HC Deb 30 April 1998 vol 311 cc217-9W
Mrs. McKenna

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will report on the outcome of the General Affairs Council held in Luxembourg on 27 and 28 April. [40535]

Mr. Doug Henderson

1. The General Affairs council in Luxembourg on 27 April adopted the A points, and noted the resolutions, decisions and opinions adopted by the European Parliament in its session of 30 March—3 April. Copies of the documents listing the A points and resolutions will be placed in the House Libraries as soon as they become available.

2. The Council invited COREPER to continue work on preparations to the EU/Canada and EU/US Summits on 14 May and 18 May respectively, including taking forward an EU position on transatlantic trade and on US sanctions legislation.

3. The Presidency reported on progress on Agenda 2000 negotiations. Some Foreign Ministers commented on political aspects of the dossier, including the Own Resources system. The Council agreed how to handle European Parliament involvement.

4. The Council heard a report from Commissioner van den Broek on the Commission's exploratory contacts with Turkey on the elements of the proposed European strategy for Turkey identified at Luxembourg. It reaffirmed the importance it attaches to a successful Association Council and invited the Presidency and Commission to continue the necessary preparation on the European Strategy to that end. Most Member States noted the importance of releasing the financial protocol for Turkey to allow full implementation of the strategy.

5. The Presidency briefed partners on the recent visit of the Prime Minister to the Middle East. The Council welcomed the agreement of Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Arafat to meet US Secretary of State Albright in London on 4 May, as well as additional meetings of all three with the Presidency. These meetings represent an important opportunity to reinvigorate negotiations. The EU strongly urged the parties to approach the London meetings with the necessary determination to find a compromise along the lines put to them by the US. The EU is ready to help facilitate progress.

6. The Presidency briefed the Council on Northern Ireland and thanked EU partners for their constructive support, including through Objective One Funding.

7. On Kosovo, the Council expressed concern at the mounting violence and reiterated its calls for restraint from both sides. It called for an urgent dialogue between the parties without pre-conditions, and with international involvement, to help secure a lasting solution. The Council regretted that President Milosevic had thus far failed to promote a peaceful settlement and passed a Regulation implementing at the Community level those measures against the FRY agreed by common position on 19 March. The Council agreed that further measures against the FRY would be taken in the event of continued failure to address international concerns. But the Council also underlined a wish to develop relations between FRY and the rest of Europe in return for a real willingness to engage in constructive dialogue.

8. On Montenegro, the Council welcomed positive developments in political and economic reform, and agreed to allocate an initial sum of 3 million ECU to help the new Montenegrin Government meet outstanding social welfare commitments.

9. The Council also considered its regional approach to the development of contractual relations between the EU and countries in the Western Balkans region. It concluded that the Commission should look closely at the feasibility of improved trade relations with Albania, and how best to implement existing arrangements with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. It considered that the time was not yet right for further deepening of contractual links with FRY, Bosnia or Croatia; and called into question Croatia's continued eligibility for EU trade preferences unless it improved its performance against agreed EU conditionality.

10. The Presidency reported on preparations for the EU/Russia Summit, which will be held in Birmingham on 15 May.

11. The fourth EU/Slovakia and EU/Romania Association Councils took place on 28 April. The meetings took stock of the past year's developments in the enlargement process, and Slovakia and Romania's preparations for accession, notably their progress towards meeting the Copenhagen criteria for membership. The EU/Slovakia Council paid particular attention to the shortcomings in Slovakia's democratic institutions. The EU/Romania Council concentrated on economic reform.

12. The state of relations between the EU and Slovakia and Romania under the Europe Agreements was noted, particularly recent progress and problems in trade and agriculture.

13. The joint dinner on 27 April discussed the following issues: strengthening of democratic institutions, relations with neighbouring countries, including regional cooperation, and border management.

14. The tenth EC/Malta Association Council met on 28 April, and adopted a Joint Declaration on future relations, including a political commitment to establish a Free Trade Area. In the margins, two further Joint Declarations were adopted: on political dialogue and on Justice and Home Affairs cooperation. Over lunch, Member States discussed the Euro-Mediterranean partnership.

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