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Address by the President of the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC), the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Slovenia, to the EP Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET)

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Briefing on the conclusions of the GAERC Council meeting on 26 and 27 May 2008

Mr Chairman, Distinguished Members of the European Parliament,

I am pleased to have the opportunity once again to inform you of the main results of the last meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council. I shall also be delighted to hear your views on the latest developments and to answer your questions on the matters discussed at the Council meeting.

The main topic of the General Affairs Council were the preparations for the June European Council. The Presidency presented an annotated draft agenda and then listened to the Member States’ comments. In the very near future, the Presidency will also present the first draft conclusions for discussion by the European Council in June. Chapters to be covered include: 1) implementation of the Lisbon Treaty (preparations for implementation after ratification by the Member States); 2) rising food prices (a cross-sectoral overview of the issue; policy guidelines); 3) freedom, security and justice (with emphasis on migration and combating terrorism); 4) economic, social and environmental issues (review of the situation in connection with the energy and environment package); 5) the Western Balkans (review of the implementation of the Thessaloniki Agenda and progress in practical initiatives within the region); and 6) topical issues in external relations, including the Millennium Development Goals (the ministers responsible for development have drafted a contribution to the European Council conclusions).

The Council also endorsed the mandate for negotiations for the new agreement with Russia and the relevant annexes. This will enable negotiations to be launched at the June EU-Russia Summit.

The External Relations Council focused on the following issues: the WTO Doha Development Round, Africa – Somalia and Zimbabwe, Iraq, Georgia, the Western Balkans (particularly Serbia and Kosovo), the Middle East (the Middle East Peace Process and Lebanon), and the European Neighbourhood Policy. At a joint session with Defence Ministers, ESDP missions and operations were discussed, as well as the situation in Afghanistan and the issue of children and armed conflict.

The Council adopted conclusions on Somalia, Zimbabwe, Iraq, Georgia, the Western Balkans, the Middle East Peace Process, Lebanon, ESDP missions and operations, Afghanistan, and children and armed conflict.

The following meetings with third countries and organisations were held on the margins of the GAERC meeting: the EU-European Economic Area Council, the EU-Gulf Cooperation Council, the Association Council with Turkey, the Cooperation Council with the Republic of Moldova, and the meeting of the EU Troika with Cape Verde.

Commissioner Mandelson, for the European Commission, presented his assessment of the draft modalities on agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA), revised for the second time, and informed the Council of future activities to be undertaken before the WTO ministerial conference in the second half of June.

A discussion followed, but the Council did not adopt any official conclusions.

The successful outcome of the WTO Doha Development Round is the Slovenian EU Council Presidency’s number one priority in the field of international trade. The European Union is endeavouring to conclude an ambitious, balanced and comprehensive agreement.

The Council also examined developments in Georgia following the parliamentary elections held on 21 May 2008. The Council assessed that the elections had been peaceful and better organised than the presidential elections at the beginning of 2008. International observers had, however, identified numerous shortcomings which will have to be addressed by the Georgian authorities at the next elections. It should be noted that the Presidency has already issued a statement in this regard. The European Union continues to support international efforts aimed at peacefully resolving the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, especially the efforts by the UN, the Group of Friends of the UN Secretary-General, the Russian Federation as a mediator in the Abkhazia conflict, and the OSCE in the South Ossetia conflict. The European Union remains committed to Georgia’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.

In its Declaration of 18 April 2008, the European Union expressed concern at developments in crisis areas in Georgia, particularly Russia’s decision to establish official relations with the institutions of the de facto authorities in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The Council discussed the current political, security and humanitarian situation in Somalia. In its conclusions, it expressed concern over the security situation in the country and its adverse humanitarian and human rights consequences. It reaffirmed its commitment to a comprehensive approach to seeking a lasting settlement of the Somali crisis, requiring political dialogue that included all the concerned stakeholders. The launching of talks between the Transitional Federal Government of the Somali Republic and part of the opposition under the auspices of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General is a positive development. The Council called on all parties to engage in a constructive dialogue as a basis for shaping the future constitution of Somalia. The Council also expressed its concern regarding the upsurge of pirate attacks off the Somali coast.

A short exchange of views on the situation in Zimbabwe followed, in the light of the announced second round of the presidential elections on 27 June, entailing an additional delay in the election process. Violence against civilians on the part of the security forces is a matter of concern.

The EU welcomes the missions of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union and calls for the earliest possible deployment of a significant number of monitors. SG/HR Solana and Commissioner Michel reported on their contacts, following which Council conclusions on Zimbabwe were adopted.

The Council also discussed the EU’s engagement in Iraq, focusing primarily on the Iraq Compact Annual Review Conference to be held in Stockholm on Thursday. The mere fact that an EU Member State is to host the conference sends a strong signal regarding the extent of the EU’s support for Iraq in achieving stability and democracy in the country.

In its conclusions, the Council reiterated the European Union’s support for the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Iraq, as well as for the central role of the United Nations (UNAMI) and strongly encouraged continued close cooperation between UNAMI and the Iraqi authorities in the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1770. The Council encourages the Government of Iraq to make further progress in the political process and in national reconciliation.

Poland and Sweden presented a proposal to the Council for an ‘Eastern Partnership’, involving enhanced bilateral cooperation and the establishment of a permanent model for multilateral cooperation based on the European Neighbourhood Policy.

