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General Affairs and External Relations Council

Volume 499: debated on Wednesday 11 November 2009

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 16 and 17 November in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, my noble Friend the Minister of State for International Defence and Security, Baroness Taylor, and I will represent the UK.

The agenda items are as follows:

General Affairs

Preparation of the 10 and 11 December European Council

The GAERC will discuss the presidency’s draft agenda for the December European Council. We expect the European Council to focus on the economic and financial situation, with a view to reaching agreement on the Commission’s proposals for financial supervision and regulation. The December European Council will also adopt the EU’s new work programme (the “Stockholm programme”) setting out priorities for EU cooperation in Justice and Home Affairs from 2010-14. There may also be discussions on a new Lisbon strategy post-2010, enlargement and external issues.

Post-2010 Lisbon Strategy

Ministers will discuss the post-2010 successor to the Lisbon Strategy for Jobs and Growth. The successor strategy should build on the economic and structural reform programme set out by the initial strategy. At the October European Council, EU leaders agreed to draw up a European strategy for jobs and growth, to secure a strong and sustainable economic recovery. The October European Council stressed the importance of reforms to strengthen the internal market, deliver investment in the industries and jobs of the future, promote increased trade and strengthen the financial sector.

EU Sustainable Development Strategy

On the basis of a presidency report, Ministers are expected to discuss the priority areas for the EU sustainable development strategy (SDS) and how these should be delivered. We expect conclusions to be adopted by the December European Council, which will influence the decision on whether there should be a fundamental review of the strategy, due by 2011 at the latest. A recent review identified a number of areas where the EU is not on track to meet the targets in the SDS, and considered how its principles could influence policy-making more effectively. The Government support strengthening these aspects of the EU SDS and also ensuring that it is well co-ordinated with other EU strategies such as the Lisbon strategy.

External Relations

Russia

Discussion will focus on the forthcoming EU-Russia summit on 18 November. The Government welcome the presidency’s close consultation on plans for the summit and support the priorities identified in the agenda. If a wider discussion opens up, I will seek to debrief partners on my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary’s recent visit to Moscow.

Ukraine

Ministers will discuss preparations for the EU-Ukraine summit in Kyiv on 4 December. Ukraine is an important neighbour of the EU and a key country within the new eastern partnership. The summit is also important because it will take place in the month before presidential elections. We want the presidency to use the summit to further stimulate Ukraine’s democratic development, promote political and economic reform, deepen the process of European integration through the new association agreement and help Ukraine consolidate its sovereignty.

Ukraine has been badly hit by the global economic crisis and the summit offers an opportunity to reiterate the EU’s strong support for the IMF programme that has been put together to help Ukraine get through the crisis. A package of EU macro-financial assistance might also be offered subject to the IMF programme remaining on track. Ukraine is a key transit country for Russian gas and is therefore of great importance to the EU’s energy security. We want the presidency to use the summit to help ensure Ukraine remains a reliable partner on energy issues.

Somalia

EU Foreign and Defence Ministers will discuss Operation Atalanta and wider EU engagement on Somalia in separate sessions. On Atalanta, discussions will focus on the operation’s six-monthly report. There may also be calls to make a decision on a proposed training mission for troops loyal to Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), and member states may be pressed to indicate what resources they are able to contribute.

We support the concept of the EU providing support for training of TFG security forces but planning needs to ensure that any mission would be workable and genuinely contribute to progress in Somalia. EU support must be co-ordinated and agreed with other international community actors in the region (UN, AU, US and bilateral efforts from member states) and the TFG through the Joint Security Committee mechanism and funds must be set aside with a mechanism in place to ensure that all trained troops are paid upon return to Somalia.

ESDP civilian capabilities

After an introduction from the presidency, Foreign Ministers will have a short discussion on how to bring about improvements in civilian capabilities for European Security and Defence Policy missions. The discussion will bring together a set of work streams pursued by the current presidency on civilian ESDP, including a revised framework for deploying civilians rapidly through the EU, a new concept for undertaking EU police substitution missions and a short report on member states’ progress in developing the mechanisms to deploy civilians overseas.

