My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs attended the Foreign Affairs Council on 14 December. The Foreign Affairs Council was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. I attended the General Affairs Council, which was chaired by the Luxembourg presidency. The meetings were held in Brussels.
Foreign Affairs Council
A provisional report of the meeting and conclusions adopted can be found at:
In her introductory remarks the HRVP shared her assessment of Bosnia and Herzegovina following the first Stabilisation and Accession Council of 11 December. Ministers also heard an assessment of the situation in Burundi by the HRVP and the Belgium Minister of Foreign Affairs. The HRVP also touched on the successful outcome of the COP 21 conference in Paris and plans to schedule a discussion on climate diplomacy at a Foreign Affairs Council in the new year.
Ministers had an exchange on political developments in the eastern partner countries, with HRVP and Commissioner Hahn outlining the challenges regarding the eastern partners. There was a general consensus behind the principle of developing differentiated approaches in line with the review of the European neighbourhood policy. A discussion is likely on Ukraine at the January Foreign Affairs Council.
Ministers reaffirmed the relevance of the February Council conclusions in shaping EU external counter-terrorism action. HRVP made clear that the EU’s policy framework was valid and the focus must be on prioritisation and implementation. The Foreign Secretary underlined that national security was the responsibility of member states, but actions should be co-ordinated to maximise effectiveness.
Informal lunch with Turkish Foreign Minister
Ministers had an informal exchange of views with the Turkish Foreign Minister focusing on regional issues and counter-terrorism co-operation. A high-level dialogue meeting, with the participation of the HRVP and the Commission, will be held in Ankara in January 2016.
Ministers heard a briefing by the UN SRSG Kobler on the Libyan political dialogue and the outcomes of the Rome conference. Ministers reconfirmed their support to the UN-led process, including the formation of a Government of national accord in Libya and pledging economic and security support to help stabilise the country.
Ministers agreed without discussion a number of measures:
The Council adopted conclusions on the European neighbourhood policy.
The Council adopted conclusions on Iraq.
The Council adopted conclusions on the special report entitled “EU support for the fight against torture and the abolition of the death penalty”.
The Council adopted conclusions on the 2015 annual report on the EU’s development and external assistance policies and their implementation in 2014.
The Council adopted conclusions on the special report entitled “The ACP Investment Facility: does it provide added value?”
The Council set a new financial reference amount of €43.65 million to cover expenditure related to the EU police mission in Afghanistan (EUPOL Afghanistan) from 1 January 2016 to 31 December 2016.
The Council decided to lodge an appeal against the judgement of the EU General Court annulling Council decision 2012/497/EU on the conclusion of an agreement between the EU and Morocco concerning reciprocal liberalisation measures on agricultural products, in so far as it applies to the territory of western Sahara.
General Affairs Council
A provisional report of the meeting and conclusions adopted can be found at: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetings/gac/2015/12/15/
The General Affairs Council (GAC) on 15 December focused on: the inter-institutional agreement on better regulation; the 18-month programme of the Council; preparation of draft conclusions for the European Council on 17 and 18 December 2015; the enlargement and stabilisation and association process; and the European semester.
Inter-institutional agreement on better regulation (IIA)
The GAC discussed the preliminary agreed text of the inter-institutional agreement on better regulation, circulated by the Luxembourg presidency on 8 December. I welcomed the focus on impact assessments, SMEs and the “Think Small First” principle, and the consultation of national experts on delegated acts. I registered that the UK was not in a position to endorse the political agreement, due to our outstanding parliamentary scrutiny on the dossier.
18-month programme of the Council
The GAC endorsed the 18-month programme of the Council for the period from 1 January 2016 to 30 June 2017, drawn up by the Dutch, Slovak and Maltese EU presidencies.
Preparation of the December European Council
The GAC prepared the agenda for the 17 December European Council, which the Prime Minister attended. The December European Council discussed migration, the fight against terrorism, economic and monetary union, the internal market, energy union and the UK’s EU renegotiation. The European Council also considered external relations issues, including Syria and Libya.
At the GAC, I emphasised that the Prime Minister was looking forward to a substantial discussion on the UK’s EU renegotiation at the December European Council.
Enlargement and stabilisation and association process
The UK continues to be a strong supporter of conditions-based EU enlargement, which has helped bring peace, prosperity and stability across the continent of Europe. We continue to support the future EU membership of all of the western Balkans and Turkey, provided EU aspirant countries meet all the requirements of membership before accession.
I broadly welcomed the enlargement conclusions and congratulated Commissioner Hahn for his engagement in the region. I made clear that I would have liked to have seen in the conclusions a stronger commitment for the EU institutions to do more on strategic communications in the western Balkans.
I expressed my concerns about the 10 December decision by the Republika Srpska (RS) Government to suspend co-operation with the state-level judicial and law enforcement authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). I set out that political obstacles needed to be removed, including threats of unconstitutional referendums, which challenged the Dayton agreement and its core structures. I also expressed concern about the ongoing political situation in Kosovo and highlighted the importance of Kosovo having a clearer EU perspective.
2016 European semester annual growth review
The Commission presented the 2016 annual growth survey (AGS) to the GAC which focuses on the key themes in President Junker’s investment plan. The Commission proposed to pursue an integrated approach to economic and social policy in 2016, centred around three pillars: boosting investment, pursuing structural reforms to modernise European economies and pursuing fiscal responsibility. The UK supports the Commission’s headline priorities for promoting jobs and growth.