Select Committee on European Scrutiny First Report


APPENDIX 1

Letter from the Minister for Europe, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Keith Vaz) to the Chairman of the Committee

GENERAL AFFAIRS COUNCIL: 14-15 MAY 2001

I am writing to inform you of the outcome of discussions at the General Affairs Council (GAC), in place of my reply to the usual Parliamentary Question.

The GAC on 14 May adopted 28 of the 30 'A' Points listed in document no. 8565/01 (nos. 10 and 25 were withdrawn) and noted the resolutions, decisions and opinions adopted by the European Parliament in its part-session of 2-5 April in Strasbourg listed in document no. 7204/01. Copies of these documents have been placed in the libraries of both Houses.

Western Balkans

The GAC welcomed the agreement on a broad coalition government in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). The EU would continue to support the process of internal reform, including through the visit of the EU Ministerial Troika to Skopje on 16 May and the continued personal involvement of its High Representative Javier Solana. Following discussion at the GAC, the Commission announced that the joint World Bank/EC donors' conference for the FRY would take place on 29 June.

The GAC urged the ethnic Albanian leaders in Kosovo to join it in condemning the new acts of terrorist violence in northern Macedonia. It also called on Albania's political elite to use its influence to re-establish peace and stability. The ministerial meeting of the South East European Co-operative Process (SEECP; comprising Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia/FRY, Turkey, Greece; and Croatia as an observer) on 16 May 2001 in Tirana would provide another opportunity to work for regional co-operation and stability.

The GAC welcomed the orderly elections held in Montenegro. It called for an immediate resumption of dialogue between Belgrade and Podgorica with a view to redefining their constitutional arrangements within a federal framework. A successful outcome would ensure the EU's continued political, economic and financial support.

The GAC expressed concern at the ongoing serious violations of the cease-fire in Southern Serbia and the lack of progress in the dialogue between the Serb authorities and ethnic Albanian representatives. It urged both sides to work towards the early implementation of confidence building measures, such as demilitarisation, multi-ethnic policing, the return of displaced persons and integration of ethnic Albanians into local structures. The GAC welcomed the progress made under the authority of UNSGSR Hans Haekkerup towards a legal framework for provisional self-government in Kosovo.

The GAC condemned all forms of separatism and nationalist violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It called on political leaders throughout the region to clearly condemn recent events in Mostar, Banja Luka and Trebinje.

The GAC welcomed the initialling and looked forward to the early signature of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Croatia. The SAA envisages the establishment of a free trade area over six years, provides a framework for technical co-operation and confirms Croatia's status as a potential EU candidate.

Middle East Peace Process

The GAC called on parties in the region to take all necessary measures to stop the escalation of violence and work towards a cease-fire. It welcomed and gave its support to the Mitchell (or Sharm El Sheikh) Fact Finding Committee report and its proposals, as well as the Jordanian-Egyptian initiative. It also mandated the High Representative, Javier Solana, to work with all parties to use the report as a step to restart political negotiations.

Africa

The GAC adopted a new Common Position (CP) on conflict prevention, management and resolution in Africa. It invited the incoming EU Belgian Presidency to apply the CP in developing EU policy, in particular, on the Great Lakes region. The Common Position forms an integral part of the EU's efforts to develop a comprehensive policy in the field of conflict prevention. The GAC stressed the EU's intention to strengthen its co-operation with the UN on crises in Africa.

Great Lakes Region / Democratic Republic of Congo

The GAC reviewed developments in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the implementation of the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement, which came into effect in August 1998. The Agreement contains all the essential elements for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. It recognises the territorial integrity of DRC; acknowledges the legitimacy of regional security concerns; sets out a timetable for the disengagement of all foreign forces; provides a framework for a new political dispensation through a national dialogue; and has African ownership. The Council reaffirmed its full support for the process, underlining the need to restore the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the DRC and for democratic reform in the country.

The GAC reiterated its full support for MONUC ("the United Nations Observer Mission in the DRC") and expressed its satisfaction at the advanced state of deployment of the mission.

The GAC reiterated the vital importance of the disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration and repatriation of armed groups operating in or from the territory of the DRC. To be effective this should be on a voluntary basis. The GAC called on Zimbabwe and the DRC to end all support to such groups, and on Rwanda to continue to honour its commitments with a view to repatriation and reintegration. The demobilisation of child soldiers should be a top priority.

The GAC expressed its continued concern over the humanitarian situation in the region, as reflected in the latest UN Secretary General's Report. It urged all parties to guarantee secure, rapid and unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance. It condemned the recent murder of six International Committee of the Red Cross workers. The GAC welcomed the decision by the Commission to provide 35 million euros in humanitarian aid and expressed the EU's willingness to contribute more when conditions permit.

The GAC welcomed a gradual resumption of development co-operation with the DRC.

The GAC noted the report of the UN panel on illegal exploitation of natural resources in the DRC and expressed concern at its general findings.

The GAC reaffirmed the EU's readiness to support an initiative to prepare an international conference under the aegis of the UN and the OAU for peace, democracy and development in the region.

