Foreign Affairs and General Affairs Councils (21-22 October)

Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs written statement – made on 29th October 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 attended the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) on 21 October and I attended the General Affairs Council (GAC) on 22 October. The Foreign

Affairs Council was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, and the General Affairs Council by the Lithuanian Presidency. The meetings were held in Luxembourg.

Commissioners Füle (Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy) and Piebalgs (Development) were in attendance for some of the discussions at the FAC.

Commissioner Šefcovic (Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration) was in attendance for some of the discussions at the GAC.

Foreign Affairs Council

A provisional report of the meeting and Conclusions adopted can be found at:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/139093.pdf

Introduction- Iran

Baroness Ashton updated Ministers on the E3+3/Iran talks in Geneva, and the issuing of the first joint statement. The next meeting would be on 7-8 November in Geneva with experts discussions in advance.

Introduction- Serbia/Kosovo

Baroness Ashton briefed on the 17th round of the Serbia/Kosovo facilitated dialogue, the elections preparations, and noted that the EU's Election Observation Mission had begun its work.

Introduction- Bosnia and Herzegovina

Baroness Ashton highlighted the Conclusions agreed on Bosnia and Herzegovina, which emphasise the importance of implementing the European Court of Human Rights ruling on the Sejdic-Finci constitutional issue, and commit to a broader discussion on Bosnia and Herzegovina at the November Foreign Affairs Council. They also signal the EU's readiness to renew the executive mandate of Operation EUFOR Althea for another year.

Introduction- Maldives

Baroness Ashton expressed her concern that the Presidential election in the Maldives had again not proceeded, and stated that the EU needed to monitor the situation closely.

Eastern Partnership

Baroness Ashton looked forward to a successful Summit at Vilnius in November, noting the backdrop of increased Russian activism. Ministers exchanged views on Ukraine's progress in implementing the conditions for the possible signature of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. The Foreign Secretary stated that the EU needed to keep the focus on Ukraine's reform progress, until the Vilnius Summit and beyond. The Foreign Secretary also underlined that closer economic ties between the EU and Eastern Partners would have significant economic benefits for the wider region including Russia.

Southern Neighbourhood

On Egypt, Baroness Ashton briefed Ministers following her most recent visit to Cairo. Ministers expressed strong support for her efforts. The Foreign Secretary argued that the EU should address the issue of political detainees, and supported electoral observation by the EU of the constitutional referendum.

On Syria, Ministers emphasised that progress towards Geneva II and a political solution remained the priority; underlined the importance of the UN Security Council Resolution 2118 (2013) on Syrian chemical weapons; and stressed that the humanitarian situation remained dire. Ministers agreed Conclusions which, in particular, reiterated that the objective of Geneva II would be swift establishment, by mutual consent, of a transitional governing body with full executive powers and control of all governmental and all security institutions, and underlined that there should be no impunity for human rights abuses, including those committed with conventional weapons.

On Libya, Ministers agreed that EU support would be important in helping Libya to address the migratory situation. The Foreign Secretary emphasised the need to focus on practical support following recent tragic events, with the UK offering support to the Libyan security sector. He stated that the EU should focus on ensuring that the EU Border Assistance Mission in Libya delivered training as quickly as possible.

Burma

Before lunch with Aung San Suu Kyi, Baroness Ashton gave an overview of Burma's continuing reform process, highlighting progress made and the remaining challenges. In November she will lead a taskforce to Burma, the first outside Europe's neighbourhood, aimed at bringing EU representatives and businesses to Burma to offer comprehensive EU support for the transition to democracy.

Over lunch, Aung San Suu Kyi highlighted the central importance of amending the Burmese constitution in order to allow for credible presidential elections. The Foreign Secretary underlined his support for constitutional change, and the role the EU could play, including in supporting and monitoring the 2015 elections. He also raised the plight of the Rohingya and other ethnic and religious tensions.

AOB- Central African Republic

The Foreign Minister of France, Laurent Fabius, debriefed on his recent joint visit with Commissioner Georgieva (International Co-operation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response), outlining three central concerns: the security situation; the humanitarian crisis; and the political process. Conclusions were agreed.

Other business

Ministers agreed without discussion a number of other measures:

The Council adopted the EU position for the EU-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Council.

The Council adopted conclusions on Yemen.

The Council adopted conclusions on the special report No 4/2013 of the Court of Auditors concerning EU cooperation with Egypt in the field of governance.

The Council extended the EU restrictive measures against the Republic of Guinea, consisting of restrictions on admission to the EU and asset freezes, until 27 October 2014.

The Council allocated €8.05 million from the EU budget to support the activities of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on nuclear security and verification.

The Council adopted conclusions on the new challenges presented by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and their delivery systems.

The Council adopted the second part (country reports) of the EU annual report on human rights and democracy. The first part (thematic reports) was adopted on 6 June 2013.

General Affairs Council

The 22 October GAC focused on: the preparation for the October European Council, which the Prime Minister attended on 24-25 October; the next stage of the European semester; macro-regional strategies; and enlargement.

A provisional report of the meeting and Conclusions adopted can be found at:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_Data/docs/pressdata/EN/genaff/139118.pdf

Preparation of the 24-25 October European Council

The GAC discussed the 24-25 October European Council, both in the plenary session of the General Affairs Council and over lunch with the President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy. This European Council had an extensive agenda covering: the digital economy, innovation and services; growth, competitiveness and jobs; Economic and Monetary Union; the Eastern Partnership summit; and migration issues, following the tragedy in Lampedusa.

I signalled our strong support for the digital agenda, emphasising the importance of the Digital Single Market in promoting growth but reminding my counterparts of the need to avoid setting unrealistic timelines, including on data protection. I also stressed the need for further progress in the services agenda and reducing regulation.

The Commission had recently produced a welcome report on reducing regulation titled REFIT. This looked at how to improve regulation across the board. The Prime Minister has consistently championed this work and has separately challenged businesses to identify the most burdensome regulations. The Business Taskforce which responded to this challenge, presented its report drawn from the views of over 100 businesses from across Europe. The Taskforce report put forward 30 clear recommendations to remove or improve the EU rules that are the most burdensome to businesses.

European Semester

The Lithuanian Presidency presented their 'synthesis report' on lessons learned in this year's European Semester. The European Semester gives macro-economic and fiscal guidance to Member States, assessing the implementation of the Compact for Growth and Jobs agreed by the June 2012 European Council. The discussion that followed the presentation raised the importance of ensuring that the timing of recommendations is right.

Enlargement (Turkey)

The Council agreed to confirm the EU common position for the opening of chapter 22 dialogue on regional policy and co-ordination of structural instruments with Turkey, and to convene an Accession Conference at Ministerial level on 5 November in Brussels to do so. This will be the first chapter opened with Turkey for three years. There will be a more general debate on enlargement at the GAC on 17 December.

Macro-Regional Strategies

Following a presentation by the Commission, the GAC endorsed conclusions on macro-regional strategies and exchanged views on the added value of the existing strategies. The draft conclusions on macro-regional strategies reiterated that they should require no new money (though structural and cohesion funds already allocated to those regions could be channelled towards projects complementing the macro-regional strategies); no new institutions and no new legislation. The conclusions set out preconditions that would help make any new strategies effective. France also presented its plans for a new macro-regional strategy; the Alpine Region Strategy.