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Introductory Address – Report by State Secretary Matjaž Šinkovec on the Results of the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) of 29 april 2008 to the Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) of the European Parliament on 6 May 2008

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Mr Chairman, Distinguished Members of the European Parliament,

It is my honour to address you again at this meeting of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament, and to acquaint you with the discussions and conclusions of April’s GAERC meeting, as well as to exchange views on the topics discussed there with you.

April's GAERC started with the General Affairs Council and was followed by a discussion of the Foreign Ministers on Zimbabwe, the Western Balkans, negotiating directives for a new agreement with Russia, MEPP, Iraq, Pakistan, and Burma/Myanmar. The Council adopted conclusions on Zimbabwe, the Western Balkans, Pakistan, Burma/Myanmar, Uzbekistan, and the Review of EU Guidelines on Torture.

The Ministers’ agreement regarding the signing of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (and the Interim Agreement) with Serbia was a clear signal to Serbia and a big step forward concerning the European perspective of the country. The Interim Agreement will be implemented as soon as the Council assesses that Serbia is fully cooperating with the ICTY - this being an essential element of the SAA. The signing ceremony took place on the margins of the Council with the participation of the Serbian President Boris Tadić.

In its conclusions, the Council welcomed the recent adoption of laws on police reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is a precondition for an early adoption of the SAA. With consideration to the fact that Bosnia and Herzegovina has made progress in the fulfilment of all four conditions for the signing of the SAA – in addition to police reform, also the reform of the public radio and television, the reform of the public administration, and cooperation with the Hague Tribunal – the Council is prepared for an early signing of the SAA. We underline that Bosnia and Herzegovina can only have its future within the EU as a unified, complex, functional, and multi-ethnic state. The early signing of the SAA would give Bosnian political leaders an important impetus for further implementation of the reform process and is at the same time of key importance for further consolidation of the state and the wider region. Technical preparations for the signing are underway.

In the conclusions, the ministers also welcomed the March European Commission communication entitled Western Balkans: Enhancing the European Perspective, which was also used as a basis for discussion at an informal Gymnich meeting on 29 March 2008 at Brdo. We are very satisfied that the EU’s conclusions sent a positive message on the European perspective at a moment crucial for the region. The EU thus reconfirms that the future of the Western Balkans lies within the EU, whereby the EU would endeavour to attain this goal with all instruments at hand. It should now build upon the progress achieved within the framework of the Stabilisation and Association Process of recent years, which should be further consolidated and upgraded.

A special challenge is the realisation of the European perspective for the people in the region. The Council welcomed the commencement of dialogue on visa liberalisation based on roadmaps, which will include realistic criteria for the introduction of a visa-free regime for the Western Balkan countries. Visa dialogue has already commenced with Serbia (31 January), the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (20 February), Montenegro (21 February), and Albania (7 March). In its conclusions, the Council urged the Commission to initiate a visa dialogue with Bosnia and Herzegovina as soon as possible.

People-to-people contacts between the Western Balkan countries and the EU should be promoted, particularly among the younger generation, thereby encouraging the region’s citizens to internalise and cultivate European values. In this regard, the Council welcomes the Commission’s intent to further increase the number of scholarships granted to students from the Western Balkan region for studies in the EU and emphasises the initiative for the strengthening of civil society, which is crucial for further progress in the implementation of reforms. In the conclusions, the EU advocates further integration of the Western Balkans into Community programmes and agencies. The regional school for public administration, which is expected to enter into operation early next year, will provide an important contribution to the strengthening of the administrative capacities of individual countries, which will be very important for their drawing closer to the EU.

Both the regional cooperation and economic development of the Western Balkans are crucial for further stabilisation of the region and its drawing closer to the EU. In this regard, the March Commission Communication sets out a number of key areas and proposes several new initiatives: e.g. in the fields of energy and transport (launching negotiations on a transport agreement), the Western Balkans Investment Framework, and stepping up cooperation between the Western Balkans and the EU in civil protection. In the conclusions, the foreign ministers urge all other Council formations to proceed with the work for the development of these initiatives.

