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Address by the President of the GAERC Council, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Slovenia Dimitrij Rupel, to the EP Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) on the conclusions of the GAERC Council meeting

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Honourable Members of the European Parliament,


Allow me to begin by briefing you on the recently concluded GAERC meeting, the last under the Slovenian EU Council Presidency. The large number of items on the agenda indicates that the Slovenian Presidency will be working intensively right up to the very last day.

The session on General Affairs was forward-looking: at the outset, the Ministers discussed preparations for the European Council, followed by a presentation of the next 18-month Council Presidency programme from the Foreign Ministers of the incoming trio – France, the Czech Republic, and Sweden.

The Ministers deliberated on the draft conclusions of the European Council, addressing extremely important questions such as a possible response to rising food and oil prices, developments in the areas of freedom, security and justice, economic, social, and environmental issues, as well as other issues of common concern. In the domain of external relations, the European Council will focus on the situation in the Western Balkans, the Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean, and the Eastern Partnership.

The Ministers' working lunch offered an opportunity for an initial preliminary exchange of views on the implications of the Irish referendum vote, also a subject for discussion at the European Council. The Irish Foreign Minister, Mr Martin, acquainted us with the reasons for the negative outcome of the referendum, noting that the decision of the Irish people had to be respected and underlining that sufficient time would be needed to analyse the situation. The Council shared the opinion that an agreement on the way forward would have to be reached. Ministers representing Member States which have not yet ratified the Treaty of Lisbon announced that their countries would continue their ratification procedures as planned.

The session on external relations was devoted to the Western Balkans, the Middle East, Sudan, the situation in Tibet and dialogue between Chinese authorities and the Dalai Lama's envoys, Iran, and the situations in Georgia and in the African Great Lakes region.

The Council adopted conclusions on Bosnia and Herzegovina, the situation in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia after the elections, visa liberalisation, Sudan, Somalia, the Great Lakes region, the ALTHEA operation (in Bosnia and Herzegovina), the revised and updated version of the EU Guidelines on the Death Penalty, and on the review of the EU Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict.

On the margins of the GAERC meeting, the EU signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Bosnia and Herzegovina, which will be further expanded on later.

On this occasion, the EU-Israel Association Council was held, as were accession conferences with Turkey and Croatia.

In its external relations session, the Council reiterated its commitment to a European perspective for the Western Balkan countries, at the same time encouraging them to meet the necessary conditions on their way to joining the European Union.

The main event at the GAERC session was the signing of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Council welcomed this development in its conclusions, emphasising the importance of the implementation of the Agreement. This fulfils one of the Slovenian Presidency priorities, as it completes the network of Stabilisation and Association Agreements with the countries in the region (excluding Kosovo).

In its conclusions, the Council also addressed the elections in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on2 June and electoral re-runson 15 June. Although voicing some criticism over the conduct of the elections, the Council at the same time called upon the authorities to hold the inaugural session of the national Parliament and form a Government as soon as possible and to carry out the tasks linked with drawing closer to the European Union.

The Council also welcomed the presentation of visa liberalisation roadmaps for Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

SG/HR Solana and Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner drew attention to the various developments in the Middle East Peace Process and the situation in theregion. The Ministers agreed that decisive progress was needed in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to reach an understanding on final status issues by the end of 2008, in line with the Annapolis agreement. The forthcoming visit of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be an opportunity to step up the pace of negotiations and achieve progress on the ground. The Council commended the forthcoming Conference in Support of Palestinian Civil Security and the Rule of Law to be held in Berlin on 24 June.

In the discussion on Sudan, at the Presidency's invitation, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Louis Moreno Ocampo, presented the report that he had prepared for the UN Security Council. SG/HR Solana reiterated the EU's support for the Prosecutor's work.

Commissioner Michel, who had returned from Addis Ababa shortly before, briefed the Council on his meetings with African leaders, including the Sudanese President al-Bashir.

The Council adopted conclusions on Somalia, supporting a comprehensive approach to resolving the political, security, and humanitarian crisis in the country. It welcomed the agreement between the Transitional Federal Government and part of the opposition under the auspices of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah.

The Ministers also expressed support for the UN Security Council Resolution of 2 June on acts of piracy and armed robbery off Somalia's coast. They called upon the General Secretariat of the EU Council and the European Commission to investigate the possibility of contributing to the implementation of the resolution and of the GAERC conclusions of 26 May.

