My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs attended the Foreign Affairs Council and I attended the General Affairs Council on 18 January. The Foreign Affairs Council was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, and the General Affairs Council was chaired by the Dutch presidency. The meetings were held in Brussels.
Foreign Affairs Council
A provisional report of the meeting and conclusions adopted can be found at: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetings/fac/2016/01/18/.
In her introductory remarks Ms Mogherini welcomed the progress that had been made on implementation of the Iranian nuclear deal and updated Ministers on the political situation in Venezuela. During the morning sessions, Ministers discussed Syria—including the London conference—and Iraq. The Jordanian Foreign Minister joined Ministers for lunch. The afternoon concluded with discussions on Ukraine and the middle east peace process.
Syria and recent developments in the region
Ms Mogherini updated Ministers on the political process in Syria, highlighting recent tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Foreign Secretary welcomed the Riyadh conference of the Syrian opposition, and underlined the need for confidence-building measures in parallel with the UN-led talks. All member states welcomed the political progress made in the final months of 2015 but cautioned that the process was fragile. Ministers also discussed preparations for the Syria conference taking place in London on 4 February. The conference has three main objectives: to increase available funding to the most affected countries, to address the long-term economic needs of refugees in the region, and increase the protection of civilians. The Foreign Secretary underlined the need to do more for the vulnerable and displaced inside Syria and the millions of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries.
Ministers exchanged views on Iraq following the adoption of conclusions at the December 2015 Foreign Affairs Council. Ms Mogherini focused on how the EU could support the domestic reform agenda and national reconciliation. The Foreign Secretary noted the recent military successes against Daesh in Sinjar and Ramadi, which had relieved some of the pressure on the Iraqi Government.
Lunch with Jordanian Foreign Minister
Over lunch, Ministers exchanged views with the Jordanian Foreign Minister, Mr Nasser Judeh, on foreign policy challenges in the region. They looked ahead to the London Syria conference. Ms Mogherini expressed support to Jordan in the fight against Daesh and counter radicalisation.
Ms. Mogherini opened the discussion by underlining progress made by the Government of Ukraine on their reform programme under very difficult circumstances. She stressed the need for the EU and member states to continue to support Ukraine. Ministers exchanged views on how this could best be achieved.
Middle east peace process Council conclusions
Following discussion, the Council approved conclusions on the middle east peace process. Ministers agreed without discussion a number of measures:
The Council adopted conclusions on Libya.
The Council adopted a regulation concerning restrictive measures in view of the situation in Libya.
The Council adopted the EU priorities for co-operation with the Council of Europe in 2016-2017.
The Council set a financial reference amount of EUR 14 850 000 to cover the expenditure related to the EU’s CSDP mission in Mali (EUCAP) Sahel Mali between 15 January 2016 and 14 January 2017.
The Council adopted a decision supporting the biological and toxin weapons convention (BTWC).
The Council concluded that all the conditions have been met for EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia to implement on the High Seas UN Security Council Resolution 2240.
General Affairs Council
The General Affairs Council (GAC) on 18 January 2016 focused on the presidency work programme and preparation of the European Council on 18 and 19 February 2016.
A provisional report of the meeting and conclusions adopted can be found at:
Presidency Work programme
The Dutch presidency commenced on 1 January. The Dutch Foreign Minister, Bert Koenders, set out the presidency’s programme and priorities for the current semester, and referred to his letter on improving the role of the GAC highlighting three priorities: open and inclusive dialogue at the multiannual financial framework high-level conference on 28 January; continued work on rule of law; and implementation of the inter-institutional agreement, transparency and better governance.
The Dutch programme is based on the presidency Trio programme, developed jointly with Slovakia and Malta, but focuses on four main themes: jobs and growth; labour mobility; the eurozone; and a union of freedom, justice and security.
I welcomed the presidency’s priorities, particularly those based on supporting job creation and economic growth. I also highlighted the importance of continuity of Trio programmes and looked forward to working with Estonia and Bulgaria—the UK’s Trio partners—and the current Trio to deliver real results on competitiveness, the internal market, investment, and entrenching the EU’s position at the heart of global trade.
Preparation of the February European Council
The GAC prepared the agenda for the 18 and 19 February European Council, which the Prime Minister will attend. The draft February European Council agenda covers: the UK’s EU renegotiation; migration, and economic issues.
On the UK’s EU renegotiation, I reiterated the Prime Minister’s message that what mattered more than the timing of a deal was getting the substance right.
On migration, I highlighted the UK’s role in efforts to tackle the migration crisis through chairing the upcoming Syria conference in London; chairing the Khartoum process; supporting the action plans from the Valletta and Turkey summits; supporting the Turkey Refugee Fund; and providing technical assistance to EU agencies.