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Introductory Address – Report by State Secretary Matjaž Šinkovec on the Conclusions of the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) of 10 March 2008 to the Committee on foreign affairs (AFET) of the European Parliament

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Mr Chairman, Distinguished Members of the European Parliament,

It is my honour to address you again in the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament, and to acquaint you with the discussion and conclusions of yesterday's GAERC meeting, and exchange views on the topics discussed there with you.

Yesterday’s GAERC meeting topics included the preparations for the European Council meeting scheduled for 13 and 14 March, discussion of the state of progress on the WTO/Doha Development Agenda negotiations, Georgia, Zimbabwe, Iran, the Middle East and the Western Balkans.

The Council adopted conclusions on the WTO/DDA, Zimbabwe, the Western Balkans and, under item A, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In the ‘general affairs’ session, the Council focused on the preparations for the European Council meeting (a statement regarding this will be given by the Council at the plenary session of the European Parliament tomorrow).

The Council conducted a discussion on the most recent European Council draft conclusions, which had been sent to the Member States on Friday 7 March and formulated on the basis of intensive and constructive discussions in the COREPER in the last three weeks.

The Presidency endeavoured to the best of its abilities to take into consideration, in one way or another, all the major political reservations of delegations. At the same time, we strived to maintain a balanced, concise and readable text. With this in mind, it was not possible to accept all the minor changes proposed by the delegations.

The subject matter of the European Council conclusions will cover three main areas: the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs, climate change and energy, and stability of financial markets; plus, if necessary, foreign policy events.

In the area of the Lisbon Strategy, our endeavours are directed particularly at an effective and well-received start of the second cycle of the renewed strategy, for the period 2008-2010.

We have established that the Lisbon Strategy has been bringing positive results, especially with regard to reducing unemployment and improving the economic environment. We have therefore been striving to ensure that the renewed cycle maintains the momentum and focuses on the implementation of reforms within the existing structure.

Irrespective of this, the conclusions will offer some important guidelines and modernisations: (1) introduction of the fifth freedom and emphasis on creativity within the scope of the knowledge and innovation pillar; (2) emphasis on small and medium-sized enterprises and the follow-up to the review of the internal market within the scope of the business environment pillar; and (3) emphasis on flexicurity within the scope of the social pillar.

At the same time, we wish to maintain the central role played by the integrated guidelines within the framework of the Lisbon Strategy. To this end, we are striving to achieve the endorsement of the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines as well as the Employment Guidelines as a single unit at the spring European Council.

The conclusions will call for the launch of a discussion on a potential new or renewed post-2010 strategy.

In the area of energy and climate issues, the European Council meeting will provide new political guidelines for further discussion of the proposed legislative package.

We hope that the European Council will provide political guidelines for the discussion of the package (fundamental principles) and endorse the timetable of work for its adoption.

  • Fundamental principles will facilitate further substantive work regarding the package; it is the Presidency’s express wish that the European Council should endorse the “basic architecture” of the European Commission’s proposal and thus facilitate the adoption of a final agreement based on the Commission proposal – anything else would signify a big step backwards (to 2007) in terms of our positions.
  • Timetable: The timetable sought is for negotiations on the package to proceed until the June European Council meeting and for the common position of the Member States to be adopted by the end of 2008. It is important that the legislative package be adopted by the end of the terms of office of the current European Commission and Parliament, i.e. by the middle of 2009, as this is the only way to keep to the international timetable.

The European Council will also welcome the report drawn up by Secretary-General/High Representative for the CFSP Javier Solana and the European Commission on the impact of climate change considerations on international security and will provide guidelines for further discussions about the report.

The conclusions also touch on the current financial situation internationally, particularly based on the previous work of the EU Finance Ministers (the ECOFIN Council) and the European Commission interim report. We expect that the European Council will provide political guidelines for addressing the topic in future within the existing structures.

Following the exchange of views between the Ministers, the Presidency is convinced that it will be able to submit for discussion a text acceptable for all Heads of State or Government.

Let me inform you that the dinner for Foreign Ministers on the first day of the European Council meeting will be devoted to the subject of Afghanistan.

The ‘external relations’ session began with a discussion of the WTO/DDA and some relevant conclusions were adopted.

This year has been crucial for negotiations on the Doha Development Agenda. Commissioner Mandelson outlined the state of progress in the negotiations and underlined the matters of greatest importance to the EU. These include market access, trade facilitations and attainment of a favourable result for LDCs (least developed countries). The discussion stressed the importance of unity and solidarity as well as of support for the European Commission in its role as negotiator. There was reaffirmation of interest in attaining a universal, ambitious and balanced result in all areas within the framework of negotiations on the Doha Development Agenda. All partners must strive for this in accordance with their level of development. The conclusions adopted express the unity of Member States in their support for the European Commission and for its approach in negotiations with WTO partners. The Presidency, together with the Commission, will ensure that the European Parliament is fully informed about progress in the negotiations.

