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, LUXEMBOURG: 8-9 OCTOBER 2001

I am writing to inform you of the outcome of discussions at the General Affairs Council (GAC) on 8 October, in place of my reply to the usual Parliamentary Question.

The GAC adopted the 'A' Points listed in document number 12356/01. These included the terms of reference of the Joint Consultative Task Force with Albania and the third annual EU Human Rights report. The GAC also noted the resolutions, decisions and opinions adopted by the European Parliament in its part-sessions of 2-5 July and of 3-6 September in Strasbourg listed in document numbers 10413/01 and 11046/01 respectively. Copies of all three documents have been placed in the libraries of both Houses.

Burma: Council conclusions

The GAC adopted conclusions cautiously welcoming an improvement in the political climate in Burma. It called for the release of all remaining political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, permanent access for the International Labour Organisation to Burma and for a verifiable end to the practice of forced labour. The GAC agreed to extend the EU's common position on Burma for another six months until 29 April 2002 and agreed some positive measures, in recognition of the process set in motion in Burma, including 5 million euros to help combat the spread of HIV/AIDS in Burma.

Stocktaking of work in other Council formations

The Presidency informed the GAC of work in hand in other Council formations. The GAC noted that the Commission planned to increase macro-financial assistance to the FRY from 300 million euros to 345 million euros.

Aftermath of attacks in US

The GAC issued a declaration expressing its strong support for the US and UK military action in Afghanistan launched on 7 October, stating that it conformed with the UN Charter and UNSC 1368. No EU Member State or the Commission contested its legitimacy or necessity. The GAC noted that the EU had also committed 316 million euros in response to the humanitarian crisis in and around Afghanistan. The UN would have an essential role to play in helping the Afghani people establish a truly representative government.

The agreed Conclusions recalled the EU's efforts to help build the international anti-terrorist coalition, including the EU-Russia Summit on 3 October and EU Troika visit to Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt (including talks with the leaders of the Arab League) on 24-28 September. The EU rejected any equation of groups of fanatical terrorists with the Arab and Muslim world.

The EU would maintain close contacts with other governments, including at the ministerial meetings of the Barcelona Process on 6 November and European Conference on 20 October. The latter would focus on the fight against terrorism. It would be attended by all thirteen EU candidates and EFTA countries, as well as Russia, Ukraine and Moldova as special guests. The GAC supported plans for an initiative against terrorism at the EU-Africa ministerial meeting on 11 October and would also pursue its objectives at the 56th General Assembly of the UN.

The EU would seek to avert a humanitarian tragedy in Afghanistan and its neighbouring region in co-operation with: the UNHCR, other UN specialised agencies, ICRC, USA, adjacent countries and partners in other multilateral organisations. It would in due course back a political process initiated in Afghanistan with UN support, and help to rebuild, modernise, develop and open up that country.

The GAC invited the Commission to contemplate signing a trade and co-operation agreement with Pakistan and to step up its consultations with a view to negotiating another with Iran. The EU would also define measures to strengthen co-operation with India before the second EU-India Summit. It also called for proposals to strengthen EU relations with the Central Asian States, and for a large contribution to the Bishkek Conference on the fight against terrorism on 13-14 December. The GAC reaffirmed support for non-proliferation and disarmament, and a desire to continue the efforts already under way to prevent and stabilise conflicts in the region.

The EU would promote the signing, ratification and swift implementation of all international agreements on the fight against terrorism, as well as conclusion of a new Global Convention on Terrorism. It would assess its relations with third countries, in light of the latter's co-operation in the fight against terrorism. It welcomed the adoption of UNSC Resolution 1373 (2001) and reiterated the EU's determination to attack all sources of funding for terrorism, in concert with the USA. It noted the Commission plans to freeze the assets of the persons identified by the Sanctions Committee set up under UNSC Resolution 1267.

The GAC would examine the progress made at its next meeting on 17 October.

Future of Europe

The GAC discussed preparations for a declaration at the Laeken European Council in December, which would follow further discussion by EU Heads of State and Government at the Informal Ghent European Council on 19 October 2001. The GAC confirmed consensus reached at the informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers at Genval on 4 September, and agreed new elements as regards:

— the intention to convene a Convention to prepare for the next Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) in 2004;

— participation in the Convention of representatives of the 15 EU Member States' governments, 30 Member States' national parliamentarians, 16 European parliamentarians, the Commission, and as observers, representatives from the Economic and Social Committee and Committee of the Regions;

— the appointment by the Laeken European Council of a president, assisted by a praesidium composed of at least one member of each of the component delegations of the Convention, aided by a secretariat based in the Council Secretariat;

— the main aim of the Convention, to elaborate on the options open to the IGC;

— the Convention's timetable: to start work as soon as possible in the first half of 2002 and last about one year, followed by a break before the start of the IGC.

The GAC also agreed that the EU candidate countries would have the full representation of Member States (but have no participation in decisions); and that the Convention would draw on representatives of civil society at the European and national level in a structured network.

The GAC agreed that the Convention should focus on the themes set out in the Nice Declaration.

