§ Baroness Gould of Potternewton
asked Her Majesty's Government:
What the outcome was of the General Affairs Council held in Luxembourg on 29 October. [HL1292]
§ The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)
Together with my right honourable friends the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe, I represented the UK at the General Affairs Council (GAC) on 29 October.
The GAC adopted the A points listed in document number 13233/01. It also noted the resolutions, decisions and opinions adopted by the European Parliament in its part-session of 19–20 September in Brussels and 1–4 October in Strasbourg listed in document numbers 11049/01 and 12365/01 respectively. Copies of all three documents have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The GAC discussed preparations for the WTO Ministerial Conference, due to be held in Doha, Qatar from 9–13 November and agreed conclusions setting out the EU's position for this meeting. The Council conclusions of 26 October 1999 remained the basis for EU efforts to launch a new global round of multilateral trade negotiations, but the Council acknowledged that the final stages of negotiations would call for flexibility on the part of all participants. The Council emphasised the importance of the development dimension, highlighting the need for greater efforts to enhance the negotiating capacity of developing countries, and underlined the importance of the flexibilities of the TRIPS agreement in ensuring poor people in developing countries have affordable access to medicines.
The Council welcomed the European Parliament's resolution of 24 October 2001 on preparations for Doha and stressed the importance of dialogue with civil society, particularly with social partners, on trade issues.
Work in other Sectoral Councils
The Presidency drew attention to the Secretariat's stocktaking report of the main issues being discussed by other sectoral meetings of the Council of Ministers In particular, the Presidency noted the road-map on implementation of a sustainable development strategy approved by the Gothenburg European Council, looking ahead to the Barcelona European Council on 15–16 March 2002 and the World Summit on 66WA Sustainable Development in Johannesburg on 2–11 September 2002.
The GAC approved Presidency proposals, focusing on fiscal/tax issues, allowances and pensions, as a basis for further discussions with the European Parliament.
Funding of European Political Parties
The GAC discussed the draft regulation to establish a temporary, two-year regime for the statute and funding of European political parties. Discussion focused on issues including the regulating of donations and the transnationality threshold for qualification as a "European" political party. The Presidency asked Coreper to discuss the issues further.
EU political priorities for 2002
The GAC endorsed a UK initiative for the GAC to co-ordinate the EU's overall strategic priorities through annual discussions. Spain, as the future Presidency, will schedule a further debate early next year.
The Council issued a declaration on the 10th anniversary of the Madrid Conference. It called on the Israelis and Palestinians, immediately and without pre-conditions, to return to negotiations on the basis of the recommendations in the Mitchell Report and Tenet Plan. It called upon the Israeli authorities to withdraw their troops immediately from the zone that is exclusively under Palestinian administration (Zone A). It called upon the Palestinian authority to do its utmost to arrest those responsible for acts of violence against Israel.
The GAC agreed Conclusions on:
The Council reiterated the EU's readiness to help Zimbabwe hold transparent and fair presidential elections next spring, including through an exploratory mission and EU observers to monitor them.
The GAC decided to launch the consultation procedure with the Government of Zimbabwe provided for in Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement. The consultations would address the issues of concern as discussed by the GAC on 25 June, on which there had not been any visible progress to date: ending political violence; electoral monitoring; freedom of the media; independence of the judiciary; and ending the illegal occupation of properties.
The EU would give strong weight to ensuring coordination and complementarity with the efforts of SADC and the Abuja process.
(ii) DRC (Lusaka Process)
The GAC noted the disappointing results of the inter-Congolese dialogue meeting in Addis Ababa (15–21 October). The EU had honoured its financial commitments to help support the process, which was essential for the future of the DRC and the region as a whole. It called on the facilitator of the dialogue and the Congolese parties to set a time and place for 67WA substantive talks on the parameters for an inclusive, democratic transition with a realistic timetable.
(iii) Burundi (Arusha process)
The GAC discussed the démarches of facilitator Nelson Mandela to the Presidency and Commission of 15–16 October. President Mandela was seeking EU funding to set up a protection unit to ensure the safety of exiled politicians on their return to Burundi to form the Transitional National Government, starting on 1 November. The GAC agreed the importance of such funding, subject to clear assent of the Burundian parties to the Arusha Agreement, the backing of the UN and precise details concerning the special unit's mandate and budget. the Council instructed its bodies to work with the Commission to examine President Mandela's proposals and report to the next GAC on 19 November.
The GAC would discuss Eritrea further at its next meeting, following talks between President Isayas Afewerki and the EU Heads of Mission (HoMs) in Asmara. It had agreed on 8 October to recall EU HoMs in Eritrea for consultations, given its concerns over the arrest of political figures, the suppression of the independent press and expulsion of the EU Presidency's Representative to Eritrea.
(v) New Partnership for African Development and the Europe-Africa dialogue.
The Council reiterated its support for the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD). It was briefed by the Presidency and the Commission on the meeting on 10 October with the African heads of state, supporting the NEPAD and on the EU-Africa Ministerial Conference on 11 October 2001. The Council agreed that it would pay particular attention to this significant initiative, above all in the framework of the Europe-Africa dialogue.
EU action following US attacks
The GAC noted the good progress made on the counter-terrorism road map agreed at the European Council of 21 September. It tasked the Committee of Permanent Representatives with the oversight and direction of the road map, paying particular attention to the priorities identified by the European Council: a European arrest warrant, a common definition of terrorism and freezing of assets; strengthening cooperation between the relevant authorities responsible for combating terrorism, especially to establish a common list of terrorist organisations before the yearend; the fight against the funding of terrorism; and the approval, without delay, of Commission proposals relating to aviation security.
The GAC also discussed the situation in Afghanistan and the surrounding region. Discussion was informed by reports from the Presidency and Secretary-General/High Representative (SG/HR) Solana about their recent meetings with the UN Secretary-General and his personal representative, Ambassador Brahimi, and with the former King of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah. They also discussed the situation in central Asia on the basis of a paper by the 68WA SG/HR. The Council welcomed the Troika visit from 30 October to Uzbekistan, Tadjikistan and Turkmenistan.
The GAC adopted Conclusions on:
(i) Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
It welcomed the progress made on constitutional reform and all parties' commitment to conclude the parliamentary process on the framework agreement rapidly. It repeated that implementation of that agreement by all parties concerned was the only constructive way forward, including in relation to Macedonia's rapprochement with the EU.
The Council underlined the importance of the elections on 17 November being conducted properly. The GAC repeated the need for a substantial electoral turnout from all communities to ensure their representation in the provisional, new, democratically-elected institutions. It had asked the Belgrade authorities to co-operate closely with UNMIK/KFOR and to encourage the Kosovo Serbs to take part in the election.
(iii) Stability Pact
The GAC welcomed the outcome of the Regional Conference of the Stability Pact in Bucharest which confirmed the EU's commitment to continue playing a leading role in the region, which would be complemented by the continuing role of the Pact. The Council agreed that the EU should review the future role of the Stability Pact in consultation with the other members of the pact, including the possibility of better integrating the work of the pact with the EU's Stabilisation and Association Process for the Western Balkans.
The GAC welcomed the signing of the EU/Croatia Stabilisation and Association Agreement and the EC/ Croatia Interim Agreement. It also welcomed the approval of the joint declaration on political dialogue and the holding of the first meeting of that dialogue.
No formal votes were taken on the points under discussion at the GAC.