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EU: General Affairs and External Relations Council

Volume 697: debated on Monday 17 December 2007

My honourable friend the Minister for Europe (Jim Murphy) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary (David Miliband) and Kim Darroch (UK Permanent Representative to the EU) represented the UK at the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) in Brussels. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas) also attended for discussion of economic partnership agreements.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

General Affairs

Preparation of the European Council on 14 December

The Council discussed the presidency’s draft European Council conclusions. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary intervened, together with other member states, to press for a positive and forward-looking declaration on globalisation, Conclusions language on Burma and for a firm commitment that the EU should take stock of progress on the Millennium Development Goals at the European Council’s meeting in June 2008.

The European Council was also expected to welcome the signature of the Lisbon treaty on 13 December and agree to set up a reflection group to discuss ways to address the EU’s longer-term challenges.

2007 Enlargement Package

My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary intervened to stress the importance of reaffirming our accession commitments. The Council conclusions reiterate the December 2006 conclusions setting out EU consensus on enlargement. This is based on consolidation of existing commitments, rigorous conditionality and improved communication on the benefits of enlargement. The Council agreed that chapters for which technical preparations have been completed will be opened, and reaffirmed that the pace of negotiations depends on accession states making the necessary reforms. The Council looks forward to the accession conferences with Turkey and Croatia next week. This demonstrates that the accession negotiations continue to make progress.

External Relations

European Neighbourhood Policy

External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner briefed the Council on the Commission’s communication of 5 December on the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and work in taking forward the policy, including on economic integration and market access.

My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary intervened to welcome the Commission’s work on ENP as a framework for supporting our ENP partners in implementing their political and economic reforms including in the Middle East and Moldova.

Economic Partnership Agreements

Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson briefed the Council on progress in negotiations on economic partnership agreements (EPAs) with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.

The Council agreed a draft regulation on market access aimed at enacting the provisions of interim EPAs with certain ACP countries. This opens duty and quota-free access to the Community market, with improvements to the previous rules of origin provided for by the ACP-EU Cotonou partnership agreement, to those ACP countries that have initialled agreements with the Community that are compatible with World Trade Organisation rules.

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Gareth Thomas, intervened to support the EPAs’ process while setting out the Government’s continued concerns about non-least developed countries that have yet to initial an agreement, encouraging flexibility in the EU’s approach to these countries and asking that time be made for further discussion. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development is making a separate, fuller, statement on EPAs.

Western Balkans

Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger, EU representative of the Troika (EU, Russia and US), briefed the Council on the outcome of the Troika process, which had ended without agreement between Belgrade and Pristina on Kosovo’s future status. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary intervened to underline the importance of the EU taking on its responsibilities and moving forward to a resolution of the Kosovo issue.

The Council also adopted conclusions supporting the western Balkans EU perspective and encouraging further progress on key reforms to allow the region to move forward from the conflicts of the 1990s.

Middle East Peace Process

Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, briefed the Council on the challenges following Annapolis and on the Palestinian Government’s Reform and Development Plan.

The Council adopted conclusions, which the Government support, welcoming the Annapolis meeting and the understanding between President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert, to immediately launch bilateral negotiations with a view to concluding a peace treaty by the end of 2008. The Council conclusions underline the EU’s support for security through the early re-engagement and expansion of the EU Police Mission in the West Bank (EUPOL COPPS). The Council also underlined its commitment to work with international partners in supporting the Paris donors’ conference on 17 December in assisting economic development in the region post-Annapolis.

The Council adopted conclusions on Lebanon reiterating the importance of political parties reaching agreement on a presidential candidate through consensus and dialogue.


The Council discussed the situation in Burma in light of ongoing work in the UN by Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari and special rapporteur on human rights, Sergio Pinheiro.

The Council noted the appointment of Piero Fassino as EU special envoy to Burma on 6 November and reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to supporting UN-led efforts to promote dialogue in Burma.


The Council discussed the EU’s planned military operation in Chad/Central African Republic. Several member states indicated that they were considering providing further contributions.

The Council adopted conclusions reaffirming the EU’s support for the ongoing efforts of the UN and the African Union to achieve a sustainable peace settlement in Darfur, including through mediation of the talks process begun in Sirte on 27 October. The conclusions also call on the parties to do all they can to ensure prompt deployment of an effective AU-UN peacekeeping force, UNAMID, which will assume authority from the current AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS) by 31 December 2007.