As always, I welcome this opportunity to address the committee on recent developments at the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels and Luxembourg. My statement will focus on meetings held in April, May and June, along with the joint meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council and Justice and Home Affairs Council, which was held in April. As the Chairman said, I will look ahead to the Council meeting later this month. During the period under review, a large number of issues have been addressed by the Council on which I will provide an update to the committee. Following that, I would be more than anxious to address any issue the committee may wish to raise and to hear members' perspectives on foreign policy matters and the many challenges we face.
The first topic I wish to address is that of migration, which was discussed by the Council at the extraordinary joint meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council and Justice and Home Affairs Council in April. The foreign policy aspects of the crisis were considered further at the Foreign Affairs Council meetings in May and June. Members of the committee are all too aware of the migrant crisis that has been unfolding in the Mediterranean. Instability and conflict across the Horn of Africa, north Africa and the Middle East have led to unprecedented numbers of people being displaced from their homes. The chaotic situation in Libya since 2012 has led to that country becoming a point of departure for migrants from several countries seeking to enter Europe by sea, often with tragic results. Almost 2,000 people have drowned so far this year attempting the crossing compared with fewer than 500 in the same period last year. The number of arrivals has also increased significantly since last year.
In light of the tragic events in the Mediterranean over the weekend of 18 and 19 April that saw more than 700 migrants drown, the High Representative convened the extraordinary joint meeting on 20 April to consider the EU's response. At that meeting, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, and I reiterated our horror at the recent events in the Mediterranean and our determination to find solutions jointly with our EU partners to address a crisis of such a large scale.
Discussions on migration continued at the May meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council. The crisis has also been discussed extensively in others formats, most notably the Justice and Home Affairs Council and meetings of the European Council on 23 April and on 25 and 26 June.
The EU recognises that the response to the migration crisis in the Mediterranean and to migration in general must be comprehensive. This is the clear message that has emerged from the European Council. In the immediate term, lives must be saved. This is happening. In the longer term, the root causes of irregular migration need to be addressed, particularly in partnership with countries of origin and transit. These issues will be addressed comprehensively at a summit between the EU and the African Union that will take place in Malta next November.
An element of the EU's comprehensive response is the common security and defence policy mission in the southern central Mediterranean. It was established at the May Foreign Affairs Council and subsequently launched at the June Foreign Affairs Council. The aim of the mission is to disrupt the business model of people smugglers and traffickers and ultimately to contribute to saving lives at sea. The mission will implement its mandate in phases. The first phase will focus on the detection and monitoring of migration networks through information gathering and patrolling on the high seas in accordance with international law. A second phase will involve the boarding, search, seizure and diversion of vessels suspected of being used for human smuggling or trafficking. A third phase provides for taking measures against such vessels, including through their disposal or rendering them inoperable.
As a result of the decision by the Foreign Affairs Council in June, phase one of the mission can now commence. The Council will decide on when to make the transition between the different phases, taking into account any applicable UN Security Council resolution and the matter of consent by the coastal states concerned. Ireland has continued to highlight the importance of UN Security Council resolution support for transition to later phases of the mission.
A separate discussion on Libya took place at the April Foreign Affairs Council and was given added priority by the role that instability in Libya is playing in the ongoing migration crisis. Our discussions focused in particular on the political process within Libya. While the failure to reach agreement by the June target date set by the UN is a matter of regret, the Council expressed its hope that further negotiations under the leadership of United Nations Special Representative, Mr. Bernardino León, could lead to an element of accommodation between the parties.
I will now briefly discuss Latin America and the Caribbean. The April Foreign Affairs Council held, for the first time since 2009, a strategic discussion on relations with Latin America and the Caribbean.
The exchanges were timely in preparation for the EU-Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, CELAC, summit which was held on 10 and 11 June. The Council agreed that the Latin America and Caribbean region is a key like-minded partner for the EU. Together, we hold almost one third of votes at the UN and we constitute almost half of the G20, as well as together representing the highest number of democracies in the world. At the Council, I welcomed the discussion, stressing the importance of re-energising the relationship. I welcomed the ongoing negotiations towards a political dialogue and co-operation agreement with Cuba and the fact that human rights were at the heart of these negotiations, as well as highlighting the importance of the re-engagement of the US with Cuba. I also stressed the importance of the changing development co-operation relationship which must ensure that the new approaches to development meet the current needs of the Latin American communities, particularly with regard to the post-2015 development agenda.
I remain very concerned about the worsening situation and the escalating humanitarian crisis situation in Yemen, which was also discussed at the April Council meeting. Since the beginning of the attempt to depose President Hadi, the humanitarian, political and security consequences have become draconian for the Yemeni people and threaten the stability of the Gulf region. I call on all parties inside Yemen and regional stakeholders to support the UN-led efforts for agreement on the formation of a government of national unity and an end to the violence.
