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Rural Payments Agency (Performance Targets 2010-11)

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): I have set the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) the following performance targets for 2010-11.

Service delivery quality

To administer common agricultural policy and other schemes to meet the following requirements:

Customer impact

To demonstrate a continued commitment to customers by achieving a minimum annual average customer satisfaction score of 7.5 out of 10.0, as measured through surveys of external customers.

To increase electronic uptake of RPA services by receiving:

Value for public money

To demonstrate clear progress towards achieving the Treasury disallowance target of 2 per cent. or less of fund value, for all CAP schemes administered by the RPA.

Achieve a 9.8 per cent. efficiency saving in revenue budget by the end of the 2010-11 financial year by managing service delivery within indicative budget levels.

For the single payment scheme, achieve a cost per claim reduction of 15 per cent. for processing costs.

Capacity and capability

To demonstrate improved capacity and capability to meet targets and implement change with particular focus on leadership, (core to RPA) data quality, financial performance and contributions in response to the DEFRA review and the Public Accounts Committee.

Further details are given in the RPA business plan for 2010-11 and copies are available on their website.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Consular Fees Order 2010

The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has recently undertaken a review of the fees charged for visa and consular services, both in the UK and overseas. On 10 February 2010 Her Majesty in Council approved the Consular Fees Order 2010. This revokes and replaces the Consular Fees Order 2009. The Government are today announcing changes to the consular fees to be charged under this order with effect from 6 April 2010.

Fees for passport applications made in the United Kingdom remain at current levels whereas the fees for passport applications made abroad including applications for temporary and emergency passports and the new emergency travel documents have increased by 2.90 per cent. which is the current rate of inflation.

The fees for legalisation services have also increased in line with inflation.

Fees for receiving applications for entry clearance to Commonwealth countries, British overseas territories and Crown dependencies continue to be charged in the order and have increased since last year. These fees are "Home Office fees" and are approved by the Home Office Minister but are still contained within the Consular Fees Order.

Other consular fees, representing a range of services performed at posts abroad, are also set to increase by 2.90 per cent.

It is right that those who benefit from consular services should meet the cost of them, rather than the UK taxpayer. The new fees represent the full economic cost of what we do, and will ensure that British missions continue to provide a high standard of service to consular customers.

Details of the new fees will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

General Affairs and Foreign Affairs Councils

The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): The General Affairs Council and Foreign Affairs Council were held on 22 March in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary represented the UK.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

Foreign Affairs Council

The provisional report of the meeting can be found at: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/113482.pdf

Iran

The agreed 'A' points included a EU declaration on free access to information in Iran calling on the Iranian authorities to stop jamming satellite broadcasting and internet censorship. There was no FAC discussion. A text of the declaration can be found at:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/113468.pdf

Haiti

High Representative Ashton and Humanitarian Affairs Commissioner Georgieva briefed on their recent visits, stressing the need to learn lessons and review structures.
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The Commissioner said humanitarian efforts must continue for at least 12 months and should take account of the coming hurricane season. Both the High Representative and the Commissioner said the EU needed to do more to raise its visibility. Development Commissioner Piebalgs noted the need to push for realistic reconstruction plans at the donors conference on 31 March in New York.

Ministers agreed conclusions on Haiti including on the donors conference. These can be found at:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/l13466.pdf

Afghanistan/Pakistan

The High Representative introduced the new double-hatted EU Special Representative (EUSR) for Afghanistan, Vygaudas Ušackas, and urged member states to give him their full support to implement the EU's action plan. She stressed the need for the international community to maintain momentum generated by the London conference and ensure the Afghan Government fulfilled its commitments. The EUSR said his three key tasks were to merge the two existing EU offices in Kabul, establish a close working relationship with member states missions on the ground and increase the EU's visibility.

The Foreign Secretary said the EUSR should make his own distinct contribution to the international effort and suggested three objectives: to become the effective EU political voice on the ground; to ensure that EU activities were a catalyst for progress-including integrating EUPOL with NATO efforts and supporting local governors; and to develop a coherent EU development strategy.

The High Representative said she was considering options on EUPOL and would share her thoughts with member states in due course. She looked forward to a discussion on implementing the action plan at the April FAC.

A text of the agreed conclusions can be found at:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/113468.pdf

On Pakistan, High Representative Ashton urged member states to show support ahead of the 21 April summit, especially on generalised system of preferences (GSP+). We should back Pakistan economically as well as politically. The Foreign Secretary strongly endorsed the importance of EU trade with Pakistan.

Middle East

The High Representative briefed on her visit to the region of 18 March.

The Quartet Representative (Tony Blair) set out the difficulties facing the peace process. Europe had a key role in helping progress negotiations. The Foreign Secretary stressed the need to support proximity talks, which needed to focus on substantive issues.

