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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): We encourage the UN Secretariat to issue such reports as soon as practicable and welcome recent efforts to disseminate them more widely using the Internet. But changes to procedures involving the UN's official languages would be certain to be resisted by member states which consider themselves thereby disadvantaged.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: We support the right or principle of self-determination reflecting the wishes of the people concerned. It should be exercised in accordance with the other principles and rights in the UN Charter and with other treaty obligations. In Gibraltar's case that includes Article X of the Treaty of Utrecht. This has been the long-standing position of successive British Governments.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The Council adopted the 20 A Points in document 6146/98 and noted the resolution adopted by the European Parliament in documents 5191/98 and 5188/98. Copies of both documents will be placed in the Libraries of the House as soon as they are available.
There was a brief report from the Commission on negotiations with South Africa on the Trade and Co-operation Agreement. This followed the recent talks with the South African Trade Minister. Further negotiations are scheduled for March.
The Council discussed progress on the negotiations between the EU and Switzerland aimed at reaching agreement on a package covering six sectors, including free movement of people, agriculture and transport issues. Ministers noted that progress was being made and expressed the hope that the Transport Council on 17 March could resolve outstanding issues on transport.
The Council welcomed the plan for a high-level EU-China meeting in the margins of ASEM 2. It agreed to continue and expand its human rights dialogue with China by holding at least one meeting per Presidency. Within that dialogue it agreed to continue to raise the cases of individuals, encourage Chinese engagement with the UN's human rights instruments and develop and expand the EU-China co-operation programme. It looked forward to an early and fruitful visit to China by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In view of the first encouraging results of the EU/China human rights dialogue, the Council decided that neither the Presidency nor member states should table or co-sponsor a draft Resolution at the next UN Commission on Human Rights (CHR). The EU's opening statement at CHR will refer to the human rights situation in China. If the situation arose, the Council agreed that EU delegations should vote against a no-action motion. The Council agreed to continue to make public its concerns regarding the human rights situation in China and to raise these matters as part of its wider dialogue with China. The EU will keep this policy under regular review.
As agreed at the General Affairs Council in January, Ministers reviewed EU policy towards Iran. The Council agreed that a number of recent developments in Iran were encouraging and that the EU should respond by increasing the level of political contact with Iran, including by lifting the ban on official bilateral ministerial visits. The Council invited the Political Committee to submit further recommendations on how political contacts between the EU and Iran--covering both areas of EU concern and issues of mutual interest--might develop. The Council also reviewed progress in the areas of concern to the EU, namely weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, Iran's attitude to the Middle East Peace Process and human rights, including the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. The Council reaffirmed the importance of fully implementing its existing security measures and of its continued vigilance in these matters. Ministers agreed that Iran's willingness to address EU concerns would greatly enhance the success of the EU's political contacts with Iran.
My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary updated colleagues on the Presidency's plans for handling enlargement during the UK Presidency and on thinking concerning the substance of the European Conference.
The Council welcomed the announcement of an agreement between the UNSG and Iraq and stressed that the EU wanted a diplomatic solution. The Council also expressed thanks to the Secretary General for his efforts, but noted that agreement was only secured because of the firm resolve shown by the United Nations and the international community. The Council insisted that
There was a brief discussion about Ukraine. The Commission noted that the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement was due to come into force on 1 March and that there would be parliamentary elections at the end of March.
The Council discussed the EU's role in the Middle East Peace Process and its future economic assistance on the basis of a communication from the Commission and a report by President Santer on his recent visit to the region. The Council expressed its grave concern at the serious decline in the Palestinian economy, despite the efforts of international donors. It reiterated its views that economic development is a prerequisite for political stability and that the removal of obstacles to Palestinian economic development, including closures, is in the long-term security interests of Israel.
The Council agreed that the EU should demonstrate its continued commitment to the peace process through a renewal of its financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority, and requested the Commission to submit proposals to provide a basis for continued assistance after the expiry of the current regulation at the end of 1998. It also agreed on a wide-ranging strategy aimed at improving the effectiveness of EU assistance to the Palestinians, including:
intensification of the EU/Israel dialogue on the removal of obstacles to Palestinian economic development;
full and rapid implementation of the EC-PLO Interim Association Agreement;
exploring ways of improving the effectiveness of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee in tackling the problems faced by the Palestinian economy;
continued efforts to encourage the Palestinian Authority to fulfil commitments made on transparency and accountability;
a constructive and effective EU contribution to international efforts to restore confidence in the peace process and establish a firm basis for a resumption of negotiations, including through improved consultation with the United States;
continued development of the Barcelona Process in parallel to the peace process as a long-term strategy for the stability and economic development of the region.
My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary chaired successful inaugural meetings of the EU/Estonia, EU/Latvia and EU/Lithuania Association Councils. Formal sessions focused on each associate's preparations for accession. Over dinner, Ministers discussed a range of political issues.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel): Scottish judges are appointed by Her Majesty The Queen and there are no statutory powers to remove them from office. Although there is no recorded incidence of any Government attempting removal of a Scottish judge, it is thought that such a judge could be removed by Her Majesty The Queen on an address passed by both Houses of Parliament. The Scotland Bill, which will come before this House in due course, includes a provision on the future procedure for removal of a Scottish judge from office.
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