Summary: 19 April 2013, Brussels - On 22/23 April, European Union Foreign Ministers will meet in Luxembourg to discuss security and defence issues.
On Monday 22 April, the ministers' working lunch (starting at 12.30) will be dedicated to a discussion on energy security and foreign policy, with emphasis on the southern gas corridor. Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger is expected to attend.
The Council will start at 14.30, chaired by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton. The Council will first debate events in the EU's southern neighbourhood, focusing on Syria and Lebanon. They will then take stock of the preparations for the Eastern Partnership foreign ministers meeting in July in Brussels. The Council will also discuss future EU relations with Myanmar/Burma and look at the situation in Mali.
Defence ministers will examine the situation in Mali and the Sahel during a working dinner (starting at 19.30 on 22 April), in the presence of 6ATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow.
A European Defence Agency steering board meeting, chaired by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton in her capacity as head of the Agency, will be held at 9.00 on Tuesday 23 April.
The Council will resume at 10.30. Defence ministers will debate preparations for the European Council on defence in December, in particular on battlegroups and the defence industry.
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The Stabilisation and Association Council with Albania will take place on 23 April at 9am (TV/photo opportunity at 10.15), chaired by Lucinda Creighton, Irish Minister for European Affairs.
Press conferences: On 22 April At the end of the Council meeting (+/- 18.30)
On 23 April After the EDA steering board (+/- 10.30)
On the Stabilisation and Association Council (+/- 11.15)
At the end of the Council meeting (+/- 12.00)
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Public events and press conferences by video streaming: http://video.consilium.europa.eu
Video coverage in broadcast quality (MPEG4): http://tvnewsroom.consilium.europa.eu
Photos of the event: www.consilium.europa.eu/photo
* This note has been drawn up under the responsibility of the press office
Energy and foreign policy
During the working lunch, ministers will discuss energy and foreign policy, ahead of a debate on energy at the European Council of 22 May. Ministers will focus on the Southern gas corridor and geopolitical considerations related to changing global energy supply patterns. They will also examine how EU foreign policy can best support the external dimension of energy policy. The discussion builds on the consideration of energy issues at the Foreign Affairs Council in July 2012.
The EU High Representative is expected to update ministers about her recent visit to Cairo.
The Council will discuss the latest developments in Syria. It is also expected to adopt legislation that will ease certain EU restrictive measures against Syria, including the oil embargo, so as to help the civilian population and support the opposition in that country, as tasked by the European Council on 7/8 February.
The Council has gradually reinforced EU restrictive measures against the Syrian regime. On 28 February, the Council extended EU sanctions until 1 June and amended the EU arms embargo so as to allow for the provision of non-lethal equipment and technical assistance for the protection of civilians.
The EU has condemned in the strongest terms the widespread human rights violations in Syria and urged an immediate end to all violence. It has called consistently for President Assad to step aside and make way for a peaceful transition, along the lines of the action plan adopted by the League of Arab States. From the very outset, the EU has favoured a political solution and fully supported the diplomatic efforts of Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi.
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), more than 1.3 million Syrian refugees have arrived in the neighbouring countries Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey as well as in Egypt and North Africa. At the same time, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates the number of internally displaced persons in Syria at 2 million. The death toll is close to 70.000, says the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The EU is the largest humanitarian donor for the Syrian crisis. The total response from EU and member states to the crisis should shortly reach a level of close to €800 million. The funds mostly go to food assistance, shelters and emergency healthcare.
For more details, see factsheet European Union and Syria.
The Council will discuss developments in Lebanon, ahead of the elections scheduled for June.
On 23 March, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy expressed concern at the situation in Lebanon, particularly after the decision of Prime Minister Miqati to step down (see statement).
According to the UNHCR, Lebanon has seen the influx of more than 400.000 refugees from Syria, mostly in northern Lebanon and the Bekaa valley. The EU has commended Lebanon for the support provided to the people fleeing violence in Syria (see Council conclusions) and supported its assistance to refugees. 28% of all EU aid to Syrian refugees goes to Lebanon.
The Council will take stock of the EU's Eastern Partnership, in preparation for the Eastern Partnership ministerial meeting in July in Brussels and the Eastern Partnership summit in November in Vilnius.
