As the Deputy is aware, I attended the most recent meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) in Luxembourg on 14 April.It will come as no surprise, that – given the crisis in Ukraine – discussions at the Council meeting were largely dominated by recent developments in that region. Before addressing this in detail however, I would like to briefly outline the discussions that took place on other key issues.
Opening the Council meeting with short introductory remarks, High Representative Ashton updated Ministers on: the latest developments in the Middle East Peace Process; her recent visit to Egypt; the latest round of nuclear talks with Iran; preparations for the elections in Iraq as well as the recent first round of Presidential elections in Afghanistan. She also noted the outcome of several high-level exchanges that had taken place in Brussels in recent weeks, notably the EU-US energy Council, the EU-US Summit, the EU-Africa Summit and the visit of the Chinese President.
In the lunchtime discussions, Ministers had an exchange of views on Syria and Bosnia-Herzegovina; Council Conclusions were adopted in both areas.
On Syria, the EU’s emphasis remains on the importance of supporting Special Envoy Brahimi and the so-called ‘Geneva II’ political talks process and on addressing the humanitarian crisis in Syria and neighbouring countries. The scale of the humanitarian challenge was underlined by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's recent report on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2139, which noted little evidence of meaningful progress on the ground in delivering humanitarian assistance since the adoption of UN Resolution 2139.
The discussion on Bosnia-Herzegovina was wide-ranging. The EU’s efforts are firmly focussed on supporting Bosnia in its efforts to meet the accession criteria; Ireland remains a strong supporter of Bosnia’s EU perspective.
In the afternoon, we moved on to a detailed discussion of the crisis in Ukraine and for the latter part of the exchange, we were joined by Commissioner Oettinger who briefed the Council on exchanges that day with Energy Ministers, on the critically important energy dossier.
Ministers decided to expand the list of those to whom visa bans and asset freezes will apply. Preparatory work continues on so-called Phase Three measures so that further steps can be taken should they be required. Ministers also agreed to send an expert mission to Ukraine to prepare possible EU assistance in support of reform and capacity-building in the areas of policing and rule-of-law.
The FAC also adopted a Decision on macro-financial assistance for Ukraine, which brings the total amount of funding being made available by the EU to €1.6 billion. The support is part of a broader package of international support put together by the IMF and conditioned on Ukraine's implementation of wide-ranging reforms.
The EU will also continue its engagement in international facilitation initiatives involving the UN, the OSCE and others. Ireland is participating fully in these efforts: we contributed officers to two interim OSCE observer missions pending the deployment of the main OSCE Monitoring Mission which is being put in place and in which Irish personnel will also take part.
The FAC expressed strong support for the holding of free and fair presidential elections on 25 May. Ireland is sending a number of observers to Ukraine to help achieve that objective, one which will allow the Ukrainian people to determine their own future and help build trust across the country. It is in the interest of the entire region that a sovereign, prosperous, stable, democratic and inclusive Ukraine emerges from the current crisis.