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EU: General Affairs and External Relations Council

Volume 706: debated on Thursday 22 January 2009

Statement

My right honourable friend the Minister for Europe (Caroline Flint) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 26 January in Brussels. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary (David Miliband) will represent the UK.

The agenda items are as follows:

General Affairs

Presentation of the Czech presidency’s priorities

The presidency will outline their priorities: economy, energy and Europe in the world. In practice, this is likely to mean a focus on enlargement, the eastern partnership, energy security, the single market, economic recovery, the post-2013 Lisbon strategy and better regulation, which the Government support.

We also expect the presidency to present its plans for the eastern partnership, which it has said will be a key agenda item for the spring European Council on 19 and 20 March. We support the eastern partnership and will work closely with the presidency, the Commission and EU partners to develop the initiative. The presidency plans a summit of heads of state from the EU27 and eastern partner countries on 7 May to launch the partnership.

Energy security

The council will discuss the presidency's priority of energy security, with particular reference to the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute and its impact on the EU. We support the presidency and Commission's handling of this dispute and agree with President Barroso that it has done long-term damage to both parties' reputations as reliable energy partners.  We welcome the recently announced agreement by the two parties, and the resumption of gas flow through Ukraine, and hope this will prove to be a long-term, sustainable solution. The situation of the last few weeks cannot be allowed to happen again.

In the longer term the dispute has highlighted the need to tackle EU energy security as a whole. We therefore expect Ministers to discuss the EU Strategic Energy Review (SEER2), released on 13 November 2008, and look ahead to the adoption of an ambitious action plan at the spring European Council on 19 and 20 March. This will be an important step in ensuring a more coherent EU energy policy. The action plan needs to focus on increasing diversification of energy supplies for the EU and interconnection within the EU, greater transparency of gas flows and improving our ability to respond to supply disruptions. At the same time, the EU needs to increase its energy efficiency and continue to work towards the creation of a fully functioning internal energy market. The SEER2 identifies six strategic energy infrastructure projects. The UK particularly welcomes concrete actions to develop the southern gas corridor, which would bring Caspian gas into the EU via Turkey thereby diversifying both the sources and routes of energy supply.

External Relations

Middle East peace process (MEPP)

The Middle East peace process, and more specifically Gaza, will be high on the council’s agenda. The GAERC will follow two other EU ministerial meetings which the presidency has convened at short notice to discuss Gaza: an EU-Israel Foreign Ministers meeting on Wednesday 21 January and a meeting between the EU and the Egyptian, Turkish, Palestinian and Jordanian Foreign Ministers on Sunday 25 January.

The outcome of the GAERC will depend in part on developments this week and the outcomes of these other meetings, but we hope that the council will welcome the cessation of hostilities in Gaza and call for all parties to make the current ceasefire permanent through the full implementation of UNSCR 1860.

We also expect Ministers to discuss the EU’s specific contribution to the peace process, including a focus on: the provision of urgent humanitarian assistance; efforts to reopen the Gaza crossings, including exploring the EU’s readiness to relaunch EUBAM Rafah, its border monitoring mission; and efforts to tackle arms smuggling into Gaza. Ministers are also likely to discuss how best to support inter-Palestinian reconciliation and galvanise the international community behind the wider MEPP and the Arab peace initiative.

Russia/Ukraine

We expect Ministers to consider the long-term implications of the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute for the EU’s relations with both countries.

Zimbabwe

We expect conclusions to express serious concern at the failure of the regime to respond to the deepening humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe.  We anticipate inclusion of a call for regional states to pave the way for the establishment of an equitable power-sharing agreement in Zimbabwe. We expect a call for investigations into links between illicit diamond trading in Zimbabwe and the regime. Conclusions should also note the extension and renewal of targeted measures against individuals and entities associated with the Mugabe regime’s violence and human rights violations. The EU will also reaffirm its commitment to the alleviation of suffering through the provision of aid. 

Guantanamo Bay

We expect Ministers to welcome President Obama's commitment to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, in line with the EU's long-standing position. We also expect Ministers to discuss the issues surrounding closure, including any requests by the US for assistance and whether the EU might consider a collective response.