The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): At its meeting of 5 May 2006 the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) took note of a presentation on the Commission's annual budget proposals for 2007.
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 15 May in Brussels. Defence Ministers are attending for separate discussions as well as a joint session. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and I will represent the UK in discussions with Foreign Ministers with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence doing so for Defence Ministers' discussions.
The Council is expected to agree the annotated agenda for the June European Council. This is likely to feature the Future of Europe, economic reform and the Hampton Court agenda. Enlargement will also be a key theme.
We expect the Council to adopt conclusions covering transition arrangements for the Office of the High Representative and the failure of constitutional reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We also anticipate conclusions calling for a free, fair and legal referendum in Montenegro and regretting the failure of Serbia to deliver Ratko Mladic to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia within Commissioner Rehn's deadline.
Discussion at the Council is likely to focus on the latter issue and we will want to reiterate the UK's full support for Commissioner Rehn's decision to disrupt the Stabilisation and Association Agreement negotiations in light of Serbia's non-compliance.
The Council is likely to agree the Summit information note. This sets out the EU-Russia relationship based on shared values: promotion of democracy, respect for human rights and the resolution of conflicts.
Council discussions will focus on recent political developments. conclusions are expected, although their precise nature will depend on whether a Government are formed in advance of the Council. If a Government are formed by the 15 May, we would expect the Council to welcome this.
The Council will discuss Iran over lunch. Conclusions are expected. Discussions are likely to focus on the nuclear file and next steps, in the light of the International Atomic Energy Agency Director General's 28 April report and subsequent discussions in New York.
External Relations Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner is likely to present proposals on Commission assistance for the Palestinians. These include increased EU aid and plans for an international mechanism to channel donor funding for basic services such as salaries for workers in key sectors such as health. The UK hopes that the Commission will deliver the mechanism as quickly as possible and that Foreign Ministers will endorse it at the Council. Council conclusions will be adopted.
The Council will discuss follow-up to the recent breakthrough in the Abuja peace talks. The EU needs to give support to, and put pressure on, the parties to implement the Darfur Peace Agreement as soon as possible, including through disseminating the benefits of the deal to those on the ground in Darfur.
EU Partners should now increase the pressure on the Government of Sudan to accept transition to a UN mission, and continue to provide assistance to the African Union Mission in Sudan. Co-ordination between international actors is essential if we are to avoid duplication and maximise the benefits of international assistance. The Council is expected to agree conclusions.
Nepal is on the agenda in response to recent events in which King Gyanendra, who dismissed the multi-party government of Prime Minister Deuba a year ago, restored Parliament following weeks of violent street protests. Discussion at the Council will be a useful opportunity for the UK to discuss with EU partners how we now take advantage of the opportunity of a new government to bring about a full restoration of democracy and pursue a peace process.
The EDA Steering Board also meets in Defence Ministers' formation on May 15 and is expected to agree a code of best practice for defence procurement. Ministers will also discuss how to establish a research and technology fund to be managed by the EDA, and increased targets for member states research and technology spending.
The Chair of the EU Military Committee (General Rolando Moscha-Moschini) will report to the Council on three areas of work on military capabilities: progress on the Force Catalogue; strategic lift and battle groups. The Force Catalogue is part of the Headline Goal 2010 initiative and will provide a scrutinised (evaluated for military effectiveness) listing of the capabilities which member states would draw upon in contributing to European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) operations.
In response to a request from the UN, the EU has decided to plan for the deployment of a military force, in support of the ongoing UN peacekeeping force (MONUC), during the forthcoming elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The force will consist of an advance element of approximately 500 troops deployed in Kinshasa with reserves of 1000 held over-the-horizon'.
The force generation process is underway withthe second force generation conference planned for10 May. The UK contribution to the force will be limited by our ongoing commitments elsewhere. The UK has already provided one officer to augment the EU Operations HQ in Potsdam, Germany and will deploy another officer to the French-led Force HQ which will be based in Kinshasa.
High Representative Solana is expected to brief the Council on work underway to improve the EU ability to provide a coherent response to crises. He will highlight agreement reached on how member states will, if necessary, deploy military assets in support of civilian led disaster response operations.
Council conclusions on Civil Military Co-ordination (CMCO) highlight the work undertaken by the Austrian Presidency (as part of a UK/Austria/Finland
tri-Presidency agreement and building on work started in our Presidency) to ensure effective co-ordination of EU crisis management instruments.
The conclusions welcome the Presidency's framework paper of possible solutions for the management of second pillar EU Crisis Management Operations which makes a number of concrete suggestions for improving CMCO and calls for recommendations for further work by July 2006.
We expect the Council to adopt conclusions on EU support for Security Sector Reform (SSR) in the Western Balkans. The conclusions set out seven principles for EU support: ownership of reform should
lie with the responsible authorities of the region; EU support should take a broad based approach which contributes to stability and security while at the same time being tailored for country specific requirements; EU support, including through crisis management operations, should contribute to fighting organised crime in individual countries and throughout the region; EU support should be well co-ordinated both within the EU, through cross pillar co-ordination, and with other member states activities; the need for effective sharing of information between all EU and other international actors; the need for democratic accountability and parliamentary control of SSR within each country; a stock-take and lessons-learned process to monitor progress.