General Affairs, Foreign Affairs, and Defence Foreign Affairs Councils

Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs written statement – made on 18th April 2013.

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Photo of David Lidington David Lidington The Minister for Europe

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will attend the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) and I will attend the General Affairs Council (GAC) on 22 April. My right hon. Friend the Minister for International Security Strategy will attend the Defence Foreign Affairs Council and the European Defence Agency steering board on 22 and 23 April. These meetings will be held in Luxembourg. The General

Affairs Council will be chaired by the Irish presidency, and the Foreign Affairs Council and Defence Foreign Affairs Council will be chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland.

General Affairs Council

The GAC will focus on enlargement, preparation of the May European Council and EU fundamental values, specifically democracy and the rule of law. The Irish presidency will update the Council on the multiannual financial framework: no discussion of this is expected.

Enlargement reports for Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia

There will be discussion of Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia, on the basis of reports from the European external action service and European Commission, released ahead of the GAC, on those countries’ progress on the issues set out in the December GAC conclusions. On Serbia and Kosovo the focus will be on latest developments in the EU-facilitated dialogue between the Prime Ministers of Serbia and Kosovo: the UK welcomes the leadership of Baroness Ashton and is keen to see further improvement in the relations between the two sides. As for Macedonia, the focus will be on that country’s reform efforts, good neighbourly relations, and progress on resolving the name dispute with Greece. I expect any conclusions on the reports to be largely procedural, with more detailed discussion at the June GAC.

May European Council

The 22 May European Council will discuss the energy aspects of the single market; discuss tax policy focusing on improving tax collection and tackling tax evasion and fraud; will take stock of the deepening of economic and monetary union (EMU); and will consider foreign policy issues. I will take this opportunity to highlight the importance of making further progress on the single market and the need to improve tax policy and transparency in support of the priorities for the G8 summit in June.

EU fundamental rights

Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland and Germany jointly sent a letter to President Barroso on 6 March 2013, emphasising the importance of the rule of law, human rights and democracy; the fundamental values of the Union. The letter called for an EU mechanism to protect these fundamental values, and suggested that the European Commission should play a greater role in this area. At the request of the signatories this issue will be discussed at the GAC. I will underline the importance of safeguarding the rule of law, human rights and democracy within the Union. I will also acknowledge the link between effective justice systems and economic growth, as identified in the letter. I will highlight the important role already played by the Council of Europe in relation to fundamental values and encourage the Council to bear this valuable contribution in mind. The letter did not go into detail on how any EU mechanism would work, therefore I will not be commenting on the specifics of any proposal at this stage. The UK remains keen to see that any future mechanism respects areas of member state competence.

Foreign Affairs Council

Energy

Ministers will discuss EU external relations on energy and the southern corridor pipeline. We welcome this discussion and support the development of a southern corridor, bringing Caspian gas to Europe via Turkey. The increasingly interconnected nature of the EU gas market means there will be indirect benefits to the UK of additional gas supplies to Europe, and a more stable and diverse European gas market.

Serbia and Kosovo

Baroness Ashton is likely to update Ministers on progress on the EU-facilitated Serbia and Kosovo dialogue. The UK welcomes the leadership of Baroness Ashton on this and is keen to see further improvement in the relations between the two sides. However we are clear that we must see progress on all of the Kosovo-related conditionality set out at the December GAC if we are to agree to open accession negotiations with Serbia at the June GAC.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Ministers may also consider progress made by Bosnia and Herzegovina’s (BiH) leaders on agreeing changes to the constitution to bring it into line with the European Court of Human Rights judgment on Sejdic and Finci. We will reaffirm our continued commitment to BiH’s EU perspective but are clear that existing conditionality must be met and that continued inaction will not go unnoticed. The onus is on BiH’s leaders to demonstrate their commitment and willingness to work together so as to make progress on the EU agenda in the interests of its citizens.

Iran E3+3

Baroness Ashton will update Ministers on the latest round of E3+3 nuclear talks with Iran, which took place in Almaty, Kazakhstan, 5 and 6 April. Iran showed some willingness to engage on the substance, but its current position falls far short of what is needed for a diplomatic breakthrough. As a result, the E3+3 did not immediately agree to a further meeting but returned to capitals to consider how to move forward.

Eastern partnership

Ministers will have a discussion on the eastern partnership, looking ahead to November’s eastern partnership summit in Vilnius. We expect the discussion to focus in particular on Ukraine and Belarus. The UK remains committed to a closer relationship between the EU and Ukraine, and we will continue to make clear that progress is dependent on Ukraine making necessary reforms. On Belarus, we welcome the news that Sweden can re-establish a diplomatic presence in Minsk. We will continue to make clear that development of the relationship with Belarus is conditional upon improvements in human rights, democracy and the rule of law, including the release and rehabilitation of political prisoners.

