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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 17 November 2008

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

General Affairs and External Relations Council

The Minister for Europe (Caroline Flint): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, my hon. Friend the Minister of State for International Development, my noble Friend the Minister for International Defence and Security (Baroness Taylor) and I represented the UK.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

General Affairs

Preparation of the European Council on 11 and 12 December 2008

The presidency presented its draft agenda, covering the economic and financial situation, climate change, the common agricultural policy, the Lisbon treaty and external relations (ESDP and Eastern Partnership).

The Government broadly welcome the presidency’s agenda. In response to a question from my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, the presidency explained that there would not be a substantive discussion of the common agricultural policy (CAP); the European Council would be invited to take note of the Agriculture Council’s decisions on the CAP health check. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary also noted that the EU’s leadership in the global financial crisis now needed to be followed up by leadership on the “real economy”. On that basis, it was important to note the need for appropriate regulation, and transparency, of economic issues; that the EU should continue to promote the millennium development goals and international development; and that there was no contradiction between a strong economy and strong action to combat climate change.

External Relations

European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP)— civilian crisis management capabilities

The Council adopted conclusions and a declaration without discussion. The conclusions endorse the progress report on the implementation of the Civilian Headline Goal 2010—which aims to improve the quality and quantity of civilians deployed on ESDP missions—and approve guidelines for lessons learned and best practice in civilian missions. The declaration sets out future work streams under the Civilian Headline Goal 2010. The Government welcome these positive steps towards further improving the EU’s ability to stabilise countries emerging from conflict.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

The presidency (Kouchner) reported on his joint visit with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on 1 November; he underlined the seriousness of the situation on the ground and the need for urgent diplomatic and
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humanitarian action. The Council agreed conclusions that expressed concern at the intensified fighting in North Kivu; welcomed increased humanitarian aid from the Commission and member states to those affected and called upon all parties to allow access for aid; condemned human rights violations in eastern DRC; supported the UN mission in the DRC (MONUC) and stressed the importance of forthcoming discussions of its mandate and capabilities; emphasised the urgency of finding a political solution, as the only way to restore long-term stability to the region; and reaffirmed the EU’s role in contributing to international diplomatic efforts to consolidate the ceasefire and ease tensions in the long term.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary welcomed African engagement and called for efforts to be directed towards redeploying or strengthening MONUC. The EU’s role should be to support international efforts to implement political agreements.

Burma

Foreign Ministers approved without discussion conclusions deploring the lack of progress on a transition to democratic government in the past year; pointing out that the 2010 elections will lack credibility unless the Burmese regime unconditionally releases all political prisoners and enters into a political process based upon dialogue with opposition groups; and recalling that the EU is prepared to reconsider its existing measures if there is no progress on these issues.

Iraq

The presidency said that the EU should enlarge its presence and intensify political contacts. The Commission highlighted existing work and said that the EU-Iraq trade and co-operation agreement could be concluded in early 2009. The Government welcome the Council conclusions, which welcomed recent progress on security and national reconciliation; committed to further technical assistance to the neighbours process; extended the mandate of the ESDP rule of law mission, EUJUST LEX, including potentially to carry out activities within Iraq; and encouraged early finalisation of the draft EU-Iraq Energy MOU.

Preparation of the 14 November EU-Russia summit

Foreign Ministers discussed the text of a presidency declaration in relation to the negotiations with Russia on a successor to the partnership and co-operation agreement.

The declaration:

The Government support the wording of the presidency declaration. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary released a joint statement with the Swedish Foreign Minister prior to the Council. The statement
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expressed deep concern about Russia’s actions and failure to withdraw to pre-7 August conflict positions and expressed support for Georgia’s territorial integrity. It makes clear that a resumption of negotiations will not be a return to business as usual, nor will the EU be turning the page on the conflict in Georgia. The EU would stick to the tough mandate that had been agreed for the negotiations. The full text of the statement can be found on the FCO website: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/newsroom/latest-news/?view=PressR&;id=8975097

AOB: Zimbabwe

The presidency described the situation in Zimbabwe as “extremely discouraging”, and said that the GAERC might need to return to the issue. The Government would support a discussion at the Council if no progress is made soon in talks on the power-sharing agreement.

Joint Session of EU Foreign and Defence Ministers

ESDPConclusions and presidency initiatives

The presidency gave a presentation on the capability initiatives that it had launched. Foreign and Defence Ministers adopted conclusions without discussion that gave an account of all current ESDP missions.

Western Balkans

On Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), High representative Solana and Commissioner Rehn briefed the Council on the future of the Office of the High Representative (OHR). The Council adopted conclusions reaffirming its full support for the HR/EUSR, Mr. Miroslav Lajc√°k; expressing deep concern at recent developments, particularly Bosnian leaders use of nationalist rhetoric and actions challenging state competences; and calling upon the Bosnian authorities to renew their efforts on reforms. The conclusions reiterate the EU’s willingness to the transition from the OHR to a stronger European Union presence; but they also call on Bosnian authorities to intensify efforts to fulfil the five objectives and two conditions agreed by the Peace Implementation Council for closure of the OHR.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary underlined the UK’s concern over the current situation in BiH and that OHR closure should only take place once the conditions had been met. In terms of a strengthened EU presence, we needed to think about arrangements which increased the incentives for Bosnian politicians to engage with Brussels, while discouraging them from reneging on the Dayton-Paris agreements.

Over lunch, the presidency briefed on the talks taking place with Serbia and Kosovo (the UN has been taking forward a dialogue with both states on transitional arrangements—“the six points”—as UNMIK draws down; the EU Secretariat has been engaging with both states on EULEX deployment).

