Below is the text of the speech made by David Lidington, the Minister of State for Europe, in the House of Commons on 28 April 2016.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and I attended the Foreign Affairs Council on 18 April and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence attended the Foreign Affairs Council (Defence) on 19 April. The Foreign Affairs Council and Foreign Affairs Council (Defence) were both chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. The meetings were held in Luxembourg.
Foreign Affairs Council
A provisional report of the meeting and conclusions adopted can be found at: http://www.consilium.europa. eu/en/meetings/fac/2016/04/18-19/
Ms Mogherini briefed the Council on her recent visit to Iran. The context for this visit was the lifting of EU nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions against Iran in the wake of Iran’s implementation of measures set out in the joint comprehensive plan of action. Ms Mogherini and a number of EU Commissioners who also participated in the visit explored the possibilities for future co-operation between the EU and Iran in a number of areas. In addition to areas for economic co-operation they also announced the intention to establish EU-Iran political and human rights dialogues. A joint statement by Ms Mogherini and the Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, can be found at: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_STATEMENT-16-1441_en.htm
The Colombian Government’s High Commissioner for Peace, Sergio Jaramillo Caro, briefed Ministers on the Colombian peace process, prompting a discussion on transitional justice. The risk of organised crime groups stepping into any power vacuum and the importance of a joined-up approach within the Colombian system was highlighted. The EU Commission confirmed continued support to the process through initiatives on local justice, education and demining. I offered strong support for the peace process, and underlined that we would be happy to share the UK experience of peace building. Mr Jaramillo confirmed that the Government of Colombia remained committed to a popular referendum on the agreement.
EU external migration
Ministers discussed the external aspects of the migration crisis, and the need for the European Union to maintain focus on both the Aegean and the central Mediterranean migration routes. The importance of full implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement on migration, concluded at the European Council on 17-18 March 2016, was noted; as was the ongoing work to tackle irregular migration from Africa to Europe, including through the action plan agreed at the Valletta summit on migration on 11-12 November 2015.
Lunch with UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Over lunch, Ministers exchanged views with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Filippo Grandi, on global challenges posed by mass migration, and on implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement on migration.
Ministers exchanged views on recent developments in the six Eastern Partnership countries and on preparations for the forthcoming EU-Eastern Partnership ministerial meeting on 23 May.
Topics discussed included reform programmes in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, and the work of the Minsk Group Co-Chairs and the OSCE Chair-in-Office to de-escalate the recent violent clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh.
EU Iraq/Syria/Daesh strategy
Ministers agreed to Ms Mogherini’s proposal to discuss counter-Daesh at the May Foreign Affairs Council and to agree Council conclusions. This would complement a planned discussion on Syria. In response to my call for a detailed assessment of progress, Ms Mogherini also agreed to task the EEAS and Commission to produce an assessment of implementation of the EU’s Syria/Iraq/Daesh strategy to help prepare for next month’s discussion.
The EU welcomed the arrival of the presidency Council in Tripoli on 30 March, and expressed its support for the Libyan political agreement which considers the Government of National Accord (GNA) as the sole legitimate Government in Libya. The EU reiterated that it has a package of immediate support totalling €100 million to the GNA, making clear that areas of support will be defined and prioritised in close co-ordination with the GNA and the UN. Council conclusions on Libya made reference to a possible civilian CSDP mission to support the Libyan security sector, and consideration of enhanced support that could be provided through EU Operation Sophia, for example through potential capacity building for the Libyan coastguard.
Ministers agreed without discussion a number of measures:
The Council approved the agenda of the 41st session of the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of states (ACP)—EU Council of Ministers, which will take place in Dakar (Senegal) on 28-29 April 2016.
The Council adopted a decision extending the mandate of Fernando Gentilini as the European Union special representative for the middle east peace process until 28 February 2017.
The Council adopted a decision extending the mandate of Peter Burian as the European Union special representative for central Asia until 28 February 2017.
The Council adopted a decision extending by 24 months, as of 31 January 2016, the validity of national permits for entry and stay granted by member states for the temporary reception of certain Palestinians.
The Council adopted a decision supplementing the statement of reasons for its restrictive measures against Bank Saderat Iran.
Foreign Affairs Council (Defence)
Countering hybrid threats
The Council adopted conclusions, welcoming the publication of the joint communication on countering hybrid threats, underlining the need to mobilise EU instruments to prevent and counter hybrid threats to the EU, its member states and partners, such as NATO. EU-NATO co-operation was highlighted as essential, with EU tools well placed to complement those of NATO to support member states and allies. Member states will reflect on the document further before considering next steps, including implementation.
Central African Republic
The Council adopted conclusions that approved the establishment of a new military training mission in the Central African Republic (EUTM RCA), to contribute to the country’s defence sector reform as led by the UN. The mission, based in Bangui has a mandate of two years. EUTM RCA will build on the work of the EU military advisory mission (EUMAM RCA), working towards a modernised, effective and democratically accountable Central African armed forces.
Capacity building in support of security and development
The Council discussed the EU’s efforts to find options for funding instruments for capacity building in support of security and development in order to enable partner countries and regional organisations to prevent and manage crises themselves. Defence Ministers noted that a public consultation was currently underway on the wider initiative. The European Commission also detailed progress towards a security sector reform framework, the adoption of which was anticipated in mid-2016.
EDA steering board
Defence Ministers also met in EDA steering board format. Ministers were updated on the implementation of key taskings and next steps, which included: the policy framework for defence co-operation; hybrid threats; preparatory action for common security and defence policy-related research; and the European Commission’s upcoming European defence action plan.