The Presidency made a great effort to try to arrive at an agreement on the negotiating directives for a new agreement with Russia. Unfortunately, this was not yet possible. The Presidency will continue its efforts to this effect in the coming weeks with the objective of agreeing on the negotiating mandate until the summit with Russia in June at the latest.

The exchange of views on Zimbabwe was introduced by Commissioner Michel, who stated that violence was unfortunately increasing. The Ministers also expressed their concerns over acts of violence, intimidation, and human rights abuses and declared that the EU would continue to closely monitor developments. With regard to this situation and the overdue announcement of the presidential election results, the Council agreed that it was important to maintain close contacts with SADC at the highest level. With reference to African ownership, the Ministers saw the need for SADC to maintain its authority vis-à-vis Zimbabwe. EU support and encouragement to SADC regarding the implementation of the Lusaka communiqué was crucial. Furthermore, the Ministers called for a de facto moratorium on arms sales to Zimbabwe in order to prevent further internal repression.

Regarding the Middle East Peace Process, the Council discussion focused on preparations for the upcoming meeting of Quartet principals and the ministerial conference of the Ad Hoc Liaison committee on 2 May in London. The SG/HR Solana emphasised that momentum needed to be maintained and that we would need visible improvement in three important areas: security, bilateral negotiations, and the situation on the ground.

Similarly, the discussion on Iraq concentrated on preparing the review conference of the International Compact with Iraq on 29 May in Stockholm. The EU should aim for specific results from the conference and underline the political dimension of the Compact. The High Representative emphasised the need for greater visibility of the European Union engagement in Iraq. The Ministers agreed that the EU should have a greater status and profile in Iraq, notwithstanding the important role the UN is playing in Iraq, which is strongly supported by the EU. Of fundamental importance for Iraq in the near future is the question of national reconciliation - this will take time but is essential for any further progress. Furthermore, Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner informed the Ministers that the negotiations of a Trade and Cooperation Agreement with Iraq were likely to be concluded soon. The Ministers also pointed out the good perception of EUJUST LEX in the country and the possibility of its further development.

Regarding Pakistan, the Ministers welcomed the recent progress made in the democratic process. The High Representative reported on his recent visit to the region. He emphasised the great success and good perception of the EU election monitoring mission. The EU should build on this success. Continued support to Pakistan was crucial, particularly in the field of trade, where the SG/HR emphasised the need for the EU to respond positively given the importance of Pakistan and the economic difficulties it is facing. Other areas of EU support to focus on were institutions, anti-radicalisation programmes, education, and the empowerment of women.

The Ministers expressed their deep concern regarding the situation in Burma/Myanmar and called upon the authorities to take rapid steps towards a transition to a legitimate, civilian government, and for national reconciliation. With the adoption of a Common Position the Council renewed restrictive measures against Burma/Myanmar until 30 April 2009.

The Ministers also discussed the increasing problem of maritime piracy off the Somali coast. They voiced support for a UN initiative currently in preparation and agreed to think about possible ways to contribute to an international response.

Concerning recent developments in Georgia, the Ministers had an exchange of views, particularly on the issue of preventing an increase in tensions. The discussion on Georgia is to continue in the respective Council bodies.

Regarding Tibet, the Council took stock of the on-going contacts as a follow-up to the discussion at Brdo on 29 March, including contacts during the recent visit of the Commission to China.

The Council adopted a common position on restrictive measures against Uzbekistan, extending the suspension of visa restrictions for further six months until 13 November 2008, following a review of the situation and with a view to encouraging the Uzbek authorities to take steps to improve the human rights situation. In three months, the Council will review the progress made by the Uzbek authorities.

On the margins of GAERC, five meetings with third countries and organisations took place: the EU-Egypt and EU-Croatia Association Councils, and the EU-ECOWAS, EU-OSCE, and EU-Russian Federation Ministerial Troikas.

Thank you for your attention.


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Date: 06.05.2008