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Written Statements

Volume 642: debated on Wednesday 6 June 2018

Written Statements

Wednesday 6 June 2018

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign Affairs Council

I attended the Foreign Affairs Council on 28 May. The Council was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HRVP), Federica Mogherini. The meeting was held in Brussels.

Foreign Affairs Council

Current affairs

The HRVP updated Ministers on EU activity on DPRK, Yemen, the Somalia partnership forum with Sweden on 25-26 June and the recent AU-EU College meeting. Ministers were briefed on the outcome of the MH17 investigation.

Iran

The Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) discussed Iran. Ministers underlined the importance of preserving the JCPoA and welcomed the steps already taken by the European Commission to protect European companies that have engaged with Iran following the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions. The FAC commended all efforts, notably those of the HRVP and the E3 Foreign Ministers (France, Germany and the UK) to ensure that Iran continues implementing the agreement. Ministers also discussed the EU’s concerns around Iran’s ballistic missiles programme, its role in regional conflicts, and the human rights situation. Ministers stressed the need to continue engaging with the US, a long-standing partner and ally, on all issues, including Iran.

Venezuela

Ministers exchanged views on Venezuela, following the recent elections and adopted conclusions setting out the EU’s concerns.

Gaza

Over lunch, Ministers discussed the situation in Gaza and the US embassy in Israel’s move to Jerusalem. Ministers agreed on the need to act immediately to avoid further loss of life, including by improving humanitarian access. They also stressed the importance of a political process, and re-confirmed the united EU position on the need to find a two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Council discussed the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Ministers stressed the importance of a credible, legitimate, consensual and inclusive electoral process leading to elections in December 2018. Ministers agreed that a smooth handover of power was crucial and co-operation with the region was critical. Ministers also expressed their concern over the dire humanitarian situation, in the light of the recent Ebola outbreak.

Post Cotonou agreement

Ministers reviewed work on the Council decision authorising the Commission to open negotiations on the future partnership between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries (post-Cotonou agreement). The Council asked EU Ambassadors to continue work on finalising and adopting the negotiating mandate under the leadership of the Bulgarian presidency.

Chemical Weapons

Under any other business, Ministers were updated on the international partnership against impunity for the use of chemical weapons meeting in Paris. Ministers supported the UK proposal for an extraordinary meeting of the conference of state parties.

Members agreed a number of measures without discussion:

The Council approved an extension of EU restrictive measures against the Syrian regime until 1 June 2019;

The Council adopted conclusions on enhanced EU security co-operation in and with Asia;

The Council adopted conclusions on strengthening civilian common security and defence policy (CSDP);

The Council adopted the EU’s annual report on human rights and democracy 2017 and the European Court of Auditors report on election observation missions;

The Council agreed to opening a European Union delegation to Panama;

The Council adopted conclusions on an EU position on combating the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons (SALW).

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Transport

EU Transport Council

I will attend the only formal Transport Council under the Bulgarian presidency (the presidency) taking place in Luxembourg on 7 June.

The Council is expected to reach a general approach on a proposal to revise the current regulation on safeguarding connectivity and competition in international air transport, which is intended to provide protection against subsidisation and unfair pricing practices in the supply of air services from non-EU countries. The Government places great importance on effective competition and liberalisation as a key enabler of international connectivity and considers that the proposed general approach is satisfactory.

Following this, the Council will be considering a general approach on a proposed directive on port reception facilities. The proposal aims to achieve a higher level of protection of the marine environment by reducing waste discharges at sea, as well as improved efficiency of maritime operations in port by reducing the administrative burden and by updating the regulatory framework. In negotiations, the UK has been generally supportive of the aims of the proposal but required clarification and consideration of the impacts to ensure that the final directive does not disproportionality impose additional or unnecessary burdens. We have also been successful in securing compromise and flexibility within the proposal, to ensure that the improvements to the directive do not unduly burden small ports and small ships.

Next, the Council will consider a number of files in phase one of the mobility package (published in May 2017). Firstly, the presidency will give a progress report focusing on proposals designed to improve the clarity and enforcement of the EU road transport market (the ‘market pillar’), and proposals on the application of social legislation in road transport (the ‘social pillar’).

The Council is expected to reach general approaches on two of the proposals in the Package. The first of these is a proposal to revise the current directive on the European electronic road tolling service (‘EETS’). The UK views the proposals for a revised EETS directive favourably. the proposal contains provisions that will assist the enforcement of toll and road user charge collection. The second is a proposal on goods vehicles hired without drivers, which is intended to make it easier for undertakings to hire vehicles registered in a member state other than that where the undertaking is established. This is not a matter with significant practical implications for the UK given the relative rarity of operators hiring goods vehicles in this way in the UK. We are content for both of these general approaches to be agreed.

Following this, the presidency has prepared two progress reports on proposals from phase two of the mobility package (published November 2017). The presidency will provide an update on the state of play thus far on proposals to amend the current directive on combined transport, which aims to encourage and facilitate modal shift away from the roads and on to alternative means of transport and reduce congestion, and the proposal to broaden the scope of the current directive on clean and energy efficient vehicles, where the UK is leading the transition to cleaner road transport.

Next, there will be a progress report on the proposed revision to the regulation on rail passengers’ rights and obligations. The UK shares the commission’s objective of strengthening the rights of rail passengers. We therefore support in principle the proposal’s aim of standardising and improving passenger rights, including by improving access for people with disabilities or reduced mobility.

Under any other business, the commission will present phase three of the mobility package (published May 2018), followed by information on the action plan for military mobility, and an update on the implementation of the EU cycling strategy. The delegations from Sweden and Greece will then provide information on automated and connected driving and functioning of the fair competition framework in the aviation sector within the EU, respectively. The commission will then provide information on the state of play for EU summer-time arrangements, and finally, the Austrian delegation will present the transport work programme of their forthcoming presidency of the Council of the European Union.

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Contingent Liability

I have today laid before Parliament a departmental minute describing a contingent liability relating to a blight agreement between me, as Secretary of State for Transport, and Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL).

If the proposed airports national policy statement is designated, land in the location identified as potentially suitable for the development of the north-west runway scheme becomes blighted. Owners of qualifying land (predominately owner-occupiers of private housing) within that location would be able to serve a blight notice on the Secretary of State, which if valid would, in effect, both authorise and oblige the Secretary of State to purchase the land.

In order to avoid my department having to cover the cost of blight claims I, as Secretary of State, have entered into an agreement with HAL under which HAL assume the financial liability for successful claims. In the event the proposed NPS is designated, the cost of meeting blight claims will need to be met by my Department if the agreement were for some reason ineffective to transfer liability.

The maximum estimated contingent liability for the blight claims is £160 million, though actual gross liability is likely to be much lower, c. £5 million to £20 million, as most owners of qualifying property are thought likely to wait for the more generous offer of 125% from HAL, available following the granting of any development consent.

The Treasury approved this liability and the chairs of the Public Accounts Committee and the Transport Committee were notified of this contingent liability by letter of 16 May due to the confidential nature of the contingent liability at that time. A period of fourteen sitting days beginning on 21 May has been provided for issues or objections to be raised, and final approval to proceed with incurring the liability will be withheld pending an examination of the objection.

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