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EU: General Affairs and External Relations Council

Volume 713: debated on Thursday 22 October 2009

Statement

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

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 26 and 27 October in Luxembourg. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and I will represent the UK.

The agenda items are as follows:

General Affairs

Preparation of the 29 and 30 October European Council

The GAERC will discuss the presidency’s agenda for the October European Council, which will be dominated by three main topics: institutional issues, climate change and the economic and financial crisis. On institutional issues, the focus will be on how to follow up Czech President Klaus’s questions in relation to the Lisbon treaty. The presidency will look to make progress where it can on implementation of the Lisbon treaty. It is possible that this may include detailed discussion on the shape of the Commission.

Preparations for the Copenhagen summit on climate change will be a priority as the October European Council offers the last realistic opportunity for the EU to agree a mandate in advance of Copenhagen. The presidency has also scheduled a discussion of the Commission’s Larosiere proposals on European financial supervision and regulation, focusing on Commission proposals for the creation of a new European systemic risk body (ESRB). The other agenda items are illegal migration, the Baltic Sea strategy and external relations.

The Government broadly support the presidency’s agenda and look forward to a firm EU commitment on climate change ahead of Copenhagen.

Baltic Sea Strategy

There will be a short discussion of the EU strategy for the Baltic Sea region. Ministers are expected to agree conclusions on the strategy before it is formally adopted at the October European Council. The strategy aims to make the Baltic Sea region an environmentally sustainable, prosperous, accessible, and secure place, by bringing together a range of existing and planned measures into an integrated overall approach. The Government welcome the strategy as a means of delivering joined-up regional approaches to the issues facing Europe and will be interested to observe the development of actions and the lessons this may have for the management of regional seas.

AOB: Climate change

Following the launch of the Four Degree Map on 22 October, which involved senior scientists from the Met Office Hadley Centre, we will be interested to hear partners’ views. The map shows the most likely outcome from business-as-usual emissions and underlines the risk of a four degree rise to security and prosperity, and the need for a deal at Copenhagen that will keep warming to a maximum of two degrees. Ministers will also discuss the forthcoming EU summits with the US, India, Russia and China, where we want climate change to be a key agenda item.

External Relations

Iran

This will be the first EU ministerial discussion since the 1 October meeting in Geneva of the E3+3 and Iran. The presidency will look to the parties involved to update on developments since then; namely, attempts to schedule a follow-up meeting with the Iranians that addresses the nuclear issue; the International Atomic Energy Agency's inspection (scheduled for 25 October) of the recently disclosed enrichment facility at Qom; and the negotiations in Vienna on 19 October regarding the Tehran research reactor. We will also reiterate the need for the EU to maintain a robust united voice in condemnation of human rights violations arising from the ongoing post-election trials.

Enlargement

Ministers may discuss Albania's application for EU membership. The Government support prompt forwarding of the Albanian application to the Commission for an Avis (opinion) in line with normal practice.

Afghanistan/Pakistan

Discussion will focus on the joint presidency/Commission paper on enhancing EU engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Government welcome the paper, and look forward to its full and swift implementation.

We also expect discussion to focus on the outcome of the Afghan elections. We will underline the importance of maintaining co-ordinated EU support in the run up to the second round of the presidential elections, including through another European election mission. We will also aim to secure agreement to hold a second EU-Pakistan summit under the Spanish presidency.

Western Balkans

We expect the Swedish presidency to report on the joint EU-US initiative to make progress on blocked reform priorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The Government welcome this initiative, to which we are giving our full support. We are urging BiH's political leaders to engage fully and constructively in the talks.

Middle East Peace Process

Following a briefing to Ministers from the presidency and High Representative Solana, the GAERC is likely to reiterate EU support for: a two-state solution in accordance with previous agreements between the parties; the need for a comprehensive, regional approach; and urgent access to Gaza. We expect Ministers to review US efforts to launch negotiations between the parties and reaffirm the EU’s readiness to work in close co-operation with the US and other international partners towards achieving a sustainable and lasting peace.

Sri Lanka

We welcome this discussion, which we expect to cover our main areas of concern, in particular: the need for the Government of Sri Lanka to make urgent progress in returning the internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their homes as soon as possible; improving the conditions in the camps for the remaining IDPs and taking steps aimed at encouraging reconciliation between Sri Lanka's communities. This includes the need for an independent and credible process to address possible violations of international humanitarian law by both sides during the conflict.

AOB: Moldova

Ministers are likely to discuss recent political and economic developments. This may include the recent International Monetary Fund visit, the timing of EU macrofinancial assistance and other possible sources of funding. There may also be a short discussion about the outcome of the presidential parliamentary vote on 23 October. We support an ambitious programme of EU engagement and assistance with the new Government.

AOB: Somalia

Ministers are likely to discuss possible EU action, including a mission to train Somali security forces. They may also cover existing training initiatives undertaken bilaterally by some member states. We support the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) joint needs assessment, expected mid-November, believing that its outcomes will help to focus EU activities, and encourage co-ordination and buy-in from the Transitional Federal Government.

AOB: Guinea

We expect Ministers to discuss an EU arms embargo and sanctions against individuals deemed to be a threat to the transitional process in Guinea. The Government strongly condemn the violent repression by military forces of the demonstration on 28 September in Conakry, the massacre of unarmed civilians and gross human rights violations including rapes. We would support an EU decision on targeted sanctions against suggested individuals and an EU arms embargo.