Written answers

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

European Council Meetings

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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82. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the outcomes of the Foreign Affairs Council that took place in Luxembourg on 24 June 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31312/13]

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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I attended the most recent meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg on Monday 24 June.As you will be aware, the Council had a very busy agenda; the final Council Conclusions agreed may be accessed on the official EU website . Before dealing in detail with the outcome of the meeting, I should mention that the Council adopted new Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and Guidelines to promote and protect the enjoyment of all human rights by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI). Advances on these important issues are to be welcomed at any time but I am particularly pleased that both sets of Guidelines, which were priority concerns for Ireland, were adopted at the final Council meeting of the Irish Presidency.

The first item on the agenda at Monday's meeting was the Eastern Partnership. Ministers took stock of preparations for an Eastern Partnership Ministerial meeting scheduled for Brussels in July and for the Eastern Partnership Summit that will take place in Vilnius in November. A progress report was presented on the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) Agreements with Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine was presented. Ministers considered developments in the six Eastern Partnership countries and were broadly supportive of the work being done in preparation for the Summit in November. I expressed the hope that Heads of State and Government would be in a position to take positive decisions at that meeting.

Next, the Council discussed EU Climate Diplomacy and the global cross-cutting challenges which are presented by the impacts of climate change. There was general agreement on the need for Foreign Ministers to consider the strategic and security dimensions of climate change and to avail of opportunities in their contacts with third countries to build support for actions to address these challenges. In my intervention, I recalled the successful conference on climate change, nutrition and hunger which I co-hosted in Dublin in April. I also emphasised the importance of pursuing a holistic approach to the climate change agenda. Preparations for the 2015 UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris are advancing well and the Council expects to return to this issue next year. Comprehensive Conclusions were adopted which are firmly in line with the Conclusions on Post-2015 which were agreed at the Development Foreign Affairs Council in May.

Ministers reviewed recent developments in relation to the Middle East Peace Process , including current efforts by the US to achieve a resumption of direct negotiations. Following this discussion, HR Ashton reaffirmed the EU's commitment to the two-state solution and full EU support for the US efforts.

Over lunch, which was attended also by the NATO Secretary General, Ministers discussed the current situation on the ground in Afghanistan and the prospects in the region, particularly in the context of forthcoming Presidential elections. They examined political, developmental and security aspects of this issue and Council Conclusions were agreed. The EU is resolutely committed to supporting state-building and long-term development in Afghanistan.

After lunch, discussions moved to the Southern Neighbourhood agenda item. HR Ashton debriefed the Council on her recent visit to several countries in the region. Ministers had an exchange of views on the ongoing crisis in Syria and also had a broad discussion of the effectiveness of the EU's response to the 'Arab Spring' developments. They reiterated the need for a political settlement of the Syrian crisis and discussed how the EU can best maintain pressure on all sides so as to bring about an end to the violence and to secure their engagement in a political process of transition. There was agreement that the Geneva II process is critical. Following the Council meeting, HR Ashton repeated the EU's firm support for a political solution and noted the EU's commitment to humanitarian assistance in Syria, where the contribution by the EU and its member States is in excess of €1 billion. Ireland's total contribution to date stands at €9.8 million.

Finally, Ministers discussed the Western Balkans, in advance of decisions to be taken at this week's European Council. I intervened to confirm Ireland's support both for an agreement to open accession talks with Serbia and for an agreement to open negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Kosovo . Substantive discussions on this issue continued at the General Affairs Council on the following day (25 June).

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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83. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the outcomes of the General Affairs Council that took place in Luxembourg on 25 June 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31314/13]

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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On 25 June 2013, I chaired the final General Affairs Council (GAC) meeting of the Irish Presidency. The main items on the agenda were the enlargement and stabilisation process; a proposal by some Member States for an initiative on democracy, fundamental values and rule of law; preparation of the European Council of 27/28 June 2013; and the Multiannual Financial Framework. Ministers discussed the next steps for Serbia and Kosovo in the enlargement and stabilisation and association process. The GAC recommended that, following completion of national parliamentary procedures and subject to the endorsement of the June European Council, accession negotiations be opened with Serbia. The Council also agreed in principle on draft Council decisions authorising the opening of negotiations for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Kosovo. The Council also agreed to open chapter 22 (on regional policy) with Turkey. Ministers held a further discussion on the proposal by the Foreign Ministers of four Member States (Germany, Netherlands, Denmark and Finland) for a new and more effective mechanism to safeguard fundamental values in EU Member States. The GAC will return to this issue after the summer, during the course of the Lithuanian Presidency.

Preparations for the European Council meeting of 27/28 June were also discussed at the GAC. Ministers considered the draft European Council conclusions. President Van Rompuy has stated that he intends to make youth unemployment and financing of the economy the focus of the June European Council. Leaders will also conclude the European Semester 2013 by endorsing country specific recommendations for the forthcoming national budget cycles across the Union; review the Compact for Growth and Jobs, one year on from its adoption; be briefed by President Van Rompuy on the outcome of his consultations on the questions on EMU set by the December 2012 European Council; consider enlargement in light of the debate at the GAC; and note Latvia’s application to adopt the Euro as its currency.

Finally, I briefed the GAC in detail on the state of play in the discussions between the Irish Presidency and representatives of the European Parliament and of the Commission on the EU's Multiannual Financial Framework for 2014-2020.

I expect to provide an overview of the outcome of the June General Affairs Council to the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs in a statement in July.

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