HC Deb 28 January 2000 vol 343 cc375-8W
Mr. Hood

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what was the outcome of the General Affairs Council held in Brussels on 24 to 25 January; and if he will make a statement. [107150]

Mr. Vaz

The General Affairs Council in Brussels on 24 January adopted the A points listed in document no. 5443/00 and noted the resolutions, decisions and opinions adopted by the European Parliament in its sessions of 1–2 December in Brussels, listed in document no. 12794/99, and 13–17 December in Strasbourg, listed in document no. 13877/99. Copies of the documents listing the A points and the resolutions will be placed in the House Libraries as soon as they become available.

Open Debate: European Security and Defence Policy

The Portuguese Presidency put forward their programme of work. Discussion focused on how to take forward the remits from the Helsinki European Council on European security and defence policy, in particular progress on improving military capabilities, and relations between the EU and NATO, including the role of non-EU Allies and others in any new arrangements in the EU.

Follow up to Helsinki European Council

(A) IGC. The Presidency described its plans for organising the first stage of negotiations in the IGC.

(B) Enlargement. The Presidency and Commission set out the work programme for the next six months and confirmed their commitment to continued progress in negotiations for all countries and to differentiation (each country proceeding on merit at its own speed), including the possibility that countries starting negotiations this year might catch up with those already in negotiations.

Lisbon European Council Preparation

The Presidency presented a framework document on preparatory work towards the Lisbon Special Council on employment, economic reform and social cohesion. It set out the key objective of making the EU over the next 10 years the world's most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy, able to boost economic growth levels with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion.

Middle East Peace Process

The Council received a report of the Presidency and High Representative's visit to the region and discussed prospects for the Peace Process.

President Arafat attended lunch and briefed Ministers on developments on the Palestinian track. The Council welcomed recent reforms to the Palestinian Authority's procedures for financial management and called for further reforms in support of good governance and respect for human rights.


The Council welcomed the democratic conduct of the Duma elections and the smooth transition of power after President Yeltsin's resignation. It emphasised its wish to develop the long-term strategic partnership between the EU and Russia.

The Council reiterated the EU's deep concern about continuing violence in Chechnya and condemned the indiscriminate use of force by the Russian authorities. While it did not question Russia's right to preserve its territorial integrity, the Council emphasised Russia's great responsibility to respect its obligations under international humanitarian law. The EU would continue to press for de-escalation of the violence, a rapid ceasefire and a political solution to the crisis.

The Council welcomed the action taken to follow up the Declaration of the Helsinki European Council, including the revision of the Presidency's work plan for the EU Common Strategy on Russia. The Council invited the Commission to refocus the TACIS 2000 programme on core areas directly promoting democratic values, and agreed that the EU should respond firmly to any infringements of Russia's trade obligations under the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement.


The Presidency and Commission outlined plans for implementing the Helsinki European Council conclusions on Turkey.

Western Balkans

The Council welcomed the agreement of the Serbian democratic opposition of 10 January and their call for early elections in Serbia. The Council made it clear the EU was willing to offer substantial political and economic support to a democratic Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). It invited the Commission to prepare a proposal to extend the Energy for Democracy programme.

The Council stressed its continuing support for the democratically elected government of Montenegro, and invited the Commission to submit further concrete proposals to address Montenegro's most urgent needs.

On Kosovo, the Council agreed that urgent action was needed to address the continued violence against minorities and the growing threat of organised crime in Kosovo. It recognised the urgent need to reinforce the international police presence, particularly through specialists in organised crime and drug trafficking. It took note of UNMIK's worrying financial situation and agreed to address the problem without delay.

The Council welcomed the democratic outcome of the recent parliamentary elections in Croatia, and looked forward to the presidential elections and the formation of the new government. The Council emphasised the need to meet the conditions necessary for a closer relationship with the EU and looked forward to helping the new government achieve early progress. The Council agreed to establish rapidly the Joint EU-Croatia Consultative Task Force and invite Croatian Prime Minister designate to the General Affairs Council on 14 February.

The Council called for early and comprehensive implementation by Bosnia and Herzegovina's Joint Presidency of the New York Declaration. It urged the Bosnian parties to pass the Permanent Election Law and legislation on the Statute of the Council of Ministers incompliance with the constitution.

The Council adopted the negotiating directives for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Macedonia, and invited the Commission to make preparations to open negotiations in March 2000.

The Council examined the Commission's feasibility study for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Albania. It invited the Albanian government to present a plan of action for addressing the weaknesses identified in the study. The Council reaffirmed the EU's readiness to support the reform process in Albania.

Aid to Venezuela

The Council approved a Commission document on EU aid efforts in Venezuela following last month's flooding.

EU Africa Summit

The Presidency described its plans for a possible EU/Africa Summit in April.

EU/South Africa

The Presidency briefed the Council on contacts between the Commission and South Africa on the implementation of the EU/South Africa Trade, Development and Co-operation Agreement.

Oil Tanker Safety

The Council agreed that the safety of oil tankers was a matter of great concern to the EU. The Commission will produce a Communication in time for the next Transport Council on oil tanker safety, concentrating on oil tankers most at risk, re-examining the system of classifying tankers, phasing out single-hull tankers, reviewing liability and compensation and promoting transparency in the maritime world.

Association Council with Tunisia

The Association Council with Tunisia covered a range of political and economic issues. The Presidency raised Tunisia's human rights record and stressed the importance of the political dialogue between the EU and Tunisia. EU support for economic reform in Tunisia was discussed, with Tunisia looking forward to continued co-operation in support of progress towards the free trade area foreseen under the Barcelona Process.

Co-operation Council with Moldova

The second EU-Moldova Co-operation Council took place on 25 January. Discussion focused on the positive progress made under the EU-Moldova Partnership and Co-operation Agreement over the past year, and on Moldova's desire to further strengthen its relationship with the EU. There were also discussions on the internal political situation in Moldova (including Transdniestria), Moldova/Russia relations, and Moldovan participation in regional co-operation.

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