My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will attend the Foreign Affairs Council on 14 December and I will attend the General Affairs Council on 15 December. 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 Luxembourg presidency. The meetings will be held in Brussels.
Foreign Affairs Council
Ministers are expected to exchange views on recent developments in the Eastern Partnership States (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine) and the future direction of the Eastern Partnership initiative following the publication of the European Neighbourhood Policy review on 18 November.
Following the attacks in Paris on 13 November, Ministers will discuss the need to maintain a strong, unified international focus on countering the threat from Daesh; reiterating support for the global counter-ISIL coalition and affirming the commitment to working towards a long term political solution in Iraq and Syria, achieved through a comprehensive strategy. The Foreign Affairs Council is likely to reflect elements of these discussions in its conclusions. Ministers will also discuss broader counter-terrorism work by the EU, in line with its existing strategies.
Ministers will be joined for lunch by the Foreign Minister of Turkey, Mevlut Qavusoglu. Turkey remains a key partner for the EU across a range of important issues, including regional security, counter-terrorism, energy, trade and migration. The FAC provides an opportunity to continue to develop a strategic partnership between the EU and Turkey, building on the EU-Turkey summit of 29 November. The UK will seek to reinforce that sense of partnership by encouraging discussion on a broad range of issues that reflect the breadth of the EU’s relationship with Turkey.
Ministers will exchange views on the political and security situation in Iraq. They will discuss how EU activity and resources, particularly those under the EU’s ISIL/Syria/Iraq strategy, can support the objectives of the global coalition to counter ISIL and longer term security, stability and prosperity in Iraq.
The FAC will be briefed by UN Libya special representative, Martin Kobler, on the latest developments in the UN-led political process. The UN has played a vital role in bringing the Libyan parties closer together. It is essential we continue to demonstrate our full support. The UK Government welcome the UN special representative’s urgent pressure for a deal, and recognises the important role for the EU in providing immediate support to a Government of National Accord.
General Affairs Council
The General Affairs Council (GAC) on 15 December is expected to focus on: preparation of draft conclusions for the European Council on 17 and 18 December 2015; the inter-institutional agreement on better regulation; the presidency Trio programme; the European semester; and the enlargement and stabilisation and association process.
Preparation of the December European Council
The GAC will prepare the draft conclusions for the 17 and 18 December European Council, which the Prime Minister will attend. The December European Council agenda is expected to include: migration; economic issues (including economic and monetary union and the single market); the UK’s renegotiation; and external relations issues including Russia/Ukraine.
Inter-institutional Agreement on Better Regulation (IIA)
The GAC will receive a further update on the progress of the IIA negotiations following the recent tripartite talks between the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council. The Council may also discuss the amended IIA text following political tripartite negotiations, depending on the progress made ahead of the Council.
18-month programme of the Council
The GAC will discuss the Trio programme of the forthcoming Netherlands, Slovakia and Malta presidencies of the Council of the European Union. We expect one of the key priorities of the Trio to be a focus on delivering stronger economic growth and improving competitiveness.
2016 European Semester Annual Growth Review
The GAC will receive a Commission presentation of the 2016 annual growth survey (AGS) which was released on 26 November. The AGS marks the beginning of the 2016 semester process and focuses on the key themes in President Juncker's investment plan. Within the AGS, the Commission recommends three main pillars for the EU’s economic and social policy in 2016: boosting investment, pursuing structural reforms to modernise European economies and pursuing fiscal responsibility. There is no specific commentary on the UK, however the UK supports the Commission’s headline priorities.
Enlargement and Stabilisation and Association Process
The General Affairs Council will discuss the Commission’s annual enlargement package, published on 10 November, and agree conclusions on the enlargement strategy and the Western Balkans countries and Turkey. The December GAC is the annual opportunity for the Council to take stock and give direction to the EU’s enlargement strategy and pre-accession reform priorities for individual countries.
The Government’s views on the package were set out in my explanatory memorandum of 12 November 2015. We will broadly welcome the Commission’s new approach in this year’s package with improved metrics in the Country reports and a five year as opposed to annual strategy. We will reiterate our continued firm support for future EU enlargement on the basis of firm but fair conditionality, with countries moving forward on merit as they meet the conditions. We will also take the opportunity to reiterate the importance of maintaining the credibility of the enlargement process and the need for the EU to improve its approach to strategic communications in order to underline the benefits of the accession process. We will reinforce the importance of rule of law reform and economic governance to accession countries and welcome the centrality of these issues in the package.