Member states adopted Council conclusions on the quality of public finances. The conclusions followed a discussion at the Informal ECOFIN in Brdo, Slovenia in April. This builds on conclusions on the quality of public finances agreed under the German and Portuguese presidencies in 2007. ECOFIN will return to this work in early 2009.
Member states adopted Council conclusions on the next steps on the Western Balkans investment framework. The UK supports work on the investment framework, which will bring together the donor funding streams for the Western Balkans, and is a priority for the Slovenian presidency. The Commission and EIB committed at ECOFIN to continue to support the framework.
i) Financial Stability Arrangements: Supervision, including an Update of the Roadmaps
Ministers agreed a unified set of Council conclusions on arrangements on financial stability and supervision, building on the EFC draft Council conclusions on supervision and an update of the roadmaps on Review of the Lamfalussy Process, Strengthening EU Arrangements for Financial Stability, and On Actions Taken in Response to the Financial Turmoil. The UK supports this work, which should help ensure that actions taken by the EU complement those taking place at international level. The UK also welcomes the inclusion in the conclusions of the UK proposals for supervisory colleges, intended to improve cross-border supervisory co-operation.
ii) Communication on Financial Education
The Council agreed to conclusions on financial education, which suggested some initiatives and practical assistance for helping member states to improve the levels of financial education within their countries. The UK recognises the potential value of this work, on which the UK has a strong track record at domestic level.
iii) White Paper on Mortgage Credits
Member states agreed to Council conclusions on a possible single market for mortgages. The Commission will now continue its consultation on mortgages. The UK supports voluntary initiatives that may improve EU market efficiency rather than harmonising consumer protection rules.
The Commission presented the preliminary draft general budget (PDB) for 2009 to the Council. This sets payment appropriations at 116.7 billion euros, or 0.90 percent. of EU/GNI. Negotiations on the PDB will now be taken forward at the July Budget ECOFIN Council.
The Council received an oral update from the Commission on the state of play of the dialogues with third countries, and discussed the economic and financial issues of the EU-US summit preparation and the ASEM Finance Ministers Meeting. Ministers also heard a report on the outcomes of the 13 May Transatlantic Council.
i) Indirect Taxation: Fight against Tax Fraud
The Commission gave an oral debrief to the Council on the state of play of the consideration of measures to combat tax fraud. This followed the request by the December 2007 ECOFIN and discussion at the March ECOFIN. Member states were unable to agree Council conclusions on VAT fraud, and will return to the subject at future meetings of ECOFIN. The Commission also committed to bring forward in the autumn new proposals on conventional measures to combat fraud. The UK remains strongly supportive of work that will help in the fight against missing trader intra-community (MTIC) and other VAT fraud, while remaining committed to minimising the burdens on legitimate businesses.
ii) Savings Taxation
The Commission provided an informal oral report on the functioning of the savings tax directive, in view of recent developments involving Liechtenstein investment vehicles and following the request of the March ECOFIN Council. In recognition of the importance of ongoing work to combat tax evasion, Ministers and the Commission agreed an accelerated timetable for the production of the final report, which the Commission will produce and will then be followed up by specific proposals on extending the directive. The UK strongly supports the Commissions continued dialogue with third countries with a view to bringing them into the savings tax directive.
iii) Good Governance in the Tax Area
Member States agreed conclusions containing a specific provision on good governance in the tax area. This will now be added to relevant agreements to be concluded by the Community and its Member States with third countries.
The Council adopted the conclusions on the Strategy for the evolution of the Customs Union on the 40th anniversary of the Unions creation. The UK supported the conclusions, which reiterated the main points of the Commission communication endorsing the role of customs with regard to the trade, financial and security interests of the Customs Union and supporting the need for common strategic objectives.
In advance of the June ECOFIN, the UK requested that the presidency add to the agenda a discussion of the rising cost of food and other commodities in recognition of the severe effect on consumers in the EU and in the developing world.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Alistair Darling): The Treasury is today publishing Global Commodities: a long-term vision for stable, secure and sustainable global markets. Copies are available in the Vote Office and have been deposited in the Library of the House.
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 16 June in Luxembourg. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will represent the UK.
Preparation of the European Council on 19-20 June
We expect the June European Council to focus on the policy implications of high global food and commodity prices, including oil. We need a co-ordinated international response to the challenges posed, and to ensure that we do all in our power to maintain open markets, fair trade and sustainable economic growth. We will push for all partners to reaffirm their development commitments and give fresh impetus to the achievement of the millennium development goals. We expect some discussion of Lisbon treaty implementation, though we continue to stress that no decisions can be made prior to ratification of the treaty. We also expect discussions on freedom, security and justice, and will be pushing for Heads consideration of EU input into external relations priorities such as Western Balkans, Burma and Zimbabwe.
Kosovo, Serbia, and Macedonia will probably be the focus of discussion. On Kosovo, Ministers will discuss the adoption of the new constitution on 15 June and progress made in deploying the EU police and rule of law mission, EULEX. The Government continue to support the reconfiguration of international presences in Kosovo, which should continue and intensify following the adoption of the new constitution. On Serbia, Ministers are likely to discuss the latest developments in ongoing coalition negotiations. The Government continue to hope a new Serbian Government will make further progress towards the EU. On Macedonia, Ministers are likely to discuss the recent elections and the reruns that will have taken place on 15 June. The Government are strongly concerned over incidents of electoral malpractice and violence and looks to the Macedonian Government to take the necessary action to prosecute those involved. It also hopes the new Macedonian Government will continue to press ahead with reforms needed to progress towards the EU.
