Monday 5 February 2018
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Foreign Affairs Council: 22 January 2018
I attended the Foreign Affairs Council on 22 January. The Council was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HRVP), Federica Mogherini. The meeting was held in Brussels.
Foreign Affairs Council
EU Ministers discussed the Cotonou agreement, Libya and the Middle East peace process. In her introductory remarks the HRVP spoke about her recent visit to Cuba, as well as Syria and Iran. Member states raised DRC, Tunisia, the organisation for security and co-operation in Europe and the Council of Europe.
Ministers held an initial exchange about a future agreement between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of countries (ACP); the current Cotonou agreement is due to expire on 29 February 2020. Ministers expressed their broad support for the Commission’s approach to move towards an umbrella agreement at ACP level combined with three regional tailored partnerships for Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Ministers underlined the importance of building on the experience gained through co-operation under the existing Cotonou agreement, in particular on political dialogue and on migration. Discussions on the negotiating mandate will continue within relevant Council preparatory bodies, with a view to adopting a decision authorising the opening of negotiations and the negotiating directives within the first semester of 2018.
Ministers discussed the current situation in Libya. The UN Secretary General’s Special Representative, Ghassam Salame (SRSG), who joined by video conference for part of the session, gave an overview of the state of play of the political process, including progress towards the adoption of a new constitution and the forthcoming elections. He received the full support of Ministers in his efforts to bring about unity and reconciliation in the country. Ministers discussed the importance of EU engagement in Libya as a way of supporting the UN in its efforts to bring about political stability, as well as those UN agencies working to address the situation of migrants in Libya. Ministers also highlighted the importance of continuing to work with countries of origin, in particular in the Sahel region.
I intervened to underline the UK’s support for the SRSG, including his efforts to tackle modern slavery and people trafficking. I also emphasised the need for proper technical, legal, and political preparations in advance of any elections.
Middle East peace process
Ministers discussed the latest developments in the Middle East peace process and looked at how the EU could help to ensure engagement by all the relevant players in order to advance the peace process.
In the margins of the Council meeting, Ministers held an informal lunch with the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. This was an opportunity for the European Union to reiterate its united and clear messages on the importance of preserving a two-state solution and the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states.
Also in the margins, the President of the European Investment Bank (EIB) briefed Ministers on the proposal for an EIB subsidiary to focus on development outside Europe. There will be further discussion among Development Ministers next month.
Ministers agreed a number of measures without discussion:
The Council adopted conclusions on Zimbabwe;
The Council adopted conclusions on sanctions on Venezuela;
The Council adopted conclusions on sanctions on North Korea;
The Council adopted conclusions on the integrated approach to external conflict and crises; The Council adopted EU priorities for co-operation with the Council of Europe;
The Council approved upgraded generic standards of behaviour for common security and defence policy (CSDP) missions and operations;
The Council agreed exercise specifications for the EU crisis management military exercises in 2018 (MILEX 18);
The Council adopted a decision on the promotion of effective arms export controls;
The Council authorised Europol to release to third countries and third parties, the operational action plans which are part of the EU policy cycle for organised and serious international crime (Justice and Home Affairs);
The Council adopted a decision on the position to be taken on behalf of the EU within the EU-Ukraine Association Council and within the trade committee configuration (Trade);
The Council agreed to withdraw its appeals against six judgments by the European Court of Justice related to imports of biodiesel originating from Argentina and Indonesia (Trade);
The Council decided to publish the mandate given to the Commission on 13 November 2017 to modernise the existing association agreement with Chile (Trade);
The Council authorised the EU Railway agency to open negotiations on the participation of Switzerland (Transport);
The Council adopted a decision on an aviation agreement with Morocco (Transport);
The Council decided not to object to Commission regulation on the use of bisphenol A in varnishes and coatings (Health);
The Council appointed members of the Court of Auditors.
Communities and Local Government
Upwards Extensions: New Homes
The Government are committed to ensuring the planning system supports the delivery of more homes where they are needed. The opportunity for new homes is not always an empty plot, or the redevelopment of a derelict site. As set out in the White Paper, “Fixing our broken housing market”, it is important that development uses the space that is available efficiently, and avoids building at low densities especially in areas of high demand such as London. The Government recognise that one of the ways to achieve this is to build up rather than build out, using the space above existing buildings to create new homes.
Alongside the White Paper, the Government confirmed their intention to bring forward policy changes to support this objective, which this written ministerial statement sets out.
Planning policies and decisions should respond positively to suitable opportunities to use the airspace above existing residential and commercial premises for new homes. They should allow residential and commercial premises to extend upwards, where such extensions would be consistent with the prevailing height and form of neighbouring properties and the overall street scene, are well-designed—including complying with any local design policies and standards—respect the privacy of neighbours and can maintain safe access and egress for occupiers.
Policies and decisions on upwards extensions should take into account national and local policies, as well as relevant legal requirements, including relating to the conservation of heritage assets such as listed buildings and conservation areas. This will ensure councils can continue to protect valued areas of open space and the character of residential neighbourhoods, and stop unwanted garden grabbing.
The Government will be consulting on changes to the national planning policy framework, including changes to incorporate building up to ensure effective use of land for current and future homeowners. Appropriate guidance will be produced in due course.
Contingent Liability: Notification
I have today laid before Parliament a departmental minute describing a Contingent Liability (CL) of £4 million associated with Solum JV.
Solum JV was created in 2008 to help Network Rail (NR) deliver its agreed housing target. Since its formation, the Solum JV has delivered over 200 housing units, has c.200 more under construction—to complete by 2021—and a pipeline of c.1500 further units, subject to planning and other approvals.
This counter-indemnity, for which NR’s CL of £4 million will be matched by its JV partner, Kier, will cover further multiple residential developments being built by the JV, initially at Twickenham and Walthamstow Phase 2 stations.
The Treasury has approved the proposal in principle. If, during the period of 14 parliamentary sitting days beginning on the date on which this minute was laid before the House, a Member signifies an objection by giving notice of a parliamentary question or a motion relating to the minute, or by otherwise raising the matter in the House, final approval will be withheld pending an examination of the objection.