Foreign Affairs Council (FAC)
We expect Ministers to focus on Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), and in particular the need for the new government to focus on the EU and wider reform agenda, including constitutional reforms. There may be some discussion of the EU institutional presence in BiH; we remain committed to the completion of the ‘5+2’ conditionality for the transition of the Office of the High Representative to an EU-only presence.
Additionally, the noble Baroness Ashton is likely to update Ministers on preparations for the EU-facilitated Belgrade / Pristina dialogue. We hope this begins as soon as possible. There may be an initial exchange of views on the outcomes of the 12 December Parliamentary elections in Kosovo.
We expect Conclusions to be adopted on preparations ahead of the referendum on self-determination for Southern Sudan in January 2011, as part of the final stages of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. We believe that these Conclusions should emphasise the importance of focused, sustained efforts to ensure a timely, peaceful and credible referendum. We also expect Ministers to discuss humanitarian contingency planning for the referendum, and to underline our continuing collective long-term support for Northern and Southern Sudan, regardless of the referendum outcome.
Middle East Peace Process (MEPP)
Ministers will discuss latest developments in the region. We expect Conclusions emphasising the EU’s support for US efforts, in conjunction with other members of the Quartet. Ministers may also discuss how best to improve access to Gaza.
Somalia / Horn of Africa
Ministers are expected to assess the effectiveness of EU efforts in the Horn of Africa, and in particular support to the peace process in Somalia.
We continue to support EU efforts to train the Somali Security Forces through the EU Training Mission Somalia. The existence of pay, command and control and infrastructure for returning troops is vital to the success of the mission. We encourage ongoing EU support to the African Union mission to Somalia, which provides the secure space within which political reconciliation can take place. On the political track, debate is likely to focus on support to Somalia’s regions: Puntland and Somaliland. We support EU work in these areas, building on a central tenet of the UK strategy: support to local and regional areas of stability.
Conclusions are likely to reaffirm the importance of work on Somalia, a UK priority in Africa; raise Somalia’s profile on the EU agenda; and task further work on scenarios for how to end the current transitional period and what should succeed it post-August 2011.
We expect the noble Baroness Ashton to consider how to increase the effectiveness of EU assistance in Afghanistan, in the context of the EU Action Plan for Afghanistan. The discussion is expected to follow a briefing by the European Union Special Representatives (EUSR) Ambassador Usackas for Development Ministers at the 9 December FAC (on which my Right Honourable Friend the Development Secretary (Andrew Mitchell) has already written to the House).
This discussion is likely to take place over dinner on 13 December. The noble Baroness Ashton will solicit views from Partners how to develop on the EU’s relationship with Russia, China and the US. We are keen for the noble Baroness Ashton to continue her work on these partnerships, devising a set of concrete objectives for the EU’s external action. We believe that trade is a central component of these relationships.
Discussion will focus on the outcome of the 28 November Parliamentary elections. These were largely conducted to internationally accepted standards. Despite the encouraging conduct of the elections, and a good turnout, neither the outgoing coalition government nor any single party won enough seats to form a government or to elect a permanent President. The prospect of further stalemate and political instability remains very real. We fully support the statement made by the noble Baroness Ashton and the Enlargement Commissioner, Stefan Fule.
The noble Baroness Ashton is likely to report on the recent E3+3 talks with Iran in Geneva. Talks will continue in January 2011. The noble Baroness Ashton released a statement on behalf of the E3+3 on 7 December
Priorities for 2011
The noble Baroness Ashton will solicit views on priorities for her and the External Action Service in 2011.
A number of smaller issues are on the agenda under AOB. Ministers will hear reports back from the OSCE Summit in Astana, which I attended along with my Right Honourable Friend the Deputy Prime Minister. Some Partners have requested a general discussion on the plight of religious minorities in Iraq. We expect Ministers to agree (without discussion) short Conclusions on the Democratic Republic of Congo, focusing on the forthcoming elections.
General Affairs Council (GAC)
The Presidency will chair a discussion on draft European Council Conclusions, taking stock of progress on EU Enlargement and on the Stabilisation and Association Process in the Western Balkans. These will be informed by the European Commission’s Communication of 9 November setting out an Enlargement Strategy and Progress Reports for candidates and potential candidates. I submitted this Communication to Parliament on 30 November under an Explanatory Memorandum.
As I set out in that Memorandum, the Government believes the Commission’s communication to be a broadly fair and balanced assessment. We will seek Conclusions reconfirming support for EU enlargement and recognition that the accession process gives strong encouragement to political and economic reform in the enlargement countries and reinforces peace, democracy and stability in Europe. We agree with the Commission’s view that progress towards the EU should take place at the rate of reform of the (potential) candidate country and that key challenges remain for most enlargement countries, including on the rule of law, and the fight against corruption and organised crime. We further support the Commission’s view that bilateral disputes should not be allowed to hold up the accession process.
On individual countries, we will welcome progress made this year by Turkey with the recent constitutional reforms, and support the Commission’s recognition of Turkey’s role in the region. We will expect Conclusions to indicate the EU’s readiness to intensify its foreign policy dialogue with Turkey. However, we share the Council’s disappointment that Turkey has not yet fulfilled its obligation to open its ports to trade with Cyprus under the Additional Protocol to the Association Agreement and agree that further efforts are needed to accelerate the pace of Turkey’s accession negotiations.
We support the Commission’s view that full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal remains a requirement for Croatia’s progress throughout the accession process, and that Iceland will need to address existing obligation, such as those identified by the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) Surveillance Authority (ESA) under the European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement.
We will seek Conclusions reaffirming the European perspective of the whole Western Balkans region. We support the European Commission’s recommendation to grant Candidate Status to Montenegro and to open accession negotiations with Macedonia (FYROM). We will seek balanced Conclusions consistent with Kosovo’s European perspective. The Government is concerned about the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and will seek Conclusions urging its political leaders to put the reform agenda at the heart of their new government programmes.
Preparations for the December and February European Councils
The Presidency has invited the President of the Council, Van Rompuy, to discuss preparations for the European Council of 16-17 December. The Council agenda covers Economic Governance (the permanent crisis mechanism and pension reform), the EU Budget and External Relations (Strategic Partnerships). The discussion on 14 December is likely to focus on economic and eurozone issues. The Prime Minister will report to Parliament on the Council in the normal way.
There will also be a short information point on the February European Council. No agenda has yet been issued, but we expect energy policy and innovation to feature.
There is likely to be a further discussion of the Commission’s ideas for disaster response, following last month’s presentation by the Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response (Georgieva). The Commission’s proposals (with which we are broadly content) concern the response to disasters inside and outside the EU, considering both civil protection and humanitarian assistance, and seeking cost-effectiveness through use of common assets.
The General Affairs Council will have a preliminary discussion of the Commission’s Report on Structural Cohesion Funds following the Liege informal Ministerial of 22 and 23 November. Baroness Wilcox represented the UK. The Commission will end its EU-wide consultations on the proposals on 31 January 2011.
If there is time, we expect the Presidency to give a short update on Europe 2020, the EU’s economic growth strategy.