My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will attend the Foreign Affairs Council on 9 February and I will attend the General Affairs Council on 10 February. The Foreign Affairs Council will be chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, and the General Affairs Council will be chaired by the Latvian presidency. The meetings will be held in Brussels.
Foreign Affairs Council
The FAC will be having its first strategic discussion on Africa for a number of years. To help structure the debate the EEAS has produced a paper entitled “Peace, prosperity and partnership”. The UK will use the discussion to focus on Boko Haram and Nigeria’s forthcoming presidential and regional elections. UK priorities will be to secure EU support for regional efforts, assisted by the AU, to tackle Boko Haram and to send a clear message on the importance of free, fair and peaceful elections. The UK will also reinforce the link between trade and development and peace and security, and underline the importance of the EU retaining its role as a serious player on the continent. We expect that there will be Council conclusions on this topic.
Discussions on Libya will focus on the further deterioration of the security situation and progress of the UN-led political talks. The UK’s priority will be to ensure the continued support of member states for the efforts of the special representative of the UN Secretary General for Libya, Bernardino Leon, to resolve the political crisis and pave the way for peaceful political dialogue.
Events in Yemen are fluid and volatile. We expect discussions to focus on the latest situation in the country, including the future leadership of the country. There will be Council conclusions on Yemen, condemning violence and urging restraint and dialogue by all parties in line with the GCC initiative and the peace and national partnership agreement signed by the Houthis and President Hadi in September 2014.
Iraq and Syria
The EEAS and Commission will present an update on the EU Syria/Iraq/ISIL strategy. The UK will urge the institutions to secure funding swiftly to enable the implementation of the strategy, ahead of the March FAC. The strategy should help focus EU efforts on areas where they can add value to the counter ISIL coalition and should ensure EU activity is better co-ordinated and aligned with other coalition efforts.
The attacks in Paris, and events in Belgium and elsewhere in Europe, underline that countering terrorism is at the top of our and our EU partners’ priorities. Much of the European direct response to these attacks will focus on internal EU justice and home affairs (JHA), as set out by EU JHA Ministers when they met on 29 January, but the EU needs to address terrorism issues outside its borders. We expect Council conclusions on 9 February that will set out how the EU intends to implement its foreign fighters and Syria/Iraq/ISIL strategy. Other UK priorities will be to press for EU action in priority countries in the middle east and Africa, to improve those countries’ aviation and border security, crisis-response capacity and management of the return of terrorist fighters, as well as to support their strategic communications and counter-radicalisation efforts.
General Affairs Council
The General Affairs Council (GAC) on 10 February is expected to focus on: the Latvian presidency work programme; the EU strategic agenda; preparation of the European Council on 19 and 20 March 2015; and EU structural funds.
Latvia presidency work programme
The GAC is expected to take note of the Latvian presidency programme which commenced on 1 January 2015. Three priorities have been identified for the Latvian presidency: a competitive Europe that creates growth and jobs and better responds to the needs of its people; a digital Europe which seizes the opportunities provided by digital technologies as the basis for the EU’s competitiveness and growth; and a global Europe encompassing EU-US relations, the Eastern Partnership and renewing the EU-central Asia strategy. There is a good degree of alignment between the UK’s priorities and those of the Latvian presidency, particularly based around supporting growth and making European economies more competitive.
EU strategic agenda—Union of freedom, security and justice
The GAC will discuss the EU’s response to the horrific attacks in Paris and Belgium last month. The UK wants to see action taken at a European level to deal with aspects of the current threat from terrorism in Syria and Iraq, including: on the movement of foreign fighters and weapons through Europe; improved aviation security; tackling terrorist and extremist propaganda on line; counter radicalisation and driving a strong counter narrative; data-sharing about people convicted of terrorist offences; and urgent publication of the EU’s strategies on foreign fighters and ISIL.
Preparation of the March European Council
The GAC will prepare the 19 and 20 March European Council, which the Prime Minister will attend. The March European Council agenda has not yet been released but we expect it to include: economic issues including the review of the Europe 2020 strategy; energy union; and external relations issues—likely to include Ukraine.
EU structural funds
Ministers will discuss measures to ensure the timely adoption of the 2014-20 EU structural funds programmes which are awaiting approval.