In addition to discussion in these areas, Ministers will also sign Bosnia-Herzegovinas stabilisation and association agreement. The Government welcome this progress and look forward to Bosnia and Herzegovina building on the agreement to advance reforms.
Ministerial discussion is expected to focus on the situation on the ground in Gaza, the West Bank and southern Israel, highlighting the need for progress on the political process. Discussion may also focus on the EUs relationship with Israel ahead of the EU-Israel Association Council which will be held the same day. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is expected to debrief partners on his 8-9 June visit to Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territories.
On Lebanon, the Government welcome the Doha agreement that brought an end to last months crisis in Lebanon. President Sleimans election provides and opportunity to rebuild political and economically in the interests of all communities in Lebanon. Agreement on a Government of national unity is a crucial next step.
The Government are committed to supporting the process initiated at Annapolis, which has put the Israelis and Palestinians on a path to real negotiations in 2008, leading to a final settlement of two states living side by side in peace and security.
Conclusions on the Great Lakes region are expected to acknowledge the progress made towards peace in the region in recent months. The conclusions will emphasise member states duty to act to prevent support from reaching the Hutu FDLR militia. The Government recognise the role played by the FDLR in destabilising the region and firmly support such action by EU partners. The GAERC will also focus on the continued suffering caused by abuses of human rights in DRC and call for reform of the security sector in that country. Respect for the rule of law and an end to impunity for those guilty of the worst abuses of the civilian population are crucial. Embedding them is part of a wider effort to improve governance and security as DRC emerges from conflict.
We expect detailed conclusions on Sudan, expressing concern over the recent fighting in Abyei, urging respect of the North-South comprehensive peace agreement. We also support conclusions that condemn the Justice and Equality Movements attack on Omdurman on 10 May. We supported discussion of further measures against any party impeding the Darfur peace process, blocking UNAMID aid or obstructing humanitarian access.
The Government expect the Council to discuss the current situation in Zimbabwe with particular focus on conditions on the ground in advance of the second round of elections and the continued escalation of state-sponsored violence.
We expect detailed discussion of Iran at this GAERC, following the visit of Javier Solana and E3 political directors to Tehran. Solana will brief on the trip and his delivery of the refreshed E3+3 engagement offer. Following the commitment at the December European Council to consider further EU action in light of a new UN Security Council resolution, the Government fully support the strengthening of EU sanctions and will continue to press partners to take a firm stand on this issue. We will be pressing for a robust EU implementation of UN Security Council resolutions in July in the form of a new common position.
The Government expect discussion of China to focus on the upcoming Olympics and attendance by EU Heads of Government/State. Following links made between the March violence in Tibet and calls to boycott the Olympics, the European Parliament has called for a common position on member state attendance; a call which the Government do not support. The Government will be stating that it is for individual member states to decide on Olympics attendance and that our position is clear; my right hon. Friend the Olympics Minister will attend the opening ceremony and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will attend the closing ceremony. The Government are opposed to boycotts of any part of the Olympics, whether at national or EU level.
Although discussion of this topic is not yet a certainty, it is likely to focus on the process of the Doha negotiations over the coming weeks. The Government expect partners to express a range of views both on the current state of the negotiations and on the content of the revised texts (issued on 19 May). The Government strongly support the negotiating process led by WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, and our objective at the GAERC will be to ensure continued member state support for the European Commission, in order that it can negotiate the best possible DDA deal in 2008.
The Council will discuss the current humanitarian and political situation in Burma. We will highlight the continuing severity of the humanitarian crisis, the need for continued pressure on the regime to live up to its commitments on access and the need for the EU and other donors to provide political and practical support to the UN, ASEAN and NGOs on the ground. We will
also seek to draw the Councils attention to the continued lack of political progress, the regimes unacceptable decision to press ahead with its bogus referendum and to extend the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi by a further year.
The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Tony McNulty): Section 14(1) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (the 2005 Act) requires the Secretary of State to report to Parliament as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of every relevant three-month period on the exercise of the control order powers during that period.
Control orders continue to be an essential tool to protect the public from terrorism, particularly where it is not possible to prosecute individuals for terrorism-related activity and, in the case of foreign nationals, where they cannot be removed from the UK.
As stated in previous quarterly statements on control orders, control order obligations are tailored to the individual concerned and are based on the terrorism-related risk that each individual poses. Each control order is kept under regular review to ensure that the obligations remain necessary and proportionate. The Home Office continues to hold control order review groups (CORGs) every quarter, with representation from law enforcement and intelligence agencies, to keep the obligations in every control order under regular and formal review and to facilitate a review of appropriate exit strategies. During this reporting period, five CORGs were held in relation to the orders currently in force. In addition, further meetings were held on an ad hoc basis as specific issues arose.
During the period 11 March 2008 to 10 June 2008, six non-derogating control orders were made and served, one control order was renewed in accordance with section 2(6) of the 2005 Act and two control orders were revoked. One further non-derogating control order was made but has not yet been served.
In total, 15 control orders are currently in force, three of which are in respect of British citizens. Two individuals subject to a control order live in the Metropolitan Police service area; the remaining individuals live in other police force areas. All of these control orders are non-derogating.
During this reporting period, 70 modifications of control order obligations were made. 31 requests to modify a control order obligation were refused. A right of appeal exists in sections 10(1) and 10(3) of the 2005 Act respectively against decisions by the Secretary of State to renew a non-derogating control order or modify an obligation imposed by a non-derogating control order without consent, and against decisions by the Secretary of State to refuse a request by a controlled person to modify any such obligation. Eleven appeals have been lodged with the High Court by controlled persons relating to modifications to orders or the renewal of orders in this reporting period. One application for judicial review and interim relief was also submitted to the High Court.
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