My right honourable friend the Minister for Europe (Geoff Hoon) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary (Margaret Beckett), Sir John Grant (UK Permanent Representative to the EU) and I represented the UK at the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) in Brussels. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne) represented the UK at Defence Ministers' discussions.
The agenda items covered were as follows:
Civilian Capabilities Improvement Conference: The presidency took note of the progress made on civilian military co-ordination, gender mainstreaming, and working with NGOs and expressed its gratitude to member states for providing personnel for ongoing civilian missions.
Commission Legislative Work Programme 2007: The Commission briefed the council on its legislative work programme for 2007 under the following headings: modernising the European economy; addressing the challenges of European society; secure, competitive and sustainable energy; and making Europe a better place to live.
December European Council: Annotated Draft Agenda: The council took note of the presidency's plans to group discussion at the European Council in Brussels on 14 and 15 December under four main headings: EU enlargement; justice and home affairs; innovation and energy; and external relations.
Relations with Russia: The council exchanged views on the draft negotiating mandate for the successor to the EU-Russia Partnership and Co-operation Agreement. The draft will be sent to COREPER (Permanent Representatives Committee) for further discussion before returning to the council for approval ahead of the EU-Russia summit in Helsinki on 24 November.
Enlargement: The council took note of a presentation by the Commission on the EU’s enlargement strategy, a report on integration capacity, and progress reports on Turkey, Croatia and the Western Balkans.
Western Balkans: UN special envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, briefed the council on the Kosovo status process. Conclusions were adopted on the negotiating mandates for visa facilitation and readmission agreements with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.
Middle East: The council adopted conclusions expressing deep concern at the escalating violence in Gaza and in the West Bank and deplored the military operation in Beit Hanoun on 8 November and the firing of rockets on Israeli territory. It urged the Palestinians to work towards a Government of national unity reflecting the quartet principles. The council underlined the importance of preserving and strengthening the capacity of Palestinian institutions and expressed its readiness to provide enhanced support to a Palestinian Government that the EU can engage with. The council also extended the border assistance mission in Rafah for a further six months.
On Lebanon, conclusions called on all parties in the region to comply with UNSCR 1701, notably the arms embargo.
Iran: High Representative Solana briefed the council on discussions in New York about a new Security Council resolution.
Uzbekistan: The council adopted conclusions underlining its profound concern at the human rights situation in Uzbekistan and renewing restrictive measures imposed after the Andijan massacre in May 2005. The council agreed to reinstate technical talks with the Uzebkistan Government under the partnership and co-operation agreement to promote Uzbek compliance with the principles of respect for human rights, the rule of law and fundamental freedoms.
Northern Uganda: The council adopted conclusions reaffirming its support for peace talks between the Government of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army and urging the parties to implement their obligations under the cessation of hostilities agreement.
Military Capabilities: The council took note of the Force Catalogue 2006; a list of military capabilities that member states have declared available for a European security and defence policy operation.
Operations: The commander of the EU military operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, General Viereck, and High Representative Solana briefed the council on recent events in Kinshasa and proposals for drawdown of the operation. The EU security sector reform and police missions would remain in place after the closure of the military mission.
High Representative Solana and commander of the EU military operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, General Reith, briefed the council on proposals to reduce the number of troops. A decision to drawdown would be taken before the end of the year on the basis of the security situation.
High Representative Solana briefed the council on the African Union Mission in Sudan/Darfur (AMIS) as well as prospects for a UN supporting package.
Civil-military Co-ordination: The council welcomed ongoing work on improving effective co-ordination of civilian and military crisis management instruments.
European Defence Agency: The council took note of the report submitted by the head of the agency on its activities, agreed the agency's budget for 2007 and adopted council guidelines for the agency's work in 2007.
The presidency postponed by 12 months the decision to set the agency's three-year financial framework. The joint action establishing the agency requires the setting of a three-year financial framework, but this has proved difficult to achieve over the past two years. The presidency postponed this decision following a failure to reach a consensus in the council. The requirement to set a financial framework will be addressed in the review of the joint action, to take place in 2007.
Conclusions covering civilian and military capabilities, the European Defence Agency, civil-military co-ordination and military response to disaster response were also agreed.
Joint session with Defence and Foreign Ministers
Democratic Republic of Congo: The council adopted conclusions welcoming the generally peaceful and orderly conduct of polling in the second round of presidential elections on 29 October and called on the candidates to take all possible steps to prevent any further acts of violence following events in Kinshasa on 11 November.
Afghanistan: The council exchanged views on EU engagement in Afghanistan and on action to reinforce the EU’s presence, including a possible civilian mission under the European security and defence policy.
The council also recalled the EU’s longstanding commitment to Afghanistan, including its major role in reconstruction and stabilisation efforts, working with international partners.