I propose to take Questions Nos. 50 and 51 together.
I attended the most recent meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels on 27 May. As you will be aware, the deteriorating situation in Syria and specifically discussions around the renewal of the sanctions package - including the arms embargo – dominated the meeting. I will return to this point.
In her opening remarks, High Representative Cathy Ashton mentioned the successful outcome of the High-level Donors Conference on Mali which had taken place in Brussels on 15 May. Pledges at the Conference exceeded the target of €2bn, with Ireland pledging new funding of €2.5m for Mali. The Council adopted Conclusions which underscored the EU's support for the implementation of the transition road map. HR Ashton gave a short update to Ministers on the latest round of EU-facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. It is hoped that the implementation plan for the agreement reached between the two sides in April will be fulfilled by the end of this year.
HR Ashton and the UK Foreign Secretary noted the successful outcome of the London conference on Somalia on 7 May, which raised $350m for justice, security sector and governance development programmes.
Ministers had an exchange of views on the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) in preparation for the discussion on defence issues scheduled to take place at the European Council meeting in December. In my intervention I noted the importance of civilian CSDP missions as instruments for advancing the EU's foreign and security policy objectives, and the importance of the December European Council also addressing these missions. I agreed with other colleagues on the need to improve the management of civilian CSDP missions to ensure that they respond effectively to developing needs.
While it was hoped to have a detailed discussion at the Council about the Middle East Peace Process, due to time constraints it was agreed that this item would be postponed until next month's meeting, when it is also intended that Conclusions will be adopted.
As mentioned, discussions at the Council were dominated by consideration of the ongoing crisis in Syria in advance of the deadline for renewal of the EU sanctions package on 31 May. There was strong and unanimous support among member States for efforts to reach a political solution in Syria. The EU is extending its full support to the initiative of the US and Russia to bring the parties to the negotiating table on the basis of the Geneva Communiqué of June 2012. As emphasised in the Council Conclusions, the EU will continue to work with all stakeholders to try and find a peaceful solution to bring the conflict to an end.
The Council renewed its commitment to respond to humanitarian needs in Syria and in neighbouring countries, notably Lebanon and Jordan, and urged all donors to fulfil pledges made at the Kuwait humanitarian conference on 31 January. Renewal of the EU sanctions package, and in particular the arms embargo, was the subject of long and intensive discussion among member States. In my intervention, I set out the Irish position, in particular our view that lifting the arms embargo is unlikely to assist efforts to achieve a political resolution. On the contrary, the provision of arms to the Syrian moderate opposition, no matter how well-intentioned, is only likely to contribute to further militarisation of the conflict and to greater levels of violence in Syria and in the wider region. I further stated the Government's belief that lifting the arms embargo runs the clear risk of endangering the US-Russia led "Geneva II" initiative.
The Council agreed to extend, for a twelve-month period, all of the existing restrictive measures in place against Syria and its current rulers, with the exception of the arms embargo. It is obviously a matter of regret that we were unable to agree to renew the arms embargo. As a result, this will now expire on 31 May. It is important to emphasise that all 27 member States of the EU remain fully united in their desire to promote the earliest possible end to violence and a political resolution leading to transition and the establishment of a functioning democracy in Syria. In the Council Declaration that accompanied the Council Decision on renewal of the sanctions package, it was noted that no member State intending to do so will proceed at this stage with the delivery of arms to Syria. The Council agreed to review its position before 1 August on the basis of a report by the High Representative on the developments related to the US-Russia initiative and on the engagement of the Syrian parties.
Despite these difficult discussions, it is worth repeating that the EU remains fully supportive of, and engaged in, the efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution to this appalling conflict and to address its horrendous humanitarian consequences. This position has been clearly affirmed in the Conclusions adopted by the Council on 27 May which can be accessed on the official EU website (links below).
- Council conclusions on Syria:
http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_Data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/137316.pdf (original version - EN)
- Council declaration on Syria:
http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_Data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/137315.pdf (original version - EN)