopted the concept of operations and the operational plan for the EU advisory mission for civilian security sector reform Ukraine (EUAM Ukraine).
The Council approved the concept of operations for the EU common security and defence policy mission in Mali (EUCAP Sahel Mali).
The Council allocated a budget of €17.9 million for activities of the EU mission on regional maritime capacity building in the horn of Africa (EUCAP Nestor) for the period from 16 October 2014 to 15 October 2015.
General Affairs Council
The General Affairs Council (GAC) on 21 October focused on: the preparation of the European Council on 23 and 24 October 2014; the follow-up to the strategic agenda for the EU agreed at the June European Council; protocol 36 of the treaties; composition of the Committee of the Regions; and strengthening inter-institutional annual and multi-annual programming.
A provisional report of the meeting can be found at:
The preparation of the October European Council
The GAC prepared the 23 and 24 October European Council, which the Prime Minister attended. The October European Council agenda is expected to include: the climate and energy policy framework 2030; economic issues; and external relations issues—including Ebola and Ukraine. We also expect the European Council to formally appoint the new Commission, following the vote by the European Parliament on 22 October.
On climate and energy, I emphasised the need for an ambitious 2030 agreement which gives member states flexibility to achieve the necessary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the most cost-effective way, and includes substantial measures to improve EU energy security and allow development of low-carbon technologies as core elements the package.
Follow-up to the June European Council
By way of follow-up to the June European Council the GAC held its second thematic discussion of the implementation of the “Strategic Agenda for the Union in times of change” which focused on freedom, security and justice. Due to the cross-border nature of key challenges facing member states, such as immigration and security, it was agreed that there was scope for the EU to add value in this area. The Italian presidency raised the need to deal with the threat posed by foreign fighters and stated that increased EU-level information and risk sharing, as well as further progress on the passenger name records (PNR) directive, would be crucial in tackling this issue.
Protocol 36 of the treaties
I updated the GAC on the UK’s intentions regarding the Prüm and probation decisions, as reflected in the Home Secretary’s statement of 10 July, and laid a statement into the Council minutes to that effect.
Composition of the Committee of the Regions
The GAC considered a Commission proposal to amend the composition of the Committee of the Regions, which would reduce the number of members from 353 to 350 as stipulated in the treaties. Following concerns raised by several member states on Commission handling, Ministers requested further work on the proposal and agreed to return to the matter at a subsequent meeting.
Strengthening inter-institutional annual and multi-annual programming
The Italian presidency outlined its proposals for the Council to examine the Commission’s draft 2015 work programme and establish a framework for working with the Commission and European Parliament on improving inter-institutional annual and multi-annual programming in future years.
I supported early engagement with the new Commission on its work programme and the need for the Council to be fully prepared for discussions with the Commission and European Parliament on strengthening inter-institutional programming. Both of these present an opportunity for the Council to ensure that the Commission’s work is focused on the implementation of the strategic agenda, as set out by the June European Council.