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Western Balkans and Middle East at centre of EU General Affairs and External Relations Council discussion

Today’s meeting of the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council, chaired by Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, discussed a range of international issues. The Council adopted resolutions on several matters; today's meeting was, however, also a preparation for the European Council meeting on Thursday and Friday. The Western Balkans was one of the important topics on the agenda of the European Council meeting; the discussion on this subject started with an exchange of opinions on recent developments in Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia. As far as Kosovo is concerned, Dr Rupel assessed that there have been no major outbreaks of violence, which is a very important consideration; in places, the situation is better than expected, elsewhere the process is slower; however, this was expected. In any case, the EU wants UNMIK to assure protection of the border between Kosovo and Serbia during the transition period.

As regards the Republic of Serbia, Dr Rupel judged that the country is going through a troubled period. The EU Ministers warned repeatedly that the Serbian government was failing to provide proper protection for foreign Diplomatic Missions, a situation which has already led to protests in the EU. As far as the present situation and the early elections are concerned, Dr Rupel pointed out the EU's assessment of the need to preserve the Republic of Serbia’s pro-European orientation and that the EU offer regarding political agreement was still valid. “The EU clearly wants Serbia to decide in favour of the European perspective,” he emphasised.

As regards the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dr Rupel welcomed the European Commission’s efforts to stimulate dialogue with this country. The Ministers assessed progress on the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and encouraged the Government of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina to meet the terms of the Commission as soon as possible.

The Council of Ministers welcomed the transfer of competences in the area of regional cooperation from the Stability Pact to the Regional Council for Cooperation, which had occurred on 27 February in Sofia. Noting that the responsibility for regional cooperation lies solely on the shoulders of the region itself, Dr Rupel pointed out that this was an important task for the Western Balkans to undertake and took the opportunity to thank Dr Erhard Busek for his work of many years at the head of the Stability Pact.

The EU General Affairs and External Relations Council also focused on the situation in the Middle East. The EU is concerned about growing tensions. The EU has already condemned the Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza, the Israeli attack on Gaza that resulted in a high death toll, and the attack on a school in Jerusalem that also took many lives. Israel’s recent decision to start the construction of a new residential settlement in the Palestinian part of Jerusalem is an additional obstacle to the continuation of peace process initiated in Annapolis. Dr Rupel stated a firm conviction that both Israelis and Palestinians want to live in peace.

As far as Zimbabwe is concerned, the President of the EU Council, Dr Rupel, expressed concern about the humanitarian, political and economical situation in the country; the EU is also concerned about the fact that Zimbabwe literally closed the door on international observers prior to the elections on 29 March. They therefore called upon Zimbabwe once again to carry out the elections according to democratic standards.

One of the main topics on today’s agenda was the situation in Iran. The Ministers assessed the recent report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) showing that the problems of the military program have not been resolved. The President of the Council, Dr Rupel, pointed out that the recently-adopted UN Security Council Resolution 1803 was a clear sign of the consensus on the part of international community and its determination not to allow Iran to defy the requirements of the Security Council.

The EU Council of Ministers also discussed Georgia; Dr Rupel reported that the first equitable presidential elections had been held on 5 January; the international assessment is critical; however, it was important for the people of Georgia to be effectively able to elect their own President this time. Preparations for the forthcoming parliamentary elections are important now; the EU will certainly monitor the event. There is concern in the EU about the announcement of some countries to acknowledge the independence of Abkhazia. Dr Rupel emphasised that any comparison between the situation in certain regions of Georgia and that in Kosovo is unacceptable, since Kosovo is a problem sui generis.

The Council of Ministers unanimously adopted resolutions on Afghanistan and Pakistan. As regards Afghanistan, the Council conclusions noted the EU’s efforts to support the state institutions and respect of the rule of law and human rights. As far as Pakistan is concerned, it was estimated that the elections were competitive despite certain problems. EU supports Pakistan in establishing a successful society based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Full support was expressed for Pakistan’s economic development.

At the Council meeting, the possibility of visa-free travel to the USA for all EU-citizens was discussed; this topic will be on the agenda in the following days and will be the focus of the forthcoming EU-US Ministerial Troika Meeting.


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Date: 14.03.2008