Mr Lidington said:
My Right Honourable Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Philip Hammond) attended the Foreign Affairs Council, and My Right Honourable Friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Michael Fallon) attended the Foreign Affairs Council (Defence), and they both attended a joint session with Foreign and Defence Ministers. I attended the General Affairs Council (GAC). The Foreign Affairs Council and Foreign Affairs Council (Defence) were chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, and the General Affairs Council was chaired by the Latvian Presidency.
Foreign Affairs Council and Foreign Affairs Council (Defence)
A provisional report of the meeting and Conclusions adopted can be found here
Foreign Affairs Council (Defence) & European Defence Agency (EDA)
The EDA Ministerial Steering Board discussion focussed on preparations for the June European Council. The Defence Secretary welcomed the work that the EDA has done in delivering the major programmes agreed to at the December 2013 European Council and encouraged the Agency to remain focused on delivering progress on these programmes at the June Council. Ministers also endorsed the Small Medium Enterprise (SME) action plan.
Defence Ministers discussed CSDP Missions and Operations in the Foreign Affairs Council (Defence), where greater political will by Member States in force generation and increased EU-NATO co-operation were highlighted as being key to success. The Defence Secretary reaffirmed the UK’s support for the counter piracy operation EUNAVFOR ATALANTA and highlighted that a combination of Naval forces and development of best management practice by industry and private contractors remained important in order to suppress the pirates’ business model. The Defence Secretary also emphasised the UK’s continued commitment to the maintenance of the Executive Mandate for EUFOR ALTHEA. This mandate was an essential international safeguard against a return to violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Joint Meeting of Foreign Affairs Council and Foreign Affairs Council (Defence)
Over lunch, EU defence and foreign ministers exchanged views on the security in the EU’s broader neighbourhood with NATO Security General Jens Stoltenberg. Ministers then discussed the preparations for the European Council in June 2015, which cover the Common Security and Defence Policy, and debated ongoing work reviewing changes in the EU’s strategic environment, including the preparation of a report by the High Representative to the European Council on 25/26 June. The Foreign Secretary noted that the June European Council should be a stocktake of the work begun in December 2013 and highlighted the importance of the EU’s cooperation with NATO.
The Council then took stock of the follow-up to the European Council of 23 April, which focused on migration issues. It approved a crisis management concept for a possible EU military operation and established an EU naval operation to disrupt the business model of human smugglers in the Southern Central Mediterranean. The Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary spoke in support of the establishment of the operation, but, noted that prior to its launch, clarity would be required on the handling of migrants rescued, smugglers apprehended, and the necessary legal base for the operation would need to be established. All four phases (surveillance/intelligence; seizure of vessels on the high seas; seizure and potentially destruction in Libyan waters/ashore; and withdrawal) needed to be enactable. A number of Ministers set out their position on resettlement and relocation, including the Foreign Secretary who made clear the UK would not accept compulsory resettlement.
Foreign Affairs Council
Middle East Peace Process (MEPP)
Ministers exchanged views on the situation in the Middle East and on prospects for the peace process, following the formation of a new Israeli government and ahead of a visit of the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to the region. Ms. Mogherini would be accompanied by Fernando Gentilini, the newly appointed EU Special Representative for the MEPP. The Foreign Secretary recognised the widespread frustration on the MEPP and argued that the EU should keep in step with the US and that there would likely be no progress until the Iran nuclear talks ended.
Ministers agreed a number of other measures:
* The Council adopted Conclusions on Burundi;
* The Council adopted Conclusions on the Common Security and Defence Policy;
* The Council adopted the EU position for the twelfth meeting of the EU-Uzbekistan Cooperation in Brussels on 18 May; and
* The Council adopted the draft agenda for the EU-Gulf Cooperation Council Joint Council and ministerial meeting, to be held on 24 May 2015 in Doha.
General Affairs Council
A provisional report of the Council meeting can be found here
The General Affairs Council (GAC) on 19 May focused on:
*Follow-up to the April Emergency European Council
*Preparation of the June European Council
*The Four Presidents’ Report on economic governance in the euro area.
Follow-up to the April Emergency European Council on migration
The Latvian Presidency and European Commission updated the GAC on developments since the 23 April Emergency European Council discussed migration pressures in the Mediterranean.
I reiterated the points made by the Foreign Secretary at the Foreign Affairs Council and informed Members States about UK activities to help prevent further loss of life in the Mediterranean. I emphasised the importance of addressing the causes of illegal immigration and tackling the organised criminals behind it, and the need for the EU to focus on the longer term picture.
Preparation of the June European Council
Preparation of the June European Council
The GAC began preparations for the 23 and 24 June European Council, which the Prime Minister will attend. The June European Council will focus on security and economic issues including: defence and the European Security Strategy; relations with Russia and Ukraine; follow-up of the February European Council on terrorism and April European Council on migration; the digital single market; the 2015 European Semester; TTIP; and economic governance in the euro area.
Four Presidents’ Report on economic governance in the euro area
The European Commission updated the GAC on preparations of the Four Presidents’ Report on the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) to be presented to the June European Council.