My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Chris Bryant) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The General Affairs Council (GAC) and Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) were held on 22 March in Brussels. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary (David Miliband) represented the UK.
The agenda items covered were as follows:
Foreign Affairs Council
The provisional report of the meeting can be found at: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/113482.pdf
The agreed ‘A’ points included an EU Declaration on free access to information in Iran calling on the Iranian authorities to stop jamming satellite broadcasting and internet censorship. There was no FAC discussion. A text of Declaration can be found at: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/113468.pdf
High Representative Ashton and Humanitarian Affairs Commissioner Georgieva briefed on their recent visits, stressing the need to learn lessons and review structures. The Commissioner said humanitarian efforts must continue for at least 12 months and should take account of the coming hurricane season. Both the High Representative and the Commissioner said the EU needed to do more to raise its visibility. Development Commissioner Piebalgs noted the need to push for realistic reconstruction plans at the Donors’ Conference on 31 March in New York.
Ministers agreed Conclusions on Haiti including on the Donors’ Conference. These can be found at http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/113466.pdf
The High Representative introduced the new double-hatted EU Special Representative (EUSR) for Afghanistan, Vygaudas Ušackas, and urged member states to give him their full support to implement the EU's Action Plan. She stressed the need for the international community to maintain momentum generated by the London Conference and ensure the Afghan Government fulfilled their commitments. The EUSR said his three key tasks were to merge the two existing EU offices in Kabul, establish a close working relationship with member states’ missions on the ground and increase the EU's visibility.
The Foreign Secretary said the EUSR should make his own distinct contribution to the international effort and suggested three objectives: to become the effective EU political voice on the ground; to ensure that EU activities were a catalyst for progress—including integrating EUPOL with NATO efforts and supporting local governors; and to develop a coherent EU development strategy.
The High Representative said she was considering options on EUPOL and would share her thoughts with member states in due course. She looked forward to a discussion on implementing the Action Plan at the April FAC.
A text of the agreed Conclusions can be found at: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/113468.pdf
On Pakistan, Ashton urged member states to show support ahead of the 21 April Summit, especially on Generalised System of Preferences (GSP+). We should back Pakistan economically as well as politically. The Foreign Secretary strongly endorsed the importance of EU trade with Pakistan.
The High Representative briefed on her visit to the region of 18 March.
The Quartet Representative (Tony Blair) set out the difficulties facing the peace process. Europe had a key role in helping progress negotiations. The Foreign Secretary stressed the need to support proximity talks, which needed to focus on substantive issues.
The Commissioner, Štefan Füle, said the Commission was taking forward the Action Plan, including with the new Ukrainian Foreign Minister this week, and would revert with further recommendations at a future FAC.
Member states urged the Commission to speed up the provision of macro financial assistance to Moldova which Enlargement Commissioner Füle confirmed would commence in April. He noted the Visa Dialogue was expected to start on 15 June and he had written to the Moldovan Government asking them to follow the Venice Commission’s advice on future constitutional reform.
Ministers discussed Libya/Swiss bilateral dispute, which had resulted in Libya refusing visas to citizens of all Schengen countries. The High Representative undertook to give clear messages to the Swiss Foreign Minister at their meeting on 24 March.
AOB: Western Balkans
Slovenia gave a short brief on the Brdo Western Balkans conference of 20 March reaffirming the leaders’ commitment to joining the EU, meeting the required criteria and promoting good neighbourly relations.
Foreign Affairs Council and General Affairs Council
The General Affairs Council and Foreign Affairs Council met in joint session, chaired by the High Representative and the Presidency (Moratinos), to discuss the European External Action Service (EAS).
The High Representative presented progress so far. She committed to present her proposal shortly, noting this needed to be agreed by both the Council and the European Parliament. She hoped all institutions involved would recognise each others' perspectives and work together to deliver a coherent service. She highlighted the financial and staffing regulations and the budget as areas where a constructive approach was necessary. And Ministers should engage with national parliaments ahead of discussions with the European Parliament.
The Foreign Secretary set out the UK’s support for the EAS as a shared project and a great opportunity. The EAS needed to have the capacity to add value and this should include having a complementary role on cross-cutting policy issues such as climate change and migration. He stressed the need for merit-based appointments.
General Affairs Council
The provisional text of the Council’s discussion and agreed ‘A’ points can be found at: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/genaff/113481.pdf
Europe 2020 Strategy
The Presidency (Moratinos) invited comments on the draft European Council Conclusions covering Europe 2020 and climate change.
Ministers discussed the Commission’s proposals on competiveness, the setting of targets, the Stability and Growth Pact and financial regulation.
The Foreign Secretary stressed the need to send a clear signal about the EU's response to the economic crisis. We also needed to learn from the Lisbon strategy and work towards achievable, relevant targets that were set and owned at member state level.
On climate change, the Foreign Secretary led a number of member states in stressing the need to maintain ambition, implement the Copenhagen accord and move forward on fast start financing and mitigation/adaptation.
Dinner with President Herman Van Rompuy
The President of the Council hosted a General Affairs Council dinner where Europe 2020, European Council working methods and external relations were discussed.
On Europe 2020, member states discussed the Commission’s proposed targets in areas such as poverty and education and the need to reconcile these with national targets.