Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


Letter from Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP, Minister for Europe, Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the Chairman

  The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will take place on 27 February in Brussels. My Right Honourable Friend the Foreign Secretary will represent the UK. The agenda items are as follows:


  Preparation of the European Council, 23/24 March. The Presidency will update the Council on preparation for the Spring European Council. This will be on the basis of the traditional annotated agenda setting out the issues, with an indication of likely Conclusions. Substantive discussion will take place at the 20 March GAERC.

  Financial Perspective: Inter-Institutional Agreement (IIA). The Presidency will give a readout of its 21 February trilogue with the European Parliament on the IIA for the 2007-2013 Financial Perspective. The Government attaches great importance to reaching agreement on a new IIA that fully respects the deal reached by the European Council in December


  Schengen visa fees. The Council is expected to have a short discussion on a proposed increase in the fee for a Schengen visa from €35 to €60. Some Member States remain concerned about the proposed increase which we understand reflects the costs of the introduction of the Visa Information System and the collection of biometric data. The issue was also discussed at the JHA Council on 21 February. No decision is expected until April. The UK will not participate in this measure which constitutes a development of the Schengen acquis.

  Western Balkans. Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn will debrief on his and Commission President Barroso's recent visit to the region. The Council is expected to agree Conclusions covering the Montenegrin referendum, Kosovo and the need for Serbia to co-operate fully with ICTY to ensure continued EU progress.

  Iraq. We expect that discussion will focus on negotiations on the formation of the Iraqi government. The Foreign Secretary will offer an update on the situation on the ground, following his visit to Iraq on 20-21 February.

  Reactions in the Muslim world to publications in the European media. We expect the Council to offer support to the efforts of CFSP High Representative Javier Solana and the Presidency to foster dialogue following reactions to the cartoons which have appeared in some European press.

  Iran. The Council is expected to discuss the outcome of the 4 February IAEA Board; developments since that Board; handling of the 6 March IAEA Board; and what may happen at the UN Security Council. The Council is expected to agree Conclusions.

  MEPP. CFSP High Representative Javier Solana is expected to brief the Council on his visit to the region on 15-17 February. We expect discussion will focus on the situation following January's Palestinian Legislative Council elections and Hamas' victory. The Government believes the EU should continue to be guided by the Quartet statement of 30 January.

  Children in armed conflict. The Council is expected to discuss how best to ensure greater EU enlargement in tackling the issue of Children in armed conflict (CAAC). The UK has been active in international fora in encouraging progress in this area. We played a key role in the process of negotiating and adopting UNSCR 1612 which establishes the first comprehensive system of monitoring and reporting on the use of children in armed conflict, and in drafting the biennial review and recommendations under EU CAAC guidelines under our EU Presidency last year.

  Democratic Republic of Congo. The Council is expected to discuss the EU's response to a UN request for the provision of an EU deterrent force, which could be deployed if necessary, to support MONUC (the United Nations Mission in the DRC) during the forthcoming election period. The Government believes the EU should consider the request favourably, taking into account expert military advice, contributions Member States can make and the political situation in DRC. Owing to the UK's heavy operational commitments, any UK contribution would be confined to planning support. The Council is expected to agree Conclusions but not agree a specific option for EU assistance. The Government believes it important that the EU notes the constraints on its ability to provide support to DRC in addition to current and future engagement in Darfur.

22 February 2006

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