MEPP

The GAC agreed a declaration which called on the parties to honour their commitments under the cease-fire and to open a direct dialogue in line with the Mitchell report's recommendations. It also called on the parties to agree to an impartial surveillance mechanism to help them overcome their differences and the obstacles they faced in their efforts to achieve reconciliation. The GAC welcomed President Bush's declaration acknowledging the right of Palestinians to a viable state alongside Israel.

Turkey

Ministers and Commissioner Prodi reviewed developments over lunch, including on CFSP/ESDP, Cyprus, Turkey's EU accession process and the constitutional reform package recently adopted by the Turkish Parliament.

UN Commission on Human Rights

Membership of the UNCHR was discussed over lunch. Ministers agreed that the Troika should discuss the issue with the US and report back. Ireland (Cowen) argued strongly that Member States holding the EU Presidency should always be on the Commission.

Enlargement

The Commission introduced their review of progress in the enlargement negotiations. One Member State highlighted the sensitivity of the Temelin nuclear plant in the Czech Republic and of Transport. The Council took note of the Commission's Information Note, and asked the Commission to take account of delegations' comments in their future work.

Western Balkans

Secretary General Solana and Commissioner Patten reported on their visit to Macedonia. The Council were concerned at delays in ratification of the 13 August Framework Agreement and agreed that World Bank/EC donors' conference should be postponed until there was full implementation. There was some discussion of Kosovo, with the Council welcoming the high number of Serbs who had registered for the forthcoming Kosovo elections next month. But much hard work and progress was still required across a range of problems. Germany and Special Co-ordinator Hombach pointed to a need for the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe to continue after Hombach's departure on 31 December. The Presidency and Messrs Solana and Patten were asked to draw up a paper on its future for the next GAC.


EU-Africa Ministerial

The Presidency informed partners that the EU-Africa Ministerial on 11 October would include discussions on: conflict prevention and resolution, regional co-operation, the environment, health, food security, cultural property, human rights, external debt, the Great Lakes (Lusaka and Arusha Processes), the New Africa Initiative and counter-terrorism.

Great Lakes

The Presidency informed the GAC of developments in the Lusaka (DRC) and Arusha (Burundi) processes. Work on the former centred on securing contributions for financing the Inter-Congolese Dialogue, assistance to Demobilisation, Disarmament and Reintegration (DDR) efforts, and the relocation to Kinshasa of the Joint Military Committee. On Arusha, work focussed on the provision of aid to the Facilitator's Office, the establishment of a protection force, and funding for the return to Burundi of the Arusha Monitoring Committee. The Presidency hoped to visit Central Africa soon with the High Representative/Secretary-General Solana and External Relations Commissioner Patten. The GAC also adopted conclusions.

Zimbabwe

The GAC reiterated its concern at the situation in Zimbabwe, especially at the lack of progress made in the five areas identified by the 25 June GAC. It noted that an EU-Zimbabwe ministerial meeting was planned to take place shortly. It agreed to discuss the issues again at the next GAC, on 29 October, with a view to taking possible additional measures.

Eritrea

The GAC expressed its concern at events in Eritrea following the arrest of political figures, the suppression of the independent press and expulsion of the EU Presidency's Representative to Eritrea. Member States agreed to recall their Heads of Mission in Eritrea immediately for consultations. The GAC agreed a mandate for the appropriate authorities in the Council and Commission to consider further measures the EU could take.

The GAC confirmed the EU's commitment to development, the fight against poverty, to establish democratic institutions and the rule of law in Eritrea, as well as for peace, stability and co-operation in the Horn of Africa. It expressed its wish for a constructive dialogue on these themes, at the earliest possible date, with the Eritrean Government.

Core Labour Standards

The Commission presented a Communication, the aim of which was to reaffirm the EU's commitment to promoting core labour rights worldwide. At the same time it identified a number of ways for the EU's external trade policy to take this forward. The Presidency welcomed the Communication and invited Coreper to take forward work on its proposals.

Korean Shipbuilding

The GAC discussed developments and remitted the issue back to Coreper for further discussion.

WTO

The Commission reported on preparations towards a new Round. Most delegations agreed that Progress was good but some added that more work was needed to meet EU objectives, especially on environment, agriculture and labour. The GAC on 29 October will return to this topic.

FAO Conference and summit

Italy asked for full support for the FAO Conference and Summit in Italy on 2-10 November 2001. It also asked for all to contribute to a fund, which the FAO Secretary-General wanted to set up, to halve by 2015 the number of people living below subsistence level.

ESDP: Danish treaty opt-out (Protocol No. 6 to the Amsterdam Treaty)

Denmark informed partners on the implementation of the Danish Defence opt-out during its EU Presidency in 2002. It would aim to ensure a flexible and practical approach and avoid impeding the development of ESDP in any way. The Council Legal Service confirmed its agreement with Denmark's proposed approach, which was a faithful rendition of the Treaty's obligations.

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 to Mr Les Saunders, Cabinet Office European Secretariat.

16 October 2001


 
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Prepared 2 November 2001