The EU's Eastern Partnership was launched at the Prague Eastern Partnership summit in May 2009. It concerns six partner countries in Eastern Europe and the Southern Caucasus: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Its objectives include accelerating political association and deepening economic integration with the Eastern European partner countries. The EU supports reforms in the partner countries aimed at consolidating democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and an open market economy. At the same time, it offers gradual integration into the European economy, greater mobility for citizens and closer political ties. Between 2010 and 2013, € 1.9 billion is allocated to support its implementation.
The Eastern Partnership provides for Association Agreements with each of the states, which are to replace the existing Partnership and Cooperation Agreements. The new accords are to include deep and comprehensive free trade agreements. Negotiations with Moldova, Georgia and Armenia are in their final stages while talks with Ukraine have been concluded. On 10 December 2012, the Council set conditions for the possible signature of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement at the Eastern Partnership summit in November. Determined action and tangible progress is needed in three areas: the compliance of the 2012 parliamentary elections' with international standards, addressing the issue of selective justice and preventing its recurrence, and the implementation of the reforms jointly agreed in the Association Agenda (see Council conclusions).
The Council will discuss how the EU can best support continued reforms and democratisation in Myanmar/Burma in the run-up to the general elections in 2015. The Council will adopt conclusions.
The EU has welcomed the steps towards a democratic transition in Myanmar/Burma, in particular the release of a substantial number of political prisoners, improved freedom of expression, assembly and association and peace initiatives towards ethnic armed groups. To encourage the reform process the EU suspended the restrictive measures imposed on the government in April 2012, with the exception of the arms embargo.
In recognition of the continuing reforms, the Council is now expected to lift the suspended sanctions while the embargo on arms and equipment that can be used for internal repression is due to be extended for one year.
In response to the change, EU development cooperation has more than doubled in value and expanded in scope, the EU being among the biggest donors. In February 2012, an additional €150 million for 2012 and 2013 were announced to support immediate needs and the country's development plans. These funds build upon existing support in the sectors of health, education and livelihoods/agriculture, while also helping to improve the capacity of government to advance its reforms. Assistance is also provided to both sides of the ethnic peace process, including internally displaced populations. The EU's ongoing development assistance portfolio in the country amounts to over €200 million. Last year, the Commission also allocated €24.7 million in humanitarian aid to the country.
The Commission has also proposed to reinstate the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) under "everything but arms". This would create the legal basis for duty-free and quota-free access for the country's products to the European single market.
For more details, see factsheet European Union and Myanmar/Burma.
The Council will discuss the political and security situation in Mali and adopt conclusions.
The EU has mobilised political and diplomatic action in response to the crisis, including a training mission for the Malian Armed Forces, funding for the African-Led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) as well as humanitarian and development aid.
The EU training mission in Mali, launched on 18 February, has started training the Malian Armed Forces in order to allow them, under civilian authority, to restore the country's territorial integrity. On 18 March, the EU also appointed its first Special Representative for the Sahel, Michel Reveyrand-de Menthon.
The EU has committed €50 million from the African Peace Facility to support the deployment of AFISMA. EU development aid, partly suspended since the coup d'état of 22 March 2012, is being gradually resumed. Almost €300 million are being mobilised, mainly for state building and support to the electoral process.
The political crisis in Mali comes in addition to the already serious Sahel food crisis in 2012, which affected nearly 18 million people in the region. So far in 2013, the European Commission has allocated € 57 million in humanitarian aid and food assistance for Mali and is working to step up its response. In 2012, the EU and its member states contributed € 111 million to humanitarian operations in that country.
For more details, see factsheet European Union and the Sahel.
The Council is expected to take a number of decisions without discussion (A-items). These include:
- Democratic People's Republic of Korea
The Council is due to adopt the legislation implementing the latest round of UN sanctions against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), as set out in UN Security Council resolution 2094 (2013). For more information on EU relations with DPRK, see factsheet European Union and DPRK.
The Council is due to adopt conclusions on Iraq, expressing the EU's determination to stand alongside and support Iraq in these challenging times. It is also expected to express concern about the increased tension and recently deteriorating human rights situation in Iraq and to call on all parties to refrain from the use of violence.
