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Written Statement

Thursday 11 October 2012

EU: Foreign Affairs Council and General Affairs Council

Statement

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): As the House of Commons is in recess, my right honourable friend the Minister for Europe (David Lidington) has sent the following letter to the chair of the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee and to the chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee informing them about the Foreign Affairs Council and the Development Foreign Affairs Council, both to be held on 15 October, and the General Affairs Council on 16 October.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will attend the Foreign Affairs Council on 15 October. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development will attend the Development Foreign Affairs Council also on 15 October. Both meetings will be held in Luxembourg and will be chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland. The Foreign Affairs Council will be preceded by a dinner on Sunday evening with the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, which the Foreign Secretary will attend.

I will attend the General Affairs Council on 16 October. The meeting will be chaired by the Cypriot presidency. There are two main items on the agenda: the preparation for the 18 and 19 October European Council and Cohesion Policy. There will also be a presentation on the implementation of previous European Council conclusions and on the outcome of the Integrated Maritime Informal Council, which took place in Limassol on 8 October.

Foreign Affairs Council (FAC)

Iran

In line with our dual-track policy of pressure and negotiations with Iran, we want to maximise pressure on Iran as it has continued to fail to address the international community’s concerns over its nuclear programme. We want a substantive and credible package of sanctions announced at the FAC. An insubstantial package would see an opportunity missed to maintain the pressure on the Iranian Government while the negotiations on the nuclear issue continue.

Southern neighbourhood

Ministers will review developments in Syria, Libya, Egypt, and in the Middle East peace process.

Ministers will discuss the latest situation on the ground in Syria, following the incident in which mortar rounds fired by the Syrian military landed in a Turkish village on the border killing five Turkish civilians. The FAC is an opportunity for the UK to encourage EU partners to do more to support Syrian civil society

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and engage with international efforts on transition planning. We expect the FAC to adopt an 18th round of sanctions targeting additional individuals that support the Syrian regime.

Ministers will take stock of recent events in Libya, including the formation of a new Government and the security situation following the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. There will be the opportunity to discuss the co-ordination of international assistance.

On Egypt, Ministers will look ahead to the EU-Egypt Task Force, on November 13 and 14. This is the key moment to shape the future EU relationship with Egypt. The EU should recognise significant progress made so far and encourage further steps towards transparent, inclusive transition to full democratic rule and credible economic reform. The UK will argue that EU support should be ambitious, relevant to Egypt’s needs and deliver maximum impact, with clear progress on agreed reforms matched with further support.

Baroness Ashton will brief on the current situation in the Middle East peace process following the UNGA high-level segment. There will then be an opportunity for Ministers to discuss the prospects for negotiations in 2013 and what the EU can do to support these. We do not expect conclusions.

Bosnia-Herzegovina/Operation Althea

We expect that council conclusions will confirm the EU’s willingness to continue with the military mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Conclusions are likely to reassert that EUFOR Althea’s focus will continue to be on capacity building and training, while maintaining the ability to contribute to BiH’s deterrence capacity.

Africa

Ministers will discuss the deteriorating situation in Mali, building on the high-level event in the margins of the UN General Assembly and calls for urgent international action. Ministers are likely to adopt council conclusions that agree to take forward planning for a military common security and defence policy mission in Mali to support the reform and restructuring of the Malian Army.

Eastern neighbourhood

Discussion on Georgia will focus on the parliamentary elections, held on 1 October. Ministers are likely to take stock of key events in the post-election period, encourage co-operation between all parties and support the political transition. We expect that Ministers will also wish to support the EU’s continued engagement with Georgia across the agenda of political association and economic integration.

Ministers will discuss Belarus, following parliamentary elections which, once again, were not free or fair. They will agree to extend the existing restrictive measures against Belarus for a further year.

Development Foreign Affairs Council

Council conclusions to be adopted by the council

We expect Ministers to adopt the council conclusions for EU Accountability Report 2012 on Financing for Development with limited discussion. The coalition Government welcome both sets of conclusions and

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have worked to ensure a strong focus on poverty reduction, results, increased transparency and value for money throughout.