SG/HR Solana briefed us on his visit to Iran on 14 June, where he had presented a negotiated proposal of the E3+3 solution (by the EU, US, France, United Kingdom, Germany, China, and the Russian Federation) to resolve the Iranian nuclear question. In his assessment, we should not expect this problem to be solved any time soon. The European Union remains committed to the two-tier approach.

SG/HR Solana also reported on his recent visit to Georgia, including Abkhazia, conveying the concerns of the Georgian government about the increase in Russian forces in Abkhazia, as well as its thoughts about the redesigned format for negotiations. The Ministers agreed on the need for the EU to follow the situation attentively and to cooperate with the Georgian and Russian Governments, including the Friends of Georgia group.

During their discussion, the Ministers touched on the situation in the Great Lakes region – DR Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, with reference also to the MONUC report on events in the province of Bas-Congo.



Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

Slovenia's EU Council Presidency is coming to an end. After the European Council, we will be able to give a final assessment of the Presidency's achievements. It is already possible to assess, however, that Slovenia prepared properly for its first EU Council Presidency, that the goals set were ambitious but realistic, and that the priorities of our six-month Presidency have been successfully achieved.

I would, furthermore, assess that the Council's decision to prepare an 18-month joint Presidency programme was wise and contributed significantly to better harmonisation, coordination, consolidation and realisation of the most important priorities during the Presidencies of the first trio of Germany, Portugal and Slovenia. At this point, I would like to express my satisfaction with the excellent cooperation between the trio during the preparations and also during our three individual Presidencies.

One of the key priorities of the Slovenian Presidency was the Western Balkans. Undoubtedly, the key achievements of the Slovenian Presidency in the Western Balkans are the conclusion of a network of stabilisation and association agreements with the countries of the region (excluding Kosovo) and the finalisation of the first stage of visa liberalisation – presentation of roadmaps.

Through the SAAs, the countries of the region are – we hope – irreversibly engaged in the process of European integration.

Visa liberalisation roadmaps provide a response to the strong and legitimate expectations of the region that contacts between the people of the region and the EU be facilitated and enhanced. After all, for the great majority of the region's countries, this visa liberalisation process will be merely a return to the visa-free regime already known in the region. At the same time, the roadmaps mean heightened security for the EU, too, since they specify the steps that all the countries of the region must take as a precondition for the introduction of the visa-free regime.

In addition to these two key achievements, a series of practical measures contained in the Commission's communication and intended for this region should be mentioned. I would particularly like to underline the mandate granted to the Commission to negotiate the Transport Agreement for the region, work on the new financial framework for the region, support for civil society through the Civil Society Facility, more scholarships, cooperation with the region in the field of civil protection, etc. These achievements and measures further enhance the region's prospect of a future in Europe (the 'European perspective') while highlighting the Western Balkans as the primary object of the European Union's enlargement policy.

For understandable reasons, the Presidency focused the bulk of its time and energy on two themes: endeavours to definitively and irreversibly bring Serbia onto a European course – including by signing the SAA – and efforts to ensure the stability of Kosovo and the region in the light of Kosovo's change in status.

Irrespective of diverging views on Kosovo's independence and the weight of an exacting decision on Kosovo, the European Union preserved unity as regards the fundamental interest of a stable Kosovo and its resolve that the EU should play a key role in Kosovo, especially through its EULEX Mission and the EU Special Representative. The EU maintained the credibility of its Common Foreign and Security Policy.

EU Enlargement was the second of Slovenia's main priorities during its EU Council Presidency. We have been building upon the achievements of the preceding Presidencies to push negotiations forward and our results have been positive.

With Croatia, 20 chapters have been opened and 2 provisionally closed. With Turkey, the review of the alignment of national legislation was concluded for 22 chapters, of which 8 chapters are open and one is provisionally closed. I am pleased that, today, in fact, Accession Conferences at ministerial level have been conducted with Croatia and Turkey, in which both countries have opened two new chapters.

We are also pleased that, during the Slovenian Presidency (in February 2008), revised Accession Partnerships were adopted for both countries.

Lastly, please allow me to make two comments, even though they do not strictly belong under the heading of enlargement.

As regards Cyprus, the Council has adopted amendments to the Green Line Regulation, which will further facilitate trade in Cyprus and strengthen communication between both communities. We hope that this measure, in combination with the Financial Assistance Regulation, will have a positive effect.

On the basis of an interim report by the Commission, in March 2008 the Council adopted conclusions on the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism for Bulgaria and Romania.