AOB:Ukraine

The Commissioner, Štefan Füle, said the Commission was taking forward the action plan, including with the new Ukrainian Foreign Minister this week, and would revert with further recommendations at a future FAC.

AOB:Moldova

Member states urged the Commission to speed up the provision of macro financial assistance to Moldova which Enlargement Commissioner Füle confirmed would
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commence in April. He noted the visa dialogue was expected to start on 15 June and he had written to the Moldovan Government asking them to follow the Venice Commission's advice on future constitutional reform.

AOB: Libya/Switzerland-Visas

Ministers discussed the Libya/Swiss bilateral dispute, which had resulted in Libya refusing visas to citizens of all Schengen countries. The High Representative undertook to give clear messages to the Swiss Foreign Minister at their meeting on 24 March.

AOB: Western Balkans

Slovenia gave a short brief on the Brdo Western Balkans conference of 20 March reaffirming the leaders' commitment to joining the EU, meeting the required criteria and promoting good neighbourly relations.

Foreign Affairs Council and General Affairs Council

The General Affairs Council and Foreign Affairs Council met in joint session, chaired by the High Representative and the Presidency (Mr. Moratinos), to discuss the European External Action Service (EAS).

The High Representative presented progress so far. She committed to present her proposal shortly, noting this needed to be agreed by both the Council and the European Parliament. She hoped all institutions involved would recognise each others' perspectives and work together to deliver a coherent service. She highlighted the financial and staffing regulations and the budget as areas where a constructive approach was necessary. And Ministers should engage with national Parliaments ahead of discussions with the European Parliament.

The Foreign Secretary set out the UK's support for the EAS as a shared project and a great opportunity. The EAS needed to have the capacity to add value and this should include having a complementary role on cross-cutting policy issues such as climate change and migration. He stressed the need for merit based appointments.

General Affairs Council

The provisional text of the Council's discussion and agreed 'A' points can be found at: http://www.consilium .europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/genaff/l13481.pdf

Europe 2020 Strategy

The Presidency (Mr. Moratinos) invited comments on the draft European Council conclusions covering Europe 2020 and climate change.

Ministers discussed the Commission's proposals on competiveness, the setting of targets, the stability and growth pact and financial regulation.

The Foreign Secretary stressed the need to send a clear signal about the EU's response to the economic crisis. We also needed to learn from the Lisbon strategy and work towards achievable, relevant targets that were set and owned at member state level.

Climate Change

On climate change, the Foreign Secretary led a number of member states in stressing the need to maintain ambition, implement the Copenhagen accord and move forward on fast start financing and mitigation/adaptation.


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Dinner with President Herman Van Rompuy

The President of the Council hosted a General Affairs Council dinner where Europe 2020, European Council working methods and external relations were discussed.

On Europe 2020, member states discussed the Commission's proposed targets in areas such as poverty and education and the need to reconcile these with national targets.

Western European Union (British Membership)

The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): The Western European Union (WEU) has played a valuable role in discussion on European security. It embedded the principle of mutual defence in post-war Europe, promoted consultation and co-operation on defence and security matters in Western Europe and has conducted operations in a number of vital theatres, including the Persian Gulf and the Adriatic. Members from both Houses, past and present, have played a valuable role in pursuing the UK's interests within the WEU and I would like to take this opportunity to pay warm tribute to their efforts.

But the WEU's mutual defence role was essentially symbolic as soon as NATO was established and successive UK Governments have made clear, as the Lisbon treaty does, that NATO is the forum and the foundation for collective defence of the allies.

Moreover, the operational role of the WEU has been succeeded by the EU, following the UK/French initiative to create security and defence policy capacity in the EU. With this development, which NATO and the US specifically have welcomed, it is clear that the Western European Union is no longer relevant to today's European security architecture. While the UK recognises the role the WEU Assembly has played in engaging the views of national parliamentarians from across Europe on European defence, we do not believe this justifies the cost of over €2 million a year to the UK alone.

For that reason, the UK intends to withdraw from the Western European Union. In accordance with the modified Brussels treaty, we will formally inform the Belgian Government of our decision in April 2010. A 12-month notice period will then follow, during which the UK will remain a member of the WEU, giving an opportunity for discussion on how to develop cross-European parliamentary scrutiny of European defence issues.

Given the inter-governmental nature of the EU's common security and defence policy, we believe that this remains entirely a matter for national Parliaments and co-ordination between them. There is no reason and no case for the European Parliament to expand its competence in this area.

We are in discussion with other WEU member states on this issue. Many of them also believe that the time has come to radically reform or close the organisation. Following this announcement, we will continue to engage our European partners on this issue and on future cross- European parliamentary scrutiny of European defence.

We will also seek to use this opportunity to improve the exchange of information and engagement between the EU and NATO, including the involvement of non-EU NATO European allies in European defence.


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