Select Committee on European Scrutiny Second Report


Letter from the Minister for Europe at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Peter Hain) to the Chairman of the Committee

GENERAL AFFAIRS COUNCIL, BRUSSELS: 16-17 JULY 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 16 July adopted the 'A' Points listed in document No. 10802/01 and European Parliament resolutions, decisions and opinions adopted at its part-sessions of 30-31 May in Brussels and of 11-14 June in Strasbourg, listed in document numbers 8510/01 and 9111/01 respectively. Copies of these documents will be placed in the libraries of both Houses.

Work in other Council Formations

At the Presidency's request and on the basis of a Council Secretariat paper, the GAC noted the salient, current work of other Council meetings, in particular of the Justice and Home Affairs and Ecofin meetings. At this stage none of the issues under discussion in other Council of Ministers meetings required detailed discussion or co-ordination by the GAC.

Follow-up to Gothenburg, 15-16 June

The Presidency informed the GAC of preparations for discussions on the Kyoto Protocol by the EU-US high level group on climate change established at the Gothenburg European Council.

The GAC agreed conclusions noting those of the JHA Council, of 13 July 2001, on security and public demonstrations at European Councils and other similar international meetings. It expressed its support for closer international co-operation to strike a balance between ensuring freedom of expression and peaceful public demonstrations. It judged it useful to continue a constructive dialogue on globalisation and its consequences with the involvement of parliaments, social partners, NGOs and other representatives of civil society.

Enlargement

The Presidency presented its work programme for the accession negotiations with EU candidates. It emphasised its wish to maintain the momentum achieved by previous EU Presidencies and to adhere to the 'road map' for the negotiations laid out at the Nice European Council in December 2000. It would continue to uphold the principles of progress on merit and of differentiation. EU candidates would be invited to the informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers at Genval on 8-9 September and to the Laeken European Council on 14-15 December. The Presidency announced its intention to hold Deputies' Accession Conferences with the EU candidates on 27 July, 25-26 October and 27-28 November and a Ministerial Accession Conference on 11-12 December 2001.

Public debate on Presidency programme — dialogue with the EU citizen

The traditional open debate at the start of each EU Presidency focussed on this occasion on popular disenchantment with the EU. The Presidency noted that the majority of Europeans supported the EU's main aims — economic prosperity, a global identity and a sense of freedom and security within Europe. But they were also sceptical and felt detached from an EU with unclear policies and procedures.

The Presidency concluded that Ministers were agreed on the general malaise affecting the EU; the EU was not understood and there was concern at the consequences of enlargement. Concrete action was required in priority areas — environment, health, asylum and justice, and employment. It needed to emphasise the values of peace, stability and prosperity. The EU also had to improve communication, and relay a unified, positive message in debate.

Middle East Peace Process and UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees

The GAC agreed conclusions expressing deep concern about the current deadlock between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It stated that there was no option but to fully apply the recommendations of the Mitchell Commission without delay. High Representative Solana was requested to continue his efforts to that end, including as a member of that Commission.

The Director General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, Peter Hansen, also joined Ministers over lunch to discuss the financial difficulties faced by his organisation.

Africa/Great Lakes and Follow-up to the EU-Africa Summit

The GAC agreed conclusions which called for a co-ordinated EU role in supporting implementation of the Lusaka Agreement, expressed concern about the situation in Burundi, and noted the forthcoming visits to the region by the Council's High Representative Solana, EU Special Representative for the Great Lakes region, Ajello, and European Commissioner Nielson.

The Belgian Foreign Minister, Louis Michel, also briefed the GAC on his visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and presented the Presidency's ideas for action in the region. The GAC welcomed the priority the Presidency was giving to Central Africa.

The Presidency informed the GAC that EU and African Foreign Ministers would meet in October in Belgium, following on from last year's EU-Africa Summit in Cairo.

Western Balkans

The GAC agreed conclusions which welcomed the start of the political dialogue between the leaders of the main political parties in Macedonia. It also adopted a common position on a visa ban against ethnic Albanian extremists, to be implemented in due course by a subsequent decision on the basis of a recommendation by High Representative Solana.

The GAC recalled the need for all parties to co-operate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and stressed the importance of the handover of Milosevic. It also welcomed the decision of the Croatian government to transfer to the Croatian courts, with a view to their extradition, the file on two Croatian citizens indicted by the Hague Tribunal.

The GAC welcomed the success of the FRY Donors' Conference on 29 June 2001, which will consolidate the Yugoslav authorities' political and economic reform efforts, as well as the decision to hold the first meeting of the EU-FRY Consultative Task Force in Belgrade on 23 July 2001.

The GAC was encouraged by the peaceful nature of the second round of parliamentary elections in Albania and expressed the hope that the next government would continue its predecessor's reform efforts.

The Council also welcomed the adoption, at the Regional Table of the Stability Pact in Brussels on 28 June 2001, of the strategic framework and key priorities, which will enable the Pact to focus its activities even more clearly.

European Defence: Presidency Programme and EU Satellite Centre and Institute of Security Studies

The GAC took note of the Presidency's programme, which planned to focus on three important elements: reinforcing military capabilities, operationality, and EU-NATO relations. The GAC also adopted two Joint Actions to establish the EU Satellite Centre (in Torrejon de Ardoz, Spain) and the Institute of Security Studies (in Paris).


Conflict Prevention

The Presidency recalled the Gothenburg European Council decision to review potential conflict prevention issues early in each EU Presidency on the basis of a presentation by High Representative Solana. The GAC discussed on-going and emerging crises around the world, general trends in international relations, priorities for future work, and the early warning and conflict prevention mechanisms available to the EU and how these could be strengthened. The GAC confirmed the importance of the Balkans and the Middle East as high priorities for EU conflict prevention efforts. It also undertook to consider further EU involvement in Africa's Great Lakes region and in Indonesia. The GAC noted the Commission's current review of its strategies vis-à-vis partner countries in order to better address root causes of conflicts. Finally, the GAC called upon other EU institutions and Member States to include consideration of conflict prevention within their own areas of competence, in line with the recommendations of the Gothenburg European Council.

AOB: Korean Shipbuilding

The GAC noted the Commission's proposals to take a WTO case against Korea for subsidising its shipbuilding sector, and to put in place a temporary, targeted defensive subsidy mechanism for EU shipyards. Member States welcomed the former but there were differences of view over the merits of any EU subsidy mechanism. The GAC remitted further consideration of the issue to Coreper.

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 Lord Brabazon and copying this letter to your Clerk, the Clerk to the European Union Committee and to Les Saunders, Cabinet Office European Secretariat.

23 July 2001


 
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