Written statement to Parliament

Written Ministerial Statement: Foreign Affairs Council and General Affairs Council 22 - 23rd June

David Lidington's statement to parliament on the FAC and GAC 22 - 23rd June

Minister David Lidington said:

My Right Honourable Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs attended the Foreign Affairs Council on 22 June. The Foreign Affairs Council was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. She also hosted the Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon for a working lunch with EU Foreign Ministers. The General Affairs Council was chaired by the Latvian Presidency. The meetings were held in Luxembourg.

Foreign Affairs Council

A provisional report of the meeting and Conclusions adopted can be found here

Mediterranean Migration

The Council approved the Council Decision to launch the EU CSDP operation in the Southern Central Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED), activating Phase I (deployment and assessment). Ms Mogherini was grateful to Member States for launching the operation in record time. The Foreign Secretary said that the UK supported the operation, and was contributing a ship, HMS Enterprise, and a Merlin helicopter. The Foreign Secretary called for an audit of additional EU activity in source and transit countries to be presented at the July FAC, work on a stronger evidence base on migrant movements in source and transit countries, enhanced EU investment and a clear Roadmap to the Valletta Summit.

Energy diplomacy

The Council discussed how to use EU foreign policy most effectively to meet the growing geopolitical risks associated with energy, with a focus on diversification, alternative routes, EU unity and work with a wider set of partner countries. The Foreign Secretary underlined the necessity of rapidly completing the internal single market in energy, noting the importance of harmonising strategic energy goals with market incentives.

Asia

The Council held a strategic discussion on EU relations with Asia. There was general support for the need to continue to strengthen relations at a multilateral level, as part of a re-energised EU approach to the region. There was an emphasis on trade and economic cooperation, including in the exchange of views on relations with China, ahead of the EU-China Summit, which took place on 29 June 2015. There was also discussion of developing better connectivity in Asia, with a focus on ensuring compatibility with European transport networks.

EU – UN Cooperation

During lunch UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, focused on preparations for forthcoming UN high-level events, including those taking place in Addis Ababa in July on Financing for Development, in New York in September on the post-2015 agenda and the climate change COP 21 in Paris in December. The discussion also covered EU-UN cooperation in tackling a number of current crises, and the Council approved EU priorities for the UN General Assembly.

Macedonia

The Council discussed the political situation in Macedonia. Ms Mogherini expressed grave concern regarding the ongoing political crisis, and welcomed the close cooperation between the EEAS and Commission. There was wide agreement that the current situation was unacceptable. Conclusions were subsequently adopted by the General Affairs Council on 23 June.

Any Other Business

Middle East Peace Process

Ms Mogherini briefed the Council following her recent trip to Jerusalem and Ramallah. Discussion centred on how the EU and its Member States could most effectively support the peace process. The Foreign Secretary emphasised the need for a coherent approach, and noted the important role of the EU, particularly on issues around settlements and Gaza. Ms Mogherini proposed a discussion item on the Middle East Peace Process at the 20 July FAC. Ministers agreed without discussion a number of measures: * The Council launched the EU naval operation to disrupt human smuggling in the Mediterranean; * The Council adopted the EU priorities at the United Nations and the seventieth UN General Assembly (September 2015 – September 2016); * The Council adopted conclusions on EU-ASEAN relations; * The Council adopted conclusions on the forthcoming elections in Burma; * The Council adopted conclusions on the EU strategy for Central Asia; * The Council adopted conclusions on Burundi; * The Council adopted conclusions on Lebanon; * The Council extended the EU economic sanctions, which responded to Russia’s destabilising role in Eastern Ukraine, until 31 January 2016; * The Council approved the EU annual report on human rights and democracy in the world in 2014; * The Council adopted conclusions on common principles for multi-purpose cash-based assistance to respond to humanitarian needs; * The Council extended the mandate of Mr Lars-Gunnar Wigemark as European Union Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina for a further four months (until 31 October 2015); * The Council amended the EU restrictive measures against the Syrian regime.

General Affairs Council

A provisional report of the meeting can be found here

The General Affairs Council (GAC) on 23 June focussed on: Macedonia; preparation of the European Council on 25 and 26 June 2015; the 2015 European Semester; and the Better Regulation Agenda. Macedonia

The GAC adopted Council Conclusions in response to the ongoing political crisis in Macedonia.These call on the political parties to honour their 2 June agreement and implement all the recommendations of the European Commission, starting with urgent reform priorities in relation to rule of law issues confirmed by, or arising out of, the current crisis. The Council will revert to the issue in the next months.

Preparation of the June European Council

The GAC prepared the 25 and 26 June European Council, which the Prime Minister attended. The June European Council focussed on: migration, including follow up to the April European Council; security issues including Common Security and Defence Policy, the European Security Strategy and follow-up to the February European Council on terrorism; and economic and competitiveness issues including the digital single market, 2015 European Semester, TTIP and economic governance in the euro area. I emphasised the importance of a comprehensive approach to the Mediterranean migration situation including conclusions language on tackling the smugglers and the root causes of migration. I reiterated the Prime Minister’s recent announcement of the extension of the Syria vulnerable persons scheme, and that the UK did not intend to participate in EU burden-sharing proposals. I also stressed the importance of progress on the Digital Single Market, one of the biggest opportunities for the EU to reinforce competitiveness and innovation and focus on consumers, including a swift end to mobile roaming charges in the EU.

European Semester

The GAC considered the Country Specific Recommendations (CSRs), published by the Commission to all non-programme EU Member States on 13 May, as part of the European Semester process. CSRs were also considered by the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council on 18-19 June and the Economic and Financial Affairs Council on 19 June.

The advice to the UK is to continue reducing the deficit, boost housing supply and address problems in the labour market, in line with the government’s long term economic plan.

Better Regulation Agenda

The GAC held an initial discussion on the recently published Better Regulation package by the European Commission. The key part of the package is the Inter Institutional Agreement (IIA) on Better Regulation, which focuses on red tape in the EU and the institutional cooperation among the Council of Ministers, the Commission and the European Parliament. The negotiations on the IIA are expected to commence shortly and expected to continue through the Luxembourg Presidency of the EU. I welcomed the Commission’s proposal and highlighted the importance of specifying regulatory burden reduction targets (in particular for SMEs), an independent assessment board, and the use of subsidiarity, proportionality, and national parliaments as the key vehicles to deliver democratic accountability to the EU.