In a written statement to Parliament the Minister for Europe said:
The Foreign Affairs Council and General Affairs Council were held on 21 March in Brussels. I represented the UK.
Foreign Affairs Council (FAC)
The FAC was chaired by Baroness Ashton. A provisional report of the meeting, and all Conclusions adopted, can be found on the Consilium website.
The agenda items covered were as follows:
Ministers reviewed the EU’s response to the crisis in Japan. Commissioners Georgieva (International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response) and Piebalgs (Development) briefed Ministers on the public health situation and the requirement for humanitarian assistance. A key focus for current EU efforts would probably be temporary housing. (See also record of GAC discussion.)
Ministers agreed conclusions which:
- Called on Qadhafi to relinquish power immediately;
- Expressed satisfaction with the adoption of UNSCR 1973;
- Agreed further restrictive measures against the Libyan regime and agreed to work up further measures on the basis of UNSCR 1973;
- Committed to support action provided under UNSCR 1973 - noting that the EU would continue to provide humanitarian assistance to those affected;
- Called for the High Representative to develop planning for assistance for humanitarian assistance in close coordination with the UN and NATO.
During discussions, I set out how military action under UNSCR 1973 had helped avoid a catastrophe in Benghazi. This action had been broad based; a coming together of Western and regional actors.
Libya was also was also discussed in the GAC in the context of the text of European Council Conclusions which will be presented to the European Council on 24-25 March - see below.
Developments in the Southern Neighbourhood
Ministers agreed Conclusions on both Bahrain and Yemen (see link above) expressing concern with the situation in both countries. In both cases, the Council urged all concerned - including the respective governments - to engage in constructive dialogue. They expressed concern about reports of the arrest of opposition figures in Bahrain. And stressed the need for the authorities in Yemen to ensure respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
On EU assistance to the region, I stressed the need for conditionality, or, what others termed ‘mutual accountability’: a lot of money had been spent to limited effect in terms of economic development or political reform. The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) needed ambitious re-shaping to focus on supporting states pursuing reforms.
Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH)
Ministers agreed Conclusions (see link) that endorsed the External Action Service’s (EAS) proposals for a reconfigured EU presence in BiH. The Conclusions raised concerns about the political situation in BiH and called on BiH leaders to form governments which can address the reform agenda. The Conclusions outlined the Council’s continued support for the Office of the High Representative (OHR), EUFOR (EU military mission) and EUPM (EU police mission). They also outlined the package of instruments, including restrictive measures, which would be available to the new EU representative and looked forward to further discussions on the reconfiguration of the international presence.
Council Conclusions on a Strategy for Security and Development in the Sahel were adopted. The Strategy’s primary focus will be on Mali, Mauritania and Niger, but it also builds on complementary activity in the Maghreb. Proposals made by the High Representative and Commission on the basis of this strategy will be considered by Brussels working groups before implementation. Action would be directed to development, good governance, and internal conflict resolution; security and rule of law; and countering violent extremism.
Conclusions were agreed which:
- Confirmed the EU’s continuing support for the Djibouti peace process;
- Stressed the need for the Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs) to help advance the peace process;
- Expressed regret over the Somali Transitional Federal Parliament’s decision to extend its mandate;
- Agreed that any future EU support to the TFIs, including stipends for parliamentarians, should be based on progress on reform;
- Reaffirmed support for the AMISOM peacekeeping mission.
I supported the Conclusions, stressing the importance of maintaining pressure on the TFIs, supporting AMISOM and greater EAS engagement in Puntland.
Council Conclusions were adopted (see above link) without discussion on Iran/human rights. These gave agreement to introduce targeted sanctions against human rights violators while at the same time making clear that the EU remains ready to discuss human rights issues with Iran. Work will now proceed in Brussels to draw up the sanctions legal act and list of individuals to be targeted.
Under AOB, France raised recent developments in Cote d’Ivoire. There was broad agreement that the EU needed to continue to apply its targeted measures against Mr. Gbagbo and those that sustain his illegitimate regime.
On the 18 March, the Foreign Secretary issued a statement:
“I utterly condemn the indiscriminate killing of more than 25 people in Abobo yesterday by forces loyal to former President Gbagbo. The launching of mortars into a market place and bus station is abhorrent and the UN should conduct a full investigation.
I call on all parties in Cote d’Ivoire to cease violence, to seek a peaceful resolution to the ongoing crisis and for President Ouattara to take his rightful position in line with the will of the Ivorian people.”
General Affairs Council (GAC)
The GAC was chaired by the Presidency, Hungarian Foreign Minister Martonyi. A provisional report of the meeting can be found on the Consilium website
Preparation for the March European Council
Ministers examined draft Council Conclusions for the European Council to be held on 24-25 March. The European Council will discuss:
- Economic policy: adoption of a comprehensive package of measures to strengthen EU economic governance and ensure the stability of the euro area.
- Developments in Libya and elsewhere in the EU’s southern neighbourhood: follow-up to UNSCR 1973 and latest developments as regards Libya; implementation of measures agreed by the European Council on 4 February.
- Crisis in Japan: assessment of the humanitarian aid effort, the situation in the energy sector and the broader economic implications.
On economic policy, I emphasised the need to focus on economic growth, building on the Commission’s Annual Growth Survey. The European Council Conclusions needed to have language promoting smarter regulation, reducing the regulatory burden on businesses and SMEs in particular, and improving the internal market for services. The EU also had to reflect on the importance of trade for future EU growth, delivering this through a conclusion to the Doha round this year and taking forward negotiations on Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with India, Canada and Singapore.
Libya and the Southern Neighbourhood
Following on from the earlier discussion in the FAC, Ministers focussed on the detail of proposed short-term measures, including raising the ceiling of the European Investment Bank (EIB) operations in the region by EUR 1 billion. A number of Member States emphasised the conditions that would need to accompany any such rise.
I also made a more general call for a set of ambitious European Council Conclusions, reflecting our offer of a new partnership and a deeper coalition with the region in return for greater reform. To that end, we needed to better reflect the commitment set at the European Council of 11 March - which my Right Honourable Friend the Prime Minister set out for the House on 14 March.
Ministers briefly took stock of the EU’s response following discussions in the FAC. They noted that Energy Ministers were meeting separately in Brussels on the same day to discuss the nuclear crisis.
On the proposed European Council Conclusions language, I stressed that while we wanted to ensure the highest safety standards in nuclear plants, we should remember that there was already much legislation in place and very capable national authorities were taking action. We should not do anything that undermined the clear responsibility which rested with Member States in this area.