One important achievement in the context of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) is the start of the implementation of a joint initiative of the countries of the wider Black Sea region and the EU – the Black Sea Synergy Initiative – which has outlined political guidelines for joint activities in the region. 

We expect that the balanced strengthening of the Mediterranean and Eastern dimensions of the ENP will continue through the French initiative 'Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean' and through the Polish-Swedish initiative for the establishment of an Eastern Partnership.

One of the priorities of the Slovenian Presidency has also been the strengthening of strategic partnerships. During Slovenia's Presidency, four EU summits with third countries have been or will be held, enabling discussions on topical global, regional, economic, security, bilateral and other issues/challenges, including climate change and energy.

We are extremely pleased that, during the Slovenian Presidency, the negotiating mandate for the commencement of negotiations for a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the Russian Federation has been confirmed, which will enable negotiations to commence at the EU-Russia Summit at the end of this month.

The Slovenian Presidency has organised and supported many debates and conferences on the topic of intercultural dialogue, in which religious leaders, experts and civil society representatives have taken part.Our objective was to achieve a breakthrough in awareness of the way co-existence could be ennobled through the interaction between different cultures and religions.During the Slovenian Presidency, foundations have been laid for incorporating the cultural dimension in the EU's external relations.

Let me mention, in this context, Slovenia's lasting contribution to promoting partnership and dialogue:the founding of the Euro-Mediterranean University in Piran (inaugurated on 9 June 2008).

Allow me briefly to outline some of the EU's achievements during the Slovenian EU Council Presidency and under its six-month programme.

The Presidency continued to implement the EU Strategy towards Central Asia.As to the Southern Caucasus, the ministerial Troika confirmed the importance of the region for the EU and its interest in taking part in the process of democratisation of the region's countries.In the Asian context, the most prominent summit was the EU-Japan Summit.The EU continued talks with China aimed at concluding a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement.Negotiations with India for the conclusion of a Free Trade Agreement also continued.The EU shaped new policy guidelines for Afghanistan halfway to implementing the Afghanistan Agreement, taking on a commitment for further support and progress.

Among the regional challenges, the EU has been actively engaged in efforts to achieve progress in the Middle East Peace Process.We advocated a greater role for the EU in Iraq and invited our discussion partners in bilateral and third-country meetings to support Iraq in the reform process.The Presidency upheld the EU's two-tier approach in its relations with Iran.

The EU Presidency country closely followed developments in Africa and responded promptly to them.Four ministerial Troikas were organised (with ECOWAS, Nigeria, Cape Verde and South Africa); the EUFOR TCHAD/RCA military operations and operations in Guinea Bissau were also launched.The ad-hoc working group started to implement the first Action Plan of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy.

We made efforts to ensure consistent action and representation of the European Union's positions in multilateral forums.The EU priorities for the 63rd UN General Assembly session need to be highlighted, as they represent the basis for EU action within the UN in the areas of peace and security, sustainable development and human rights.The document underlines the EU's commitment to working towards an effective multilateral system based on international law as well as the aims and principles of the United Nations Charter.

The Presidency continued with the planning, upgrading and management of ESDP operations, capacity building for civilian and military crisis management and institution building.Particular attention was devoted to ensuring adequate substantive input from NGOs in the early phase of the civilian ESDP mission planning process.

Endeavours to enhance the effectiveness of mechanisms for the promotion of human rights within the CFSP were at the forefront as well.The guidelines on torture, the death penalty and children's rights in armed conflicts have been updated, and the implementation of new guidelines on children's rights, which are part of the Trio Presidency project, has been launched.In addition, dialogue with the African Union and with Turkmenistan has been established.Human rights were raised at all major meetings at the political level.A great deal of attention was devoted to activities within the UN, particularly to the substantive start of operations of the Human Rights Council and the new Universal Periodic Review Mechanism.

The greatest achievement of the Slovenian Presidency is the comprehensive approach to the issue of human rights, establishing links between development policy, security and human rights.

The Slovenian Presidency responded to the humanitarian situation in Burma/Myanmar in the wake of tropical cyclone Nargis and the earthquake in China by convening a special session of the Council.

At the end of the Slovenian EU Council Presidency, please allow me to thank you for the excellent cooperation and intensive dialogue between the European Parliament and the Council, which has, I am sure, enhanced the functioning of both institutions.

Thank you.

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Date: 18.06.2008