The joint session of Foreign and Defence Ministers adopted conclusions on the European Security and Defence Policy. The ministers also discussed the situation in Afghanistan. Ensuring the security of the Afghan people and enhancing confidence in national institutions undoubtedly remains a key priority for the international community. The EU’s contribution to this is extremely important.

In spring, the EUPOL mission in Afghanistan was finally deployed in full. Its operational capability at the level of the provinces has been enhanced as well. Both developments give reason for optimism, although they demand constant attention and further efforts.

Looking ahead to the International Conference in support of Afghanistan, to be held in Paris on 12 June, the Council conclusions express full support for the Afghan people and Government, welcome the progress made and note some challenges still outstanding: development and governance, corruption and lack of security, focusing particularly on drugs. The Council called on the Government to take greater responsibility for reconstruction and development.

Together with the Defence Ministers, we also discussed the issue of children in armed conflict. The ministers responsible for development, too, focused on the promotion and protection of the rights of the child in the EU’s external action, as this topic requires engagement in three areas: those of policy, development and crisis management. The EU strives to protect and promote children’s rights in its internal as well as external policies. The Slovenian Presidency is devoting particular attention to the promotion and protection of the rights of the child in the EU’s external actions.

The Foreign and Defence Ministers also welcomed the revised Checklist for the Integration of the Protection of Children affected by Armed Conflict into ESDP Operations, which will enable us to considerably improve our activities. By revising the guidelines in this area, Slovenia has rounded off the comprehensive approach in the field of human rights, too.

The ministers responsible for development adopted a number of conclusions entailing additional commitments in respect of children in the humanitarian and development dimensions of the EU’s external action. Particular attention is paid to the situation of children affected by armed conflict. The ministers also focused on the position of women in armed conflicts.

The main topics discussed at the working lunch included the Western Balkans (Serbia, Kosovo) and the Middle East (Middle East Peace Process and Lebanon).

The Council discussed the political situation in Serbia following the parliamentary and local elections of 11 May and, in its conclusions, welcomed the strong support for the pro-European side in the recent parliamentary elections, confirming the desire of the majority of the Serbian population for the country to advance further on its path towards the European Union. We hope that a new Government with a clear European agenda and committed to regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations will soon be formed.

The recent signing of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Serbia and the presentation of the roadmap for visa liberalisation have undoubtedly contributed to putting Serbia’s EU perspective into practice. In line with the GAERC Council meeting in April, subject to fulfilment of the necessary conditions, Serbia’s relations with the EU may be upgraded, including by it being granted candidate status.

In their conclusions, the ministers also undertook to sign a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Bosnia and Herzegovina at the next Council session scheduled for 16 June.

The discussions underlined the importance attached to the further stabilisation of Kosovo, for which the continuation of UNMIK activities in line with UN SC Resolution 1244 and the establishment of both EU missions are crucial. There continue to be close consultations between the EU and UN on the reconfiguration of UNMIK and future division of tasks.

In the current circumstances, the continuation and early conclusion of the EULEX Kosovo mission, the formation of the Office of EU Special Representative, and the deployment of both missions throughout Kosovo should be ensured to the greatest possible extent with a view to further stabilising the country. 

The next item on the agenda was the assessment of the state of affairs in the Middle East Peace Process. A number of important events had taken place in the recent past: the Quartet and Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) meetings on 2 May in London, and the Palestine Investment Conference in Bethlehem the previous week.

Despite strenuous efforts, only modest progress has been attained as regards the substance – both in the negotiation process and on the ground. The EU reaffirms its commitment to support the Israeli and Palestinian sides in the negotiations and urges them to make progress – in line with the Annapolis agreement – on reaching an understanding on final status issues by the end of this year. We welcome the commencement of the Israeli-Syrian talks under Turkish mediation.

We established that the situation in the field needs considerable improvement for the Annapolis Process to succeed, particularly in the area of ‘access and movement’, which is a precondition for the economic development of the Palestinian territories. The EU welcomes the activities of the Quartet envoy Tony Blair to achieve progress in this regard. The EU will continue to support Palestinian economic development and institution building, particularly in the security sector field.

We agreed that the situation in Gaza and its surroundings is still of concern. Gaza requires a peaceful and comprehensive solution and the EU supports talks aimed at achieving this objective.

The Council briefly discussed the situation in Lebanon and, in its conclusions, welcomed the appointment of Michel Suleiman as the new Lebanese president, expressing hope that the lengthy institutional impasse in the country would come to an end. The ministers urged the Lebanese nation to fulfil the Doha agreement.

In closing, I would like to mention the topic discussed by the ministers responsible for development by way of preparation for the European Council.

The European Council in June is the EU’s most senior political forum for the coordination of positions in the run-up to the Millennium Development Goals Summit scheduled for 25 September in New York, where the EU should demonstrate firm support for the implementation of the MDGs. As the biggest development aid donor, the EU is aware of its responsibility and is ready to play a leading role in encouraging the international community to attain the MDGs.

For the June European Council, the European Union has drafted a special report entitled ‘EU Agenda for Action on MDGs’, which outlines the ways in which the EU is contributing to achieving the MDGs, particularly in the areas of reducing poverty and promoting education, health, environmental protection and gender equality. This is the basis on which the European Council will assess the options for speeding up EU endeavours towards attainment of the MDGs.

Thank you for your attention.


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Date: 27.05.2008