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
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
EU fundamental rights
Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland and Germany jointly sent a letter to President Barroso on
Foreign Affairs Council
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.
Baroness Ashton will update Ministers on the latest round of E3+3 nuclear talks with Iran, which took place in Almaty, Kazakhstan, 5 and
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.