At the May Foreign Affairs Council, Ministers, accompanied by defence Ministers, adopted a comprehensive set of conclusions on common security and defence policy, CSDP in advance of the June European Council at which a discussion on CSDP was to take place. The conclusions adopted by the Foreign Affairs Council were subsequently endorsed by EU Heads of State and Government at their meeting in June. At the Foreign Affairs Council, Ministers also reviewed progress to date in implementing the work programme emanating from the December 2013 European Council discussion on CSDP and identified areas where further work needs to be undertaken. The conclusions highlight the fact that the EU and its member states, through CSDP and other policy instruments, have a strong role to play in preventing and managing conflicts and addressing their causes. The aim is to enhance the effectiveness of the EU's contribution to international peace and security and ensure that the capabilities required for that purpose are provided. Ireland is a strong supporter of CSDP and we believe that it has been strengthened in the past 18 months through the implementation of the work programme emanating from the December 2013 European Council. We were satisfied with the outcome of the Foreign Affairs Council and the subsequent European Council discussions, which we believe renewed the commitment of member states to developing a more effective, visible and results-orientated CSDP. At the May Foreign Affairs Council, Ministers, in the presence of defence Ministers, received a presentation from the High Representative on her proposal to develop a new European foreign policy and security strategy in consultation with member states. Many member states, including Ireland, have in recent years conducted reviews of their own national foreign policy strategies and I believe it is timely that a similar exercise is conducted at EU level. It will be important for this exercise to look at all areas of EU external action in a coherent and comprehensive manner. We also wish to see the new foreign policy and security strategy continue to emphasise the global role of the EU and that the EU's values, such as human rights, continue to be strongly reflected in the external action of our Union.
Members will be aware of the concern I have been expressing over a long time that the Middle East peace political process has effectively been suspended since early last year. The need to urgently address a succession of crises elsewhere in the region has undoubtedly reduced recent international attention on the Middle East peace process. I have made clear my view that the deteriorating situation on the ground and the threats to the two-state solution require renewed attention and effort starting with the EU. I believe that existing EU policies have not been sufficient to advance or even protect the two-state solution and we need to seriously re-examine our positions and actions. I set out these views in detail to open a discussion on the Middle East peace process at the May Foreign Affairs Council, the first such discussion for some time on the overall issue rather than specific aspects like political talks or Gaza. That discussion will be continued at future Councils, including the upcoming meeting in July. I will not pretend that it will be an easy discussion. Many partners are concerned about the viability of any initiatives in the current unstable environment in the Middle East but I look forward to hearing the views of my colleagues and working to re-animate the peace process.
In June, the Foreign Affairs Council had a strategic debate on Asia focusing on promoting multilateral security structures, especially in the context of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN; the strategic partnership with China; and better connectivity with Asia. Ireland is supportive of stepping up engagement with multilateral Asia, particularly ASEAN. On security, I said that it would make sense for the EU to continue to deepen its security co-operation with the countries of the region, encouraging reconciliation and the peaceful resolution of all territorial disputes in the region in accordance with international law. The EU should also focus on clear and consistent advocacy in non-traditional security challenges such as climate, energy and migration. On the EU-China relationship, I said that Ireland is supportive of regular review of priorities to ensure they take account of developments in China and its rapidly growing global profile. Ireland supports exploring synergies between European networks policies and China's One Belt, One Road initiative, advancing our investment agreement and market access agenda and fostering convergence on views on global challenges, as well as promoting human rights. On connectivity, I emphasised that improvements in this are key to the next stage of development in the Asian region. Infrastructure could be transformative for the achievement of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda as well as poverty reduction. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, as well as ambitious ASEAN plans for improving regional connectivity, could make a useful contribution in that regard. The Council also adopted conclusions on the forthcoming elections in Myanmar-Burma and on EU-ASEAN relations, welcoming the new momentum in EU-ASEAN relations and underlining the EU's commitment to supporting ASEAN regional integration and to further deepening relations.
The June Council meeting also saw an exchange of views with UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon on EU-UN co-operation. This year marks both the 60th anniversary of Ireland's membership of the UN and the 70th anniversary of the UN itself. I was particularly pleased to welcome the Secretary-General to Ireland in May to celebrate these milestones with us and to reaffirm once more Ireland's commitment to a strong and effective United Nations. At the Council, the UN Secretary-General spoke in very warm terms regarding the current level of EU-UN cooperation, highlighting in particular this year's financing for development post-2015 and climate change negotiations.
In June, the Council held a discussion with Commissioner Maroš Šefovi focused on the EU's energy union and the increased inter-linkage between the EU's energy and foreign policies. The overall objective of the discussion was to consider how foreign policy actions can support and advance EU energy priorities. One example of this relates to the diversification of EU energy supplies which can be advanced through the development of strategic partnerships with key international partners. I believe there is a compelling case for greater international co-operation to respond to the challenges associated with energy. Global energy demand will continue to increase during the next decade and supply is likely to continue to be concentrated in regions afflicted by political instability and uncertainty.
The worrying situation in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council in June. The discussion continued the next day at the General Affairs Council, which adopted Council conclusions on the subject. Along with our European partners, we have been concerned about the political instability in the country for some time. We have consistently said that it is the responsibility of both government and opposition to ensure that political debate takes place primarily in parliament and have called for a full investigation into allegations of wrongdoing.