Southern neighbourhood

On Syria, Ministers will discuss the deteriorating situation on the ground, including the humanitarian aspects and the EU response to it, and the need to provide support to the Syrian National Coalition. We will emphasise the need to consider amending the EU sanctions package.

On Lebanon, following the recent resignation of Prime Minister Mikati and the appointment of Mr Tamam Salara as Prime Minister designate, the discussion is likely to focus on the need to encourage the swift formation of a cabinet; for consensus over a new elections law; and for timely parliamentary elections. Ministers are also likely to discuss the effects of the conflict in Syria, with Lebanon now host to nearly 400,000 refugees, impacting on its security, stability and economy.

Baroness Ashton will report back from her recent visit to Egypt. The UK will voice backing for ongoing EU support of Egyptian political and economic reform, but emphasise also the importance of the “more for more” principle in EU engagement with Egypt.

Mali

The discussion on Mali will focus on the need for further progress to be made on national dialogue and reconciliation, leading to elections scheduled for July. Ministers will take stock of developments in New York, following the UN Security Council’s negotiations on a resolution authorising a UN operation in Mali. They will also consider the EU’s overall common security and defence policy (CSDP) response to Mali and the Sahel region, in the context of the EU’s strategy for security and development in the Sahel.

Burma

Ministers will discuss the situation in Burma in the context of reviewing EU restrictive measures, which are currently suspended apart from the arms embargo and restrictions on the supply of equipment which could be used for internal repression. We expect conclusions to welcome the significant reforms and highlight the challenges that remain, including the situation in Rakhine state and the plight of the Rohingya; the need to reach a ceasefire with the Kachin, and move towards political dialogue with all Burma’s ethnic groups; and to release remaining political prisoners. We will emphasise the importance of a more comprehensive approach to future EU engagement with Burma in the run up to and beyond national elections in 2015.

European Defence Agency steering board

The European Defence Agency (EDA) steering board on 23 April will focus on preparations for the agency’s input to the December 2013 European Council on defence, concentrating on increasing the effectiveness, visibility and impact of the common security and defence policy (CSDP); enhancing the development of defence capabilities; and strengthening Europe’s defence industry. The steering board will consider the EDA’s proposals to explore possibilities to expand pooling demand to cover the whole life-cycle; to intensify its efforts to support battlegroups and EU operations; and identify with member states co-operative projects to improve the pooling demand concept. To enhance the development of defence capabilities, the EDA will invite the steering board to endorse actions to increase co-operation between member states.

The EDA will invite the steering board to endorse proposals to launch “pioneer projects” in remote piloted aircraft systems, cyber defence and secure telecom by satellite. The board will note the progress made in the air-to-air refuelling project and will be invited to endorse the establishment of a category A programme on the military implementation of single European sky ATM research (SESAR). The UK is supportive of the EDA’s air-to-air refuelling project, and has offered unallocated UK Voyager flying hours to interested nations on a “pool and charge” basis. We will invite member states interested in clearing aircraft to declare their interest in the UK project with the EDA as soon as possible.

Defence Foreign Affairs Council

EU training mission Mali

Ministers will discuss current EU CSDP operations, focusing on EU training mission (EUTM) Mali, over dinner on Monday 22 April. General Lecointre, head of mission EUTM Mali, will provide an update on progress on training the Malian armed forces. Discussion is likely to cover developments on the future of the African-led international support mission to Mali, AFISMA, the provision of equipment for the Malian armed forces, and a possible UN peacekeeping role. The chair of the EU Military Committee will provide an update on other military missions. We will reiterate ongoing UK support for the EU CSDP missions and operations.

December European Council

Ministers will discuss preparations for the December 2013 European Council on defence. We will set out the UK aims, which are to ensure that there is a focus on the comprehensive approach and complementarity with NATO; to improve cost-effectiveness and operational delivery; to enhance capabilities that benefit both NATO and the EU; and for this to be underpinned by a strengthened defence industrial base that will help boost longer-term competitiveness and economic growth.

Battlegroups

The UK will lead the EU battlegroup (EUBG) in the second half of 2013 with Lithuania, Latvia, Sweden and the Netherlands. Preparing for this role not only demonstrates our commitment to the concept but also provides training and transformational benefits, including for our partners. We will set out our view on the possible closer integration of the battlegroup into the EU’s wider tools and strategies, making it clear that we are not looking to alter the level of ambition, nor to reopen the battlegroup concept. We will continue to push for the battlegroup to be a more credible, usable and deployable entity, working closely with civilian actors, to make a positive contribution to international crisis management. Future UK offers to act as a framework nation for the EUBG will be kept under review.