Burundi

The GAC expressed its concern over the stalemate in the peace process, continued violence and humanitarian situation in Burundi. It called on the armed groups, the Forces for the Defence of Democracy (FDD) and the Forces National de Liberation (FNL), to end hostilities and join the peace process. It called again on all governments in the region to cease all involvement with armed groups and to press the latter to join the peace process.

The GAC called on all signatories of the Arusha agreement, signed in August 2000, to work towards a peaceful resolution of the armed conflict, reconstruction and development.

The GAC condemned the attempted coup in Bujumbura on 18 April.

Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia

The GAC expressed its deep concern over the deterioration of the political and humanitarian situation in the region and underlined the importance of the high level EU mission to the area, planned to take place in May 2001. It also expressed support for the imposition of sanctions on Liberia.

Zimbabwe

The GAC expressed its concern at the increased level of political violence and intimidation. It reiterated its commitment to pursue a constructive dialogue with the government. It agreed that it would review developments in June and consider appropriate measures if insufficient progress had been made.

Ethiopia/Eritrea

The GAC welcomed the recent progress in the implementation of the peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea. It called on them to reduce their arms imports voluntarily in the event that the UN arms embargo was not renewed. (The UN arms embargo was lifted with effect from 17 May 2001.)

EU member states will show restraint in arms transactions with the region. The EU will take initiatives in the UN to encourage all UN member states to do the same.

Nigeria

The GAC adopted a Common Position on Nigeria. It highlights the EU's commitment to support Nigeria in its efforts to consolidate democracy and advance socio-economic development.

Indonesia

The GAC noted Indonesia's strategic importance, and stated its firm support for the territorial integrity of the country. It also reaffirmed the EU's commitment of March 2000 to develop closer relations, including through the Ministerial meeting in Beijing on 24 May 2001.

The GAC noted some positive changes since March 2000, including the consolidation of the freedom of expression, association and religion, the strengthening of the legal and institutional framework of human rights protection, the continued growth of an active civil society and improved relations with East Timor. But it also underlined the slow progress in other priority areas, in particular judicial, legal and economic reforms. In particular, the GAC encouraged the Indonesian government to:

    (i)continue governance reform and further strengthen democracy and human rights;

    (ii)make further urgent efforts to address and resolve peacefully Indonesia's separatist and sectarian conflicts (e.g. Aceh, Irian Jaya, the Moluccas and Central Kalimantan);

    (iii)continue to improve relations with East Timor. It called upon the Government to prosecute those who have violated human rights but expressed concern that recent legal judgements did not seem to meet the international standards of justice and fairness. It also called upon the Government to disarm and disband the militias in East Nusa Tenggara and to give refugees the option to return in time to vote in the Constitutional Assembly elections.

The GAC encouraged early implementation of the Indonesian Government's Poverty Reduction Strategy of October 2000 and urged it to address the country's many environmental problems, including deforestation.

The GAC reaffirmed its views of March 2000 of the importance of enhanced economic co-operation and invited the Commission to prepare a Country Strategy Paper setting out priorities for EU assistance.

ESDP

The GAC took note of an oral report from the Presidency and Secretary General/High Representative Solana reviewing progress on establishing permanent structures, military capabilities and civilian capabilities (progress towards reaching the Feira police target), EU operational capability, EU-NATO relations and co-operation with the UN and the OSCE. The GAC approved the EU's exercise programme and an exercise policy document which, in line with the conclusions of the Nice European Council, aim to realise the EU's planned crisis management capability.

Preparations for Gothenburg

The Presidency indicated that the main issues to be discussed on 15/16 June would include enlargement, sustainable development, European Defence (ESDP) topical external relations, and the future of Europe. It recalled that President Bush would attend the EU/US Summit on 14 June.

Enlargement

The Council discussed the Presidency compromise proposal concerning the free movement of labour. This would allow current Member States a transition period of up to 7 years before introducing free movement for workers from the new Member States. Those who wished could lift this transition after just 2 years. In parallel, Germany and Austria could apply national measures to resolve problems arising from the cross-border provision of services. A majority of Member States supported this draft position. The Presidency urged others to accept the compromise soon. They referred some remaining technical questions relating to the protection of cross-border services back to Coreper.

Over lunch, Ministers discussed the questions raised by the Spanish Memorandum on Regional Policy and Enlargement and agreed to continue the examination of this issue.

Mexico

With regard to developments in Chiapas, the GAC expressed regret at the Ejército Zapatista de Liberración Nacional's (EZLN) decision to suspend its contacts with the Mexican Government. It urged the EZLN to respond to President Fox's constructive offer to find political ways to make progress on issues which have not been included in the new law on indigenous rights. Such a dialogue was vital to achieve a final settlement of the situation in Chiapas.

Voting Record

No formal votes were taken on the points under discussion at the GAC.

I am addressing a separate copy of this letter to the Lords European Union Committee, care of the Scrutiny Clerk, and also to Sir Richard Wilson.

6 June 2001



 
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Prepared 30 July 2001