Saturday 5 December 2009

EU Foreign Affairs Council 8 December 2009

For the first time, the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) meets as a separate Council configuration on Tuesday 8 December 2009, although the ministers kick off by meeting the new High Representative already on Monday. (The other configuration mentioned in the Lisbon Treaty is the General Affairs Council (GAC), which convenes on Monday.)

The provisional agenda of the Foreign Affairs Council offers a bare outline. The background note prepared by the Council presents a few thorny questions to be discussed – Western Balkans, Middle East, Iran, Other issues – but little of substance.

HR/VP Catherine Ashton

Given the dual character of Catherine Ashton’s job, she has a fledgling web page over at the Council.

The Commission has a new web page with the whole job title as headline: High Representative of the Union For Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Vice President of the European Commission.

Finnish government

Considering the brief Presidency and Council information given (above), the traditional pre-meeting press release of the Finnish government feels almost generous in comparison. It is available in Finnish, Swedish and English. Here is a link to the English version, as well as its contents:

EU Foreign Ministers to meet Ashton and discuss the Middle East

The Foreign Affairs Council of the EU will meet in Brussels on 8 December. The main topic on the agenda is the situation in the Middle East. On Monday, 7 December the Foreign Ministers will have a dinner meeting with Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb will represent Finland at the meeting. After the Council meeting, Stubb will also attend the first Ministerial Meeting of the EU Eastern Partnership.

The Middle East peace process is on the Council’s agenda. The Foreign Ministers will discuss EU support for American efforts towards peace and the EU’s own role in the peace process. The difficult situation in East Jerusalem is also likely to be brought up. Finland considers that the EU should support Prime Minister Fayyad of the Palestinian National Authority in his efforts to build State structures and should remain firm with regard to Israel’s settlement policy. The Council is also expected to endorse conclusions on the subject.

The Foreign Ministers will also discuss the situation in Iran. In particular, the controversy over Iran’s nuclear programme will be raised, since Iran does not appear to be seriously committed to seeking a solution through negotiation. If negotiation does not lead to solution of the controversy over the nuclear programme, the tightening of sanctions against Iran will become topical. In such a situation, the primary solution in Finland’s view would be sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council. The European Council is expected to evaluate the situation in Iran. The Council will also endorse conclusions pertaining to Iraq.

The Ministers will discuss the Western Balkans, especially opening of the political deadlock in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Finland supports a solution that would enable closing of the OHR office as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina’s rapprochement with the EU. Conversion of the EUFOR Bosnia Althea operation to a training and support mission will also be brought up.

Arctic cooperation will also be on the agenda of the Foreign Affairs Council, and the Council is expected to endorse conclusions. Finland considers it important that an Arctic policy be created for the EU. In addition, the Council will endorse conclusions on the Horn of Africa, the South Caucasus, security work linked with climate change, the EU outlines to promote an international humanitarian law, human rights and democracy in third countries, relations between the EU and Latin America as well conclusions on the global role of the EU.

This will be the first meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council in its new form. With the Lisbon Treaty, the General Affairs and External Relations Council of the EU has been divided into two different configurations; the General Affairs Council and the Foreign Affairs Council presided over by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Foreign Minister Stubb will also attend the General Affairs Council meeting on 7 December, because enlargement of the European Union will be on the agenda then.

Additional information: Leena-Kaisa Mikkola, Head of the Unit for European Common Foreign and Security Policy at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, tel. +358 9 1605 5026 or mobile tel. +358 40 753 4364, and Päivi Pohjanheimo, Adviser to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, tel. +358 9 1605 5332 or mobile tel. +358 40 511 3786

Swedish government

The Swedish government routinely publishes the agendas of EU Council meetings, with brief comments by the representation in Brussels. For the FAC meeting: Kommenterad dagordning för utrikesrådet den 7-8 december 2009.

As an addition to yesterday’s blog post on the upcoming meeting of the General Affairs Council, there is an agenda with comments for the GAC meeting. With the Lisbon Treaty in effect since 1 December 2009 and the European Council meeting around the corner, on 10 to 11 December 2009, important issues are to be discussed: Kommenterad dagording för rådet för allmänna frågor den 7 december 2009.

Danish government

The Danish government has prepared a more detailed combined memorandum on the GAC and FAC meetings for the Europe committee (Europaudvalget) of the Danish parliament (Folketinget): Rådsmøde (almindelige anliggender ogeksterne forbindelser) den 7.-8. december 2009 - Sammelnotat.

It may be worthwhile to take a closer look at the material available at the meeting of the Europe committee 3 December 2009.

EU journalists have sometimes said that their Danish colleagues are the best informed. Because this is public information in Denmark, interested citizens are able to follow EU affairs closely.

Other EU member states?

My guess is that Denmark is the benchmark with regard to parliamentary scrutiny and public information, but it would be interesting to see comments on how the governments in the EU member states inform their parliaments ahead of EU Council meetings and summits, and on the quality of public information on EU affairs available to citizens.

Ralf Grahn

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