We anticipate that the discussion will focus on the issue of finding more highly skilled civilians to deploy through ESDP missions, particularly the EU policing mission in Afghanistan. The Government have been supportive of the presidency’s efforts to harness civilian capability from across Europe to deploy on ESDP missions because it is at the heart of the EU’s ability to undertake more effective crisis management.

Belarus

Ministers may discuss recent developments and review whether progress has been sufficient to continue the suspension of the travel ban. Ministers may also look more widely at the EU’s engagement, and assess what instruments it has at its disposal to bring about change. We will argue that there has not been sufficient progress to warrant lifting sanctions at this time, although we would be prepared to see the suspension of the travel ban continue for a defined period.

Joint Session of EU Foreign and Defence Ministers

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Operation Althea

Ministers will discuss Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), including the role of EUFOR Operation Althea. The Government support the ongoing presence of EUFOR in BiH. The presidency may also debrief member states on the current EU/US “Butmir” initiative: the Government fully support this effort to increase the pace of reform in BiH.

ESDP

Foreign and Defence Ministers will have an overarching discussion looking back at 10 years of European Security and Defence Policy and its future development. Considerations will be based around the Council conclusions on ESDP as well as a declaration marking its tenth anniversary. The conclusions are wide ranging and include: current ESDP missions and operations; cooperation with partners, including NATO, the UN and Third States; conflict prevention; gender and human rights; and both civil and military capability development. The Government have been supportive of the presidency’s active engagement in this field.

Joint Session of EU Foreign and Development Ministers

Afghanistan and democracy support in EU external relations

Ministers will consider the EU’s approach to democracy building in external relations, and will adopt conclusions, which we fully support. We particularly welcome the fact that they are a joint initiative (from the development and human rights working groups) and that they set out an Agenda for Action which could lead to real change in how the EU delivers support to democracy in its external relations. This is not about increased conditionality; rather it is about using what the EU already has more effectively and in a more coherent and coordinated manner.

The focus of the Foreign and Development Ministers’ joint discussion on Afghanistan will be how the EU can work to support the new Afghan Government, ensuring that it is able to deliver on President Karzai’s commitments to address corruption, governance and reintegration. Ministers will discuss how to fast track implementation of the Council Secretariat/Commission paper on enhancing EU engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Government support the paper, and looks forward to seeing a worked up implementation plan.

Meeting of EU Defence Ministers

The European Defence Agency Steering Board will meet in Defence Ministers’ formation on 17 November. As consensus has not yet been reached on a three year financial framework, on current plans Ministers will be presented with the agency’s draft work plan and budget for 2010 only, though we continue to pursue the prospect of reaching an acceptable three-year agreement. Ministers will also be given updates on six European Defence Agency projects. For two of these projects, Ministers will be asked to approve political declarations: on European military airworthiness requirements and on a level playing field for the European defence equipment market. We support both of these initiatives.

Defence Ministers will discuss Somalia. Please refer to the Somalia section under External Relations above for further information.

Ministers will discuss the implications of the Lisbon Treaty for Defence Policy informally over lunch. These will be initial, wide ranging, discussions aimed at stimulating the debate over how the provisions of the treaty that affect defence might be implemented. There will be no loss of sovereign control over the UK’s Armed Forces as a result of the Lisbon treaty.

Meeting of EU Development Ministers

Development Ministers will discuss EU delivery of Official Development Assistance (ODA) targets ahead of the 2010 collective commitment to 0.56 per cent. GNI. We expect strong language calling on member states to honour their targets, to set out timetables showing how they will do this, and calling on other donors to agree similarly ambitious commitments.

The Council will discuss how climate change considerations can be integrated into development discourse including a priority discussion on climate finance. conclusions will be adopted. While these do not form part of the official EU position for the UN framework convention on climate change conference in Copenhagen, we believe it is crucial that Development Ministers take this opportunity to discuss the relationship between ODA and climate finance and recognise that additional public finance over and above existing aid commitments is necessary.

Other items on the agenda include a Commission update on economic partnership agreements and a discussion of an operational framework on aid effectiveness and on policy Coherence for development.