Afghanistan

Ministers discussed the security situation in the presence of the NATO Secretary-General. They agreed that the EU was now at a point where it needed to consolidate and amplify its efforts in Afghanistan, to ensure that it remained credible and visible, and that police reform was key to ensuring security. Ministers also felt that the success of the forthcoming elections was vital. Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner said the Commission was prepared to monitor them.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary noted that EUPOL police mission needed to be the EU’s first
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priority, given that the pace of reform within the police force had not matched that of the Afghan army.

Defence Ministers

Capabilities and the European Defence Agency (EDA)

The EDA Chief Executive presented a report on the agency’s activities. Ministers launched initiatives that they had discussed at their informal meeting in Deauville for co-operation by different groups of member states including on the upgrading of European helicopters and training of pilots to be deployed to the most challenging theatres; the creation of a European air transport fleet; satellite co-operation; officer training exchanges; interoperability of European aircraft carriers and support vessels; and maritime demining projects. They also addressed the issue of restructuring European security and defence industries.

ESDP Operations

Ministers approved the establishment of operation Atalanta, an EU-led military naval mission to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia, to be launched in December and commanded from the UK’s multinational headquarters at Northwood.

They also took stock of two EU-led military operations: EUFOR Chad/Central African Republic, and Althea in BiH, including plans for the latter to transition to a military mentoring and training mission when the political and security situation allows.

Development Ministers

Afghanistan

Ministers recognised the importance of an even more effective international development effort to, for example, develop the counter-narcotics effort, build the capacity of the Afghan Government, tackle corruption and improve the justice sector. In addition, the importance of forthcoming elections and further efforts to help strengthen the position of women were also discussed. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for International Development gave his support for increased efforts in these areas, and highlighted the need for the EU to engage with the new US Administration on its approach to development in Afghanistan.

Food Security

Ministers were updated on efforts to secure a €1 billion food facility and to establish a global partnership on agriculture and food. The presidency invited member states to attend the high-level meeting in Paris on 8 and 9 December on investment in agriculture.

DohaFinancing for Development

Ministers agreed conclusions on guidelines for EU participation in the international conference on financing for development in Doha on 29 November—2 December. At the UK’s suggestion, the presidency circulated a statement which drew a link between the 7 November European Council on the financial crisis and the Doha conference, and stated that the latter would be the occasion for the EU to confirm its commitments to developing countries. The text said that developing countries should be fully associated with the financial reform process, and additionally highlighted the importance of innovative sources of finance.

Regional Integration-Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs)


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Commissioner Ashton set out her vision of the way forward on EPAs. She noted that there were WTO constraints but stressed that these issues could be revisited in the move from interim to regional agreements. Commissioner Michel emphasised the need to move ahead on regional aid for trade packages.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State for International Development noted that we still faced real challenges; the EU needed to deliver on the ground, and should continue to be flexible in negotiations with the Africa Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.

Health

Organ Donation Taskforce

The Secretary of State for Health (Alan Johnson): On 20 September 2007, I announced that I had asked the organ donation taskforce to look at the complex issue of an opt-out or presumed consent system of organ donation.

The taskforce’s terms of reference were:

The taskforce is today publishing its report “The potential impact of an opt-out system in the UK”. The report has been placed in the Library and copies are available for hon. Members in the Vote Office.

I am grateful to the chair of the taskforce, Mrs Elisabeth Buggins, and all the members for their careful and thorough examination of this subject and for producing such an authoritative piece of work. The taskforce has presented a cogent and well-balanced analysis of a substantial body of evidence drawn from a wide range of stakeholders, including healthcare professionals, organ recipients, donor families, representatives of faith and belief groups, and members of the public.

The taskforce has concluded that introducing an opt out system in the UK at the present time, whilst having the potential to deliver benefits, would present significant
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challenges on a number of fronts, and may not be necessary to deliver the improvement in donation rates we all want to see. The taskforce has therefore recommended not changing to an opt-out system at this time, but monitoring progress of implementing the recommendations of the taskforce’s first report.

The taskforce has given a clear indication that donation rates can be optimised successfully without a change in the legal framework. I therefore accept its recommendation that we should aim to raise donation rates without the added complications associated with a change in legislation, only revisiting the question of a change to opt-out if the implementation of those recommendations does not deliver the projected increase in donations.

However, I want to see more progress more quickly, to ensure that UK patients have the best possible chance of getting the treatment they need. I have therefore set a further challenge as part of the implementation of the taskforce’s second report. I would like to see 20 million people registered on the organ donor register by 2010 working towards 25 million on the register by 2013.

I also want to see our donor rates match those in many parts of Europe and rise to 1,400 donors per year by March 2013—nearly twice current levels. On average each donor can help three people in need, so this could mean an extra 1,800 people get the chance of the transplant they so desperately need.

To support this, in addition to the extra £11 million made available this year to implement the taskforce's first report we have made £4.5 million extra funding available over the two years 2008-10 for a major multimedia campaign from March 2009 to make people aware of the importance of organ donation, with further funding agreed for future years.

However, it is not all about money or setting Government targets. Achieving these ambitious aims will require not only the support of Government and the NHS, but also widespread public support. We as a society need to change the way we view organ donation. Professionals can play their part by ensuring that all potential donors are identified and donation is discussed at the right time with families. Most importantly, we all need to talk about donation with our family and friends, make our wishes known and register on the organ donor register. We may then all give someone the opportunity to benefit from a transplant after our death.


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