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Foreign Affairs Council and General Affairs Council

Volume 611: debated on Thursday 26 May 2016

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs attended the Foreign Affairs Council on 23 May and I attended the General Affairs Council on 24 May. The Foreign Affairs Council was chaired by the high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, and the General Affairs Council was chaired by the Dutch presidency. The meetings were held in Brussels.

Foreign Affairs Council

A provisional report of the meeting and conclusions adopted can be found at: http://www.consilium.europa. eu/en/meetings/fac/2016/05/23/

EU—Eastern Partnership ministerial meeting

Immediately before the Foreign Affairs Council, EU Foreign Ministers met with the Foreign Ministers of the six Eastern Partnership states (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine) to review progress on the Eastern Partnership initiative since the EU-Eastern Partnership summit held in Riga on 21-22 May 2015. Ms Mogherini concluded it was a positive meeting, reconfirming commitment and unity in the partnership.

Foreign Affairs Council

In her introductory remarks, Ms Mogherini welcomed the adoption of a mandate to begin negotiations to revamp the EU-Mexico global agreement. She noted that a joint communication on EU policy for the Arctic had been adopted at the end of April, and suggested the council have a full discussion of this in June.

Libya/Operation Sophia

The Council agreed conclusions setting out the decision to extend the mandate of EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia by one year and to expand it to include capacity-building and training of the Libyan coastguard and implementation of the UN arms embargo on the high seas off the coast of Libya. In that context the Government welcome the recent letter from the president of the presidency Council of the Government of national accord, Mr Serraj, requesting support from and expressing readiness to co-operate with the EU.

It is important that planning for this new mandate is completed as quickly as possible so that these new tasks can begin. The Government will work with other EU member states and international organisations, as well as with the Libyan authorities and countries in the region, to achieve this. The Government share the view expressed by Ms Mogherini and the NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, that there is scope for greater co-operation between the EU and NATO in the central Mediterranean; and is working with partners in both organisations to take this forward.

EU Daesh/Iraq/Syria regional strategy

The Council considered a review of the March 2015 regional strategy for Syria and Iraq as well as the Daesh threat and adopted conclusions. The EU and member states discussed priority areas for Iraq, including governance reform, economic reform and development, humanitarian assistance, and stabilisation, all of which are reflected in the conclusions. An EEAS/commission options paper on increasing EU efforts in Iraq will be circulated in July. Responding to UK-led efforts, the EU agreed to step up its efforts within, and contribution to, the global coalition’s campaign against Daesh. Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to support a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition based on the principles of the Geneva communique?, including the establishment of a transitional governing body, which is needed to bring a lasting peace to Syria, defeat Daesh in Syria and allow refugees to return home. Ministers agreed that there can be no peace under Assad, who is responsible for the vast majority of attacks against civilians and deaths in the country during the civil war. The EU will support the international Syria support group’s call for full humanitarian access to all those in need in Syria and for compliance by all parties with the cessation of hostilities. The EU will step up support to the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC), representing the Syrian opposition in the UN-brokered talks in Geneva.

EU Global Strategy

Ms Mogherini updated Ministers over lunch on the preparation of the EU global strategy on foreign and security policy. The strategy will identify and describe EU member states’ interests, priorities and objectives, existing and evolving threats, challenges and opportunities and the instruments and means to meet them. The Government support this initiative, which complements the UK’s strategic defence and security review, and have engaged regularly with Ms Mogherini during its preparation. The Government believe that the global strategy can enhance UK and other member states’ foreign and security policy by covering the full range of external action tools and setting broad direction, rather than proposing detailed action on specific issues.

External aspects of migration

Ministers exchanged views on the external aspects of migration and adopted conclusions. The Foreign Secretary raised the need to focus on implementation of the outcome of the Valletta summit and for effective EU co-ordination ahead of upcoming international events such as the world humanitarian summit and high level meetings taking place in the margins of the UN General Assembly in September 2016.

Ministers agreed without discussion a number of measures:

The Council adopted conclusions on the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Council adopted conclusions on South Sudan.

The Council adopted a decision finalising the conclusion of the association agreement between the European Union and Georgia.

The Council adopted a decision finalising the conclusion of the association agreement between the European Union and Moldova.

The Council adopted the EU position to be taken on the draft declaration of the union for the Mediterranean ministerial conference on regional co-operation and planning.

The Council established the EU’s common position for the 45th meeting of the European Economic Area Council to take place in Brussels on 25 May.

General Affairs Council

A provisional report of the meeting and conclusions adopted can be found at: http://www.consilium.europa. eu/en/meetings/gac/2016/05/24/

The General Affairs Council (GAC) on 24 May focused on preparation of the June European Council and the rule of law.

The presidency informed the Council that due to the change in date of the June European Council, the GAC will now take place on 24 June in Luxembourg.

Preparation of the June European Council

The GAC discussed the agenda for the European Council on 28-29 June, which the Prime Minister will attend. The Council agreed the draft agenda which will cover: migration; jobs, growth and investment; external issues; and the outcome of the UK referendum.

On migration, I welcomed the progress made since the EU-Turkey summit and emphasised that additional work needed to be done to tackle the upstream pressures, in particular looking at the Sahel, Somalia and Libya routes.

On jobs, growth and investment, I said that it was important to fully implement the single market, and in particular improve access for services across Europe and the digital single market.

Rule of Law

The Council held its second annual rule of law dialogue, which focused on the current challenges related to the integration of migrants into member states. In particular, the Council discussed the importance of ensuring both the rights of migrants and values shared by member states are respected.