SECURITY AND DEFENCE
During a working dinner on Monday 22 April, EU defence ministers will discuss the situation in Mali and in the Sahel region.
Ministers will be briefed by Brigadier General François Lecointre, Mission Commander of the EU training mission in Mali. The mission is part of the EU's comprehensive approach to the crisis in the Sahel region. It has started to train and advise the Malian Armed Forces in order to restore their military capacity so that they can engage in combat operations to restore the country's territorial integrity. The mission also advises on command and control, the logistical chain and human resources as well as on international humanitarian law, the protection of civilians and human rights.
For more information, see factsheet EUTM Mali.
Ministers are also expected to debate the future of the African-Led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) and its needs for equipment. The EU has established a "clearing house" mechanism to coordinate the military support of member states and other international partners to AFISMA, including the transportation of equipment, personnel and ammunition.
Ministers will also be briefed about the state of play of the other EU military operations.
European Defence Agency Steering Board
On Tuesday 23 April, Ministers of Defence will first meet in the composition of the European
Defence Agency (EDA) steering board, under the chairmanship of Catherine Ashton as the head of the Agency. EDA member states are all EU member states but Denmark.
Defence Ministers will be updated on progress on some of the Agency's key initiatives: Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR), Satellite Communications and SESAR (Single European Sky Air traffic management Research). Regarding AAR, ministers are expected to endorse a roadmap for the pooled acquisition and operation of a Multi-Role Tanker Transport fleet. This initiative is part of the Agency's four complementary and parallel pillars for short- medium- and long-term solutions to addressing the AAR capability shortfalls. EDA will also present its concept for "Secure Telecom by Satellite" where, through Pooling & Sharing, significant savings can be achieved. As regards SESAR, Defence Ministers are likely to adopt a new programme for SESAR implementation to reinforce expertise in EDA.
The Agency will also present to Defence Ministers its proposals for the December 2013 European Council where Heads of State and Government will discuss defence topics. It will propose to the steering board a number of actions to support operations; the launch of dual-use "Pioneer" projects, initially in the areas of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) and cyber defence; technology non-dependence; and an action plan on SMEs.
Preparations for the European Council on defence
The European Council in December 2013 is set to include a debate on defence. The December 2012 European Council asked for preparatory work on three issues: increasing the effectiveness, visibility and impact of the CSDP (Common Security and Defence Policy); enhancing the development of defence capabilities; and strengthening Europe's defence industry. The EU High Representative is expected to present by September 2013 proposals on strengthening CSDP and improving the availability of capabilities (see European Council conclusions, paras 20 to 25).
-Taskforce on the defence industry
The Council will be updated on the work of the Commission's taskforce on defence industry and markets by Antonio Tajani, Commission Vice-President responsible for industry and entrepreneurship. This relates to the third issue outlined by the European Council.
The objective of the Commission's task force is to address ways to reinforce the European defence industrial base and the internal market as well as to improve the competitiveness of the European defence industry. It has identified three priority areas for action: internal market, industrial policy as well as research and innovation.
In October 2012, a Commission communication ("A stronger European industry for growth and economic recovery") stated: "Despite the implementation of the defence package, the defence sector still maintains a strongly national dimension and is therefore unable to benefit from the potential economies of scale that are necessary to improve competitiveness and profitability." The Commission also announced that it would propose an action plan aimed at strengthening European Defence by enhancing the competitiveness of the defence industry and the efficiency of the defence market.
The Council will discuss the first thematic cluster (improving the effectiveness, visibility and impact of the CSDP) and in particular EU battlegroups. An EU battlegroup is a rapidly deployable, multinational group of forces capable of stand-alone operations or initial phases of larger operations. In its generic composition, it has a strength of around 1500 personnel and is reinforced as appropriate with combat support elements. Battlegroups are intended for a range of possible crisis management operations outlined in the EU Treaty and requiring a rapid response. Operations would usually be conducted under a UN Security Council resolution.
Battlegroups are based on a core of troops of a framework nation or a coalition of member states. They are on standby for a six-month period and their deployment should be initially sustainable for 30 days. Since January 2007, two battle groups have been on standby for each six-months period. Discussions in the Council are ongoing on facilitating commitments by member states.