General Affairs and External Relations Council

Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs written statement – made on 6th May 2008.

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Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Minister of State (Europe)

I represented the UK at the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) in Luxembourg on 29 April 2008.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

External Relations

Zimbabwe

I agreed Council conclusions that underlined the EU's deep concerns at the delay in announcing the results of the general election, condemned violence and called for moratorium on arms sales. Ministers agreed that SADC but also the AU had a crucial role to play and the EU should continue to work closely with African states to encourage their efforts to deliver a credible and genuinely democratic solution to the crisis.

I intervened to underline that it was clear President Mugabe was in the process of trying to steal the election and that the EU needed to remain robust in exposing and condemning the violence and human rights abuses on the ground.

Middle East Peace Process

Ministers discussed developments since the Annapolis conference, the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee meeting in London on 2 May and looked ahead to the Berlin conference in support of Palestinian security and the rule of law on 2 June. Ministers underlined the importance of continuing to support the political process, and expressed concerns over the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Iraq

Ministers had an exchange of views on the situation in Iraq, following the Iraq neighbours' conference in Kuwait on 22 April. Ministers welcomed security improvements and progress on national reconciliation, but recognised that the situation remained fragile. Ministers also looked forward to the annual review of the international compact with Iraq in Stockholm on 29 May.

Pakistan

High Representative Solana gave a read out of his recent visit to Islamabad. I agreed the Council conclusions reaffirming the importance of EU-Pakistan relations, including support for the development of regional and bilateral trade, education and democratic institution building. Ministers supported the Pakistani Government's fight against extremism and progress on reinforcing democracy since the election on 18 February. Ministers also underlined the importance of supporting the Government of Pakistan to implement the Electoral Observation Mission's recommendations for electoral reform to support the democratic process in Pakistan, improve transparency and help ensure participation of citizens in the election.

Burma

The Council adopted a common position renewing restrictive measures against Burma for another 12 months. I also agreed Council conclusions on Burma, which highlighted the Council's ongoing concern about the situation in Burma, and in particular the deep flaws in the regime's 10 May referendum on a new constitution aimed at entrenching military rule. The Council underlined its readiness to consider further restrictive measures in the light of developments. Ministers had an exchange of views on the text of the draft constitution and referendum on 10 May.

Piracy off Somali Coast

Ministers noted recent piracy incidents off the Somali coast, which they condemned.

Western Balkans

Discussion of the Western Balkans focused on Serbia. The Council agreed on the signature of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Serbia, which President Tadic signed in the margins of the Council. I intervened to stress the importance of full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia remaining a condition in Serbia's EU accession process. The requirement for full co-operation was fully recognised in the Council's conclusions, which make clear that ratification of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and implementation of the Interim Agreement will be dependent on a Council decision that Serbia is fully co-operating with the ICTY.

The Council also expressed its readiness to sign the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Bosnia and Herzegovina, following the recent adoption of legislation on police reform. The Government welcome Bosnia and Herzegovina's progress against the conditions for signing the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and hope that signature will take place rapidly.

Georgia

Ministers agreed that the EU should reaffirm its support for Georgia's territorial integrity and sovereignty in the light of recent developments. The Government support the presidency's initiative to organise a visit to Georgia, to highlight the EU's concerns and offer support in resolving tensions with Russia.

Russia

Ministers discussed adoption of the mandate for negotiation of a successor to the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement with Russia. Agreement was not possible at this GAERC, Ministers are expected therefore return to the issue at the May GAERC.