My honourable friend the Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The General Affairs Council (GAC) and Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) have replaced the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) under the provisions of the Lisbon treaty, which came into force on 1 December 2009. The GAC and FAC will be held on 7 and 8 December in Brussels. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary (David Miliband) will represent the UK.
The agenda items are as follows:
General Affairs Council
Preparation of the 10 and 11 December European Council
Ministers will discuss the presidency’s draft agenda for the December European Council. We welcome the presidency’s continued focus on the economic and financial situation. We expect the European Council to take stock of the economic climate. It will review the measures necessary to return the EU economy to sustainable growth, including through ensuring the development of co-ordinated exit strategies from the economic stimuli taken forward under the European economic recovery plan. In this context, the European Council will also begin discussions on the future of the Lisbon strategy for jobs and growth. We also expect it to reach agreement on the Commission's proposals for financial supervision and regulation. The European Council will also review the implementation of the EU sustainable development strategy and adopt the EU’s new work programme (the Stockholm programme) setting out priorities for EU co-operation in Justice and Home Affairs from 2010 to 2014.
On external relations, we expect the December European Council to take stock of Iran’s response to the offer of negotiations on its nuclear programme and set out a clear, appropriate way forward in line with the dual-track strategy of engagement and pressure.
The General Affairs Council will take stock of progress on enlargement and the stabilisation and association process in the western Balkans, informed by the Commission Communication of 14 October, which set out an enlargement strategy and progress reports for candidates and potential candidates. We believe the Commission communication to be a fair and balanced assessment. We expect the council to agree conclusions that reconfirm consensus support for enlargement and recognition that the accession process gives strong encouragement to political and economic reform in the enlargement countries and reinforces peace, democracy and stability in Europe. We also expect the council to recognise that enlargement countries have been affected, to different degrees, by the global economic recession and reconfirm its commitment to provide support including through the instrument for pre-accession (IPA). We would support conclusions language emphasising that the rule of law, in particular the fight against corruption and organised crime, and the need to build professional civil services remain major challenges that the enlargement countries need to address at an early stage. We also support the Commission's view that bilateral disputes should not be allowed to hold up the accession process.
We expect the council to review progress in the accession negotiations for Turkey and Croatia. We will support the council's recognition of the key role Turkey plays in regional security, energy supply, and the promotion of dialogue between civilisations and recent initiatives including addressing the Kurdish issue. However, we will share the council's disappointment that Turkey has not yet fulfilled its obligation to open its ports to trade with Cyprus under the additional protocol to the association agreement and agree that further efforts are needed to accelerate the pace of Turkey's accession negotiations.
We will support the council in commending Croatia for progress made but stressing that further efforts are needed to meet accession criteria in order to be able to conclude negotiations in 2010. We will support the council to reiterate that full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia remains essential in line with the negotiating framework. We also expect the council to note that Iceland's application for EU membership is currently being assessed by the Commission. We expect the council to make a decision on opening negotiations early in 2010 on the basis of the Commission’s opinion.
EU Disaster Management
Ministers will discuss the future of civil protection under the arrangements introduced by the Lisbon treaty. We expect the December European Council to focus on the possibilities afforded by both the solidarity clause and the civil protection article to enable improved disaster management in the EU. The European Council will adopt the Stockholm programme, which stresses the need for an integrated approach to disaster management, including prevention, preparedness and response, and foresees further efforts to strengthen and improve the Community’s civil protection instruments. We also expect the European Council to adopt conclusions on a Community framework for disaster prevention, which will set out priorities for efforts to reduce vulnerability to catastrophes and their consequences and for which the Government have expressed support.
The Government recognise the primary role of national responsibility in disaster management while acknowledging the importance of solidarity among member states when disasters overwhelm national capabilities.
Trio Programme of the Spanish, Belgian and Hungarian Presidencies
The next trio presidency of the EU will begin on 1 January 2010 with Spain, followed by Belgium and Hungary. Under the Lisbon treaty, they will look to build a stronger, more coherent EU that more effectively works for its citizens and addresses their concerns. Their focus will be on the reinforcement of the social agenda, with strong European leadership in key areas such as recovery from the financial and economic crisis, climate change and energy security.
Foreign Affairs Council
We expect discussion to focus on Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Ministers are likely to consider further the future of the EU's military presence (EUFOR Operation Althea) and may receive an update from the presidency on the ongoing EU/US initiative to unblock progress on reforms. The Government believe that EUFOR makes a vital contribution to stability and security in BiH and should therefore only be reconfigured when the time is right. The Government support the EU/US initiative and believe that the conditionality set by the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) must be met before the Office of the High Representative can close and we move to an EU-led presence in BiH.
Ministers may discuss progress in Serbia, following a report to the UN Security Council on 3 December by the Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). If this report is sufficiently positive, Ministers may consider whether it is possible to implement Serbia's interim agreement. The Government support implementation of Serbia's interim agreement, on the basis of the significantly improved cooperation with ICTY that Serbia has already demonstrated.
We also expect Ministers to discuss progress by the western Balkans countries towards eventual EU membership. The Government support the assessments made by the European Commission in its communication of 14 October and believe that council conclusions should reaffirm support for the European perspective of the western Balkan countries. We believe that the countries of the region should make progress towards joining the EU on the basis of their progress in meeting the fair and rigorous conditions for membership. In particular, we support the Commission's recent recommendation for Macedonia to open accession negotiations and believe that conclusions should ensure that the country continues to move forward in the enlargement process. The Government also want conclusions that demonstrate the EU's ongoing commitment to Kosovo's economic and political development.
Ministers will discuss recent developments and consider, in preparation for the December European Council, whether efforts to engage with Iran have shown any signs of progress. Ministers may also consider next steps in the context of the dual-track policy, in order to persuade Iran to enter into meaningful negotiations on the nuclear issue. They will also focus on the human rights situation inside Iran.
Middle East Peace Process
Ministers will discuss developments in the Middle East, including the Israeli announcement of a limited 10-month moratorium on settlement building in the West Bank. The presidency plans conclusions that are likely to reaffirm the EU's commitment to a two-state solution and support of US efforts. The UK will be arguing for the EU to make clear its position on the importance of a two-state solution.
Ministers may discuss the latest developments and consider the EU’s next steps. The military Government have made no tangible progress towards Meeting the long-standing demands of the international community, including the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners and the start of a genuine process of dialogue and national reconciliation. The prospect of elections in 2010 gives such discussion added urgency.