We have called on the leaders of the political parties to work to find a resolution to the political crisis and we welcome all efforts, including those of Commissioner Hahn and a number of Members of the European Parliament, to redress the situation and restore stability in the country. In this regard, we were pleased to see the agreement reached on 2 June, brokered by the EU. We believe that this is a first step on the path to addressing the political crisis.
I wish to deal now with the upcoming July Council meeting, which, in addition to the Middle East peace process, will discuss the post-2015 agenda, Iran and climate change. The situation in Tunisia is also expected to be discussed. The timing of the July Council is very opportune for a discussion on the post-2015 agenda, as the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, which is to be held in Addis Ababa and which will be the first of the three major interlinked processes that will define the new global development agenda for the next 15 years, will have just concluded. Following the conference in Addis Ababa, the new sustainable development goals, SDGs, which are at the heart of the post-2015 development agenda, will be agreed at the September summit in New York and a new agreement on climate will be concluded at Paris in December. Success in Addis Ababa is critical to success in the other two processes.
As members are aware, Ireland was honoured to be appointed, along with Kenya, to co-lead the intergovernmental negotiating team on the SDGs at the UN. Negotiations on financing for development and on the SDGs are ongoing and making progress. We remain optimistic that there will be a successful outcome in the financing for development track, which aims to establish the means of implementation for the new sustainable development goals. The contours of an agreement on the means of implementing the SDGs will need to be broad, going very significantly beyond official development assistance and focusing strongly on domestic resource mobilisation for development, improving tax-raising capacity, curbing illicit financial flows and tax evasion and the role of the private sector. In advance of the Addis Ababa conference, Ireland has helped broker the agreement reached by EU development Ministers at their May meeting to reconfirm the European Union's collective commitment to reaching the 0.7% target within the timeframe of the post-2015 development agenda, that is, 2030, and on the need to direct more aid to the least developed countries, especially to the poorest African countries. Agreement in Addis Ababa is very important in order to finalise the agreement on the SDGs. We will then have to agree on how to fit the Addis Ababa agreement in with the agreement on post-2015 goals. July will be a good opportunity to ensure the highest possible level of political participation by the European Union and its member states at the summit in September. I am pleased that the Taoiseach will lead the Irish delegation and will deliver the national statement on the first day, 25 September next, and that the President, Michael D. Higgins, has agreed to participate in events on 26 and 27 September.
Preparations for the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties, or COP 21 which will be taking place in Paris later this year and at which climate change will be discussed will also be discussed at the forthcoming July Council. This is the third element of the interlinked processes leading to a new global development agenda. COP21 is charged with agreeing a "protocol, legally-binding agreement or other outcome with legal force, applicable to all parties". The European Union negotiates as a bloc in these discussions and Ireland inputs at EU level through a national delegation, which is led by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, and which includes a range of Departments and agencies. Ireland will play its role as part of the European Union contribution to the global effort. The European Union has submitted a joint intended national determined contributions, or INDC, for all 28 member states, which commits to a binding target of at least 40% domestic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared with 1990 to be fulfilled jointly, as set out in the European Council conclusions of October 2014. Ireland encourages all countries to submit ambitious INDCs as a crucial means of allowing all to see what is on the table before we go to Paris. Support for developing countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change continues to be a key issue in the negotiations.
In light of the recent tragic events in Tunisia and the appalling attack on tourists, which took the lives of three Irish holidaymakers, it is expected that the forthcoming July Council meeting of Foreign Ministers will consider what actions the EU can take. Tunisia has made real progress towards democracy since the overthrow of the Ben Ali regime in 2011. ISIS is trying to undermine the emergence of a pluralistic society in Tunisia and by killing tourists, to undermine the Tunisian economy in the hope of creating hardship and instability. We need to strengthen Tunisia's democracy and security and ensure that the safety of our citizens is not at risk from further terrorism. Our discussion will also clearly have to address how best the European Union can support the appropriate balance between the competing needs of security, and democracy and openness.
Finally, the July Council is expected to reflect on the outcome of the Iranian nuclear negotiations, which we very much hope will be positive in nature. As members know, the deadline for the negotiations was extended for a week to yesterday, 7 July, and another very short extension has now been granted to next weekend. As US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has said, the negotiations are clearly on a knife edge: very close to success but also teetering on failure if Iran cannot make the final steps to secure the agreement. We all know the potential importance of this agreement for removing a source of serious danger and instability in the Middle East and we encourage all parties to persevere with a view towards succeeding.
I thank the Chairman and members for their time and patience in allowing me to review what I think they will agree has been the very varied and diverse agenda with which the Foreign Affairs Council has dealt in recent months. I would be happy to address any questions members may wish to pose and I look forward to hearing their views on the issues to which I have referred and any others they may wish to raise. I reiterate the importance of the parliamentary tier in the context of foreign affairs policy and related issues. I acknowledge the work the Chairman and members of the committee undertake on an ongoing basis in terms of their bilateral engagement with their counterparts in other states and in the context of their contribution regarding many of the important international challenges we face. I also acknowledge the committee's contribution to seeking to alleviate hardship and difficulty in many of the crisis areas across the globe.