The Ministers discussed the situation in Georgia, particularly in connection with the Georgian parliamentary elections announced for May 2008. The Secretary-General and High Representative for the CFSP, Javier Solana, underlined that the Georgian authorities needed to ensure that the shortcomings experienced during the recent presidential elections would not recur in the upcoming parliamentary elections. He also expressed concern about the Russian decision to withdraw the restrictive measures imposed on Abkhazia in 1996. The Council will continue to closely monitor the situation in Georgia. The Council welcomed a package of measures to address the shortcomings in the electoral system, in media coverage and in voters’ awareness in Georgia, that was being put together by the Commission in partnership with the Council of Europe, EUSR Semneby and local partner organisations. The Ministers also exchanged views about the benefits of negotiations on visa-facilitation and about the preparations for negotiations on a trade agreement; they also highlighted the importance of regional cooperation in the South Caucasus.

Ministers discussed the situation in Zimbabwe ahead of the parliamentary elections announced for 29 March. They expressed concern about the humanitarian, political and economic situation in the country. Facing a situation in which the deployment of an election observation mission was not possible, Commissioner Ferrerro-Waldner outlined the Commission's plans for a limited form of election observation, especially on the day of the elections. In its conclusions, the Council calls upon the Government of Zimbabwe to ensure that elections are held in accordance with international rules and standards. The Council continues to support President Mbeki in his endeavours for improved relations between the Government of Zimbabwe and the opposition, EU as the most important donor maintains commitments towards the people of Zimbabwe.

On Iran, Ministers held discussions based on the new UN Security Council Resolution No 1803 and outlined the need for its rapid implementation. In accordance with the two-tier approach of the EU, they highlighted the need for dialogue with civil society and a stronger stance on human right issues.

The Ministers had a wide ranging discussion on the Western Balkans, focussing on the latest events in the north of Kosovo and Serbia, which is heading for new elections. Ministers noted that, despite certain tensions in both Kosovo and Serbia, there had been no outbreaks of violence in the region. The deployment of EULEX members was going ahead in accordance with the Operation Plan. In order to maintain stability, it is important to continue UNMIK activities in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution No 1244 throughout Kosovo (including border control and customs services on the border with Serbia) and also to establish both EU missions throughout Kosovo. The Council expressed its support for the EU Special Representative and the head of the International Civilian Office, Pieter Feith, who had insisted that there be no violence and no parallel structures in Kosovo.

In its conclusions on Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Council welcomed the decision of the Peace Implementation Council Steering Board, that the Office of the High Representative would continue operating until the necessary objectives and conditions for its closure are fulfilled. The Council also called upon the authorities to endeavour to fulfil as soon as possible all four conditions that are necessary for the signing of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement; it also welcomed the Commission’s intention to start a dialogue on visas with Bosnia and Herzegovina in the near future. In terms of the transition of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe to the Regional Cooperation Council, the Foreign Ministers underlined in their conclusions the importance of regional cooperation and expressed their support for the Regional Cooperation Council. They also emphasised that regional cooperation was important for the European perspective of the Western Balkans.

The European Council reaffirmed in December 2007 that the future of the Western Balkans lay in the European Union. The Presidency aims to work towards bringing the region yet closer to the European Union and, in this respect, supports the measures and initiatives presented by the European Commission in its Communication on the Western Balkans last week. The Presidency especially supports encouragement of direct contacts through visa liberalisation and scholarships, development of civil society and assistance in strengthening the economic development of the region.

Over lunch, the Ministers discussed the situation in the Middle East. SG/HR Solana reported on his recent visit to the region. The situation in the field had become extremely difficult. Although the peace process was moving forward at a formal level, there was no real progress in practice. Still, the current suspension of violence was good news. Ministers also touched on the situation in the wider region, notably in Lebanon, which was a cause of concern.

As I mentioned in opening, the Council adopted conclusions under Item A on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In its conclusions on Afghanistan, the Council reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to support the country in the long run and stressed the EU’s ongoing involvement in Afghanistan’s development covering both Member State programmes in the context of bilateral cooperation and the European Community’s assistance strategy. The Council conclusions called for further progress in the fields of human rights and good governance. In Afghanistan, progress had been achieved by an EU police mission due to be fully deployed by the end of March. The Council also endorsed the agreement concluded at the meeting of the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board in February in Tokyo on the preparation of an international conference reviewing the progress and implementation of the Afghanistan agreement.

In its conclusions on Pakistan, the Council noted that the elections in February are an important step in the democratic development of Pakistan and expressed its support for the country in shaping and enhancing the key aspects of a modern and democratic country. The EU supports Pakistan in strengthening democratic institutions, protecting human rights and fundamental values and combating extremism.

The following meetings were held on the margins of the session: the EU-Council of Europe quadripartite meeting, the EU-Albania Troika, the EU-Ukraine Cooperation Council and the EU-Algeria Association Council.

Thank you for your attention.


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Date: 31.03.2008