Post-2015 millennium development goals framework and Rio +20 follow-up

Ministers will engage in an open and frank discussion concerning the development of the framework for the millennium development goals (MDG) post 2015, as well as the follow-up to Rio+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The Secretary of State for International Development will encourage helpful EU alignment on the post-2015 agenda while avoiding the development of fixed EU negotiating positions at this point in the process. This aims to shape EU alignment behind the recommendations and approach proposed by the PM co-chaired high level panel report, and for positioning on SDGs to be shaped by this process.

EU support for sustainable change in transition societies

Ministers will discuss the role of the EU in supporting transition in third countries. This will be informed by a paper presented by the Commission in light of experiences of transition following the Arab spring.

The EU approach to resilience

Development Ministers will discuss the EU approach to resilience, using a recent Commission communication as the basis for this discussion. The Government welcome the EU’s increased focus on resilience issues and will continue to influence the discussion as it develops.

General Affairs Council (GAC)

Multiannual financial framework

Before the General Affairs Council (GAC) there will be a meeting hosted by the Cypriot presidency, including European parliamentarians, which will discuss the multiannual financial framework (MFF). At this meeting the Cypriot presidency will present for discussion proposals on macroeconomic conditionality and ideas around better spending in the budget. Should it be mentioned, I will robustly defend the position that we will not agree to new macroeconomic conditionality where it could apply to the UK.

In addition, outside the current treaty obligations, I will be restating the need for the presidency to present compromise proposals that have a realistic chance of being agreed this year. These should reflect the necessary scale of reductions needed from the Commission’s proposals, and for the issue of unspent commitments to be addressed. I will also emphasise again that we will not agree to any changes to own resources, including the UK abatement.

October European Council

Ministers will discuss the agenda and priorities for the October European Council, which we expect will focus on banking union. President of the European Council Herman van Rompuy will explain his approach

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on the way forward on banking union via video-link. There will be a presentation on the interim report on economic and monetary union from the four Presidents; Herman van Rompuy, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi and Eurogroup President Jean-Claude Juncker. This is due to be released before and discussed at the October European Council. There is also due to be a discussion on strategic partners, which we expect to focus on EU-China relations, and potentially a discussion of immediate foreign policy issues.

I will be arguing that, though important, discussion on banking union and further EU integration must not crowd out discussion on how the EU can help to deliver growth. In June it was agreed that this European Council would follow up on progress in the growth agenda and we must not lose sight of the fact that restoring growth to the EU should be the top priority. In particular, I will be emphasising the importance of achieving progress on trade negotiations with Canada and Singapore, opening negotiations with Japan, and agreeing some of the measures in the Single Market Act II proposals of 3 October which have the potential to make the single market more competitive, for instance through reducing the regulatory burden on businesses.

Follow-up on the implementation of the European Council conclusions

At the last meeting of the General Affairs Council (GAC) on 24 September I argued that there should be a stronger role for the GAC in following up on the implementation of European Council conclusions. In response there will now be a presentation by the presidency and an open discussion at this GAC.

Cohesion policy

The presidency will seek agreement of a partial general approach on many of the remaining areas of the cohesion policy legislative package not dealt with by the previous presidencies. These include issues such as: how the funds can be used to promote territorial co-operation and territorial development; information and communication requirements and levels of technical assistance; ensuring the principle of additionality is adhered to when using the funds; common output indicators; the role of the annual country-specific recommendations in the programming process; and arrangements for designating authorities to manage the funds.

We are broadly content with the proposals as they stand. As with previous partial general approaches, agreement will be reached on the basis that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

Integrated maritime policy

There will be a presentation on the outcome of the Integrated Maritime Informal Council which took place in Limassol on 8 October. This informal council focused on “blue growth”, a long-term strategy to support growth in the maritime sector as a whole.