HC Deb 29 November 1996 vol 286 cc459-61W
Mr. Hayes

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the outcome of the General Affairs Council on 25 November in Brussels. [7269]

Mr. David Davis

The 13 A points in document 11893/96, the text of which will be placed in the House as soon as it is available, were approved. They included the approval of Ambassador Miguel Angel Moratinos as the European Union's special envoy to the middle east peace process.

The Council noted the resolutions adopted by the European Parliament listed in document 10901/96. A copy of the document will be placed in the House as soon as it is available.

The Council received a report on progress and agreed conclusions on the preparation of the World Trade Organisation Singapore conference encouraging the Commission, in consultation with member states, to seek an ambitious result. The Presidency noted Sir Leon Brittan's report on his recent visit to China.

Carl Bildt, high representative, gave an update on Bosnian institution building. The Commission reported on contacts made at official level on the regional approach in the margins of the Paris steering board. I reported to the Council on preparation for the London conference. I explained that the central theme would be to demand a strengthened commitment to peace implementation from involved parties as a condition for continued international assistance.

The European Union's special envoy to the Great Lakes, Aldo Ajello, summarised developments in the region since November. The Council agreed in principle on a small, 2.5 mecu EU contribution to the UN trust fund established to assist participation by African states in the multi-national force. The Commission will submit an appropriate proposal to the Humanitarian Aid Committee on 28 November.

The Council held a brief exchange of views on East Timor, underlining its support for the Portugal—Indonesia bilateral talks being held under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General in New York. The Council also considered the follow-up to the common position which was adopted in June and invited the Commission to draw up specific proposals for EU development assistance to East Timor.

The Council discussed the middle east peace process. I set out a proposal for a joint EU—Israeli study on the problems of the Palestinian economy which was agreed by the Council. This will be taken forward at working group level.

The Maltese Foreign Minister met EU Foreign Ministers in the margins of the Council. The Council subsequently took note that, at the meeting, the Foreign Minister of Malta had set out the reasons why full membership of the Union was not considered feasible for Malta by his Government, but that he had nevertheless requested a very close relationship with the Union, short of full membership. The Council invited the Commission to make proposals for future EU—Malta relations in the light of his statement.

There was an exchange of views on relations with Turkey over lunch. It was decided that Prime Minister Erbakan should be invited to dinner in the margins of the Dublin European Council on 14 December. The Council concluded that the presidency should take up contacts, with a view to holding an association council early next year.

Over lunch, Ministers approved a declaration on the recent developments in Iran, which have involved accusations and threats by Iran being directed at Germany in the context of a trial taking place there. The declaration made it clear that the judiciary of member states is independent of Governments and Parliament. In it, the European Union expressed the wish that Iran should continue to play a constructive role in international relations and noted that the Union was pursuing the critical dialogue on the basis that it should promote this goal and create better relations with the European Union. The Union also urged Iran in the declaration to discourage threats against persons involved in the trial and extend protection to German citizens in Iran.

Also over lunch, the land transport aspects of the EU—Switzerland negotiations were raised. It was agreed that substantive discussion should be postponed to the 6 December General Affairs Council.

The Council discussed the site for the Community plant site office. The Presidency concluded that a decision on the site could be taken at the 6 December General Affairs Council.

The Council adopted a declaration expressing its concern at the situation in Belarus. It urged President Lukashenko to respect the ruling of the Constitutional Court while reiterating the European Union's desire for a close and co-operative relationship with Belarus.

The Council also adopted a declaration on Chechnya, welcoming the conclusion of the agreement between Prime Minister Chernomyrdin of the Russian Federation and the head of the Chechen Government, Maskhadov and urging them to continue their efforts to find a permanent settlement. The declaration pledged the European Union's continuing support for humanitarian efforts to relieve the plight of refugees and displaced persons.

The Council had an exchange of views on the humanitarian situation in Bulgaria and expressed its willingness in principle to provide assistance. Ministers invited the Commission to keep Council apprised of developments. There was a structured dialogue with Cyprus, which continued over lunch, on 26 November.

The intergovernmental conference ministerial session covered flexibility and institutions. On the former, Ministers considered whether there was a case for new treaty language enabling groups at less than the full membership to integrate further in specific areas using the Community institutions and what general conditions should apply to any such arrangements. On the latter, Ministers looked particularly at the role of the European Parliament and national parliaments. The Government's line on these issues is set out in "A Partnership of Nations". The ministerial session was preceded, as usual, by a briefing meeting with European Parliament representatives.