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.
The agenda items covered were as follows:
Preparation of the European Council
The council discussed preparations for the European Council on 13 and 14 March. The European Council is expected to focus on the launch of a new three-year cycle of the EU’s strategy for growth and jobs; an integrated climate and energy policy; and the stability of financial markets. The Government support the presidency’s focus on delivering for the EU’s citizens and broadly agree with the priorities identified for action.
Doha Development Agenda
Commissioner Mandelson briefed the council on prospects for negotiations on the World Trade Organisation's Doha development agenda (DDA) negotiations, following the release of revised papers on agriculture, non-agricultural market access and services. Ministers agreed to return to the issue at a later date. The Government support the Commission’s efforts to engage constructively in negotiating for an ambitious and pro-development conclusion to the DDA. Progress in the DDA would give the global economy a welcome boost.
The Government agreed council conclusions firmly condemning the renewed attacks of armed groups against the Government of Chad, calling on all Chadian parties to renounce the use of force unconditionally and engage in a constructive dialogue aimed at finding a peaceful solution, and supporting the African Union’s efforts to resolve the crisis.
The conclusions also underlined the EU’s deep concern regarding the regional ramifications of the conflict in Darfur and attempts to overthrow the Chadian Government and fully backed the African Union and the United Nations' call for the respect of the sovereignty, national unity and territorial integrity of Chad. It called on the Governments of Sudan and Chad to stop supporting and equipping armed groups immediately and to improve their relations.
Commissioner Michel briefed the council on his recent visit.
The Government agreed council conclusions adopted by the council, expressing deep concern that the violence, uncertainty and instability in Kenya continues; reiterating the urgent need for Kenya’s leaders to engage seriously and flexibly in order to bring an immediate end to the violence and to ensure security, stability and protection of human rights; strongly supporting the efforts by the Panel of Eminent African Personalities, led by Kofi Annan; and reaffirming that the EU stands ready to assist those efforts.
European Neighbourhood Policy
Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner updated the council on the European neighbourhood policy (ENP), stating that trade, increasing mobility and resolving regional conflicts would now be the EU’s priorities. The Commission would publish progress reports on the ENP countries in April 2008. The Government strongly support the ENP as a policy that is distinct from EU enlargement but keeps the door to EU membership open for Eastern partners.
The council adopted conclusions welcoming the Commission communication “A Strong European Neighbourhood Policy” as a useful basis for further reflection on making the ENP more effective and attractive to ENP partners, with the aim of making full use of the ENP's potential.
The Government agreed council conclusions underlining that the EU remains deeply concerned by the situation in Burma and urging the authorities to take rapid steps to move to a democratically elected Government. The conclusions noted the authorities' announcement on 9 February of a referendum on a new constitution in May 2008 and multi-party elections in 2010.
The Government strongly support the clear message in the conclusions that only a process that involves the full participation of the opposition and ethnic groups will lead to national reconciliation and stability. The conclusions reiterate the EU’s call for the release of all political detainees, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the start of a substantial time-bound dialogue with all political stakeholders, and full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Middle East Peace Process
High Representative Javier Solana briefed the council on his recent visit to Egypt. The Commission gave Foreign Ministers an update on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and next steps following the Paris donors' conference in December 2008.
The Government’s view is that the EU must actively continue to support reopening the crossings under Palestinian Authority control. A controlled reopening of the crossings is vital for Palestinian welfare and Israeli security. The EU should therefore continue to explore how it can provide practical support.
Economic Partnership Agreements
Commissioners Mandelson and Michel briefed the council on the state of play in the economic partnership agreement (EPA) negotiations with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries. The key challenges would be to secure full signature of initialled agreements and to broaden and deepen those agreements that had been established. The Commission stood ready to have high-level talks in 2008 to achieve the goal of full regional EPAs. Delivering on development finance would be key. The council will return to this issue in May, during a joint session with Development Ministers, prior to the June ACP-EC Council in Addis Ababa.
The Government welcome the Commission’s progress in agreeing economic partnership agreements with 35 ACP countries and stand ready to support the Commission in concluding the remaining agreements.
A separate Written Ministerial Statement laid before the House on 19 February 2008 (Official Report, Commons, cols. 20-22WS) reports Foreign Ministers’ discussion of the Western Balkans.