Dáil Éireann - Volume 666 - 05 November, 2008

Written Answers. - EU Council Meetings.

Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will provide a report on the most recent meeting of the EU’s General Affairs and External Relations Council; the agenda items that were discussed; and his views on such discussions as were held at that forum regarding Zimbabwe. [38388/08]

  Deputy Micheál Martin: I attended the General Affairs and External Relations Council, the GAERC, in Brussels on 13 October 2008. The meeting, which was chaired by the French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, was the fourth GAERC under [181] the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union and took place against the background of the international financial crisis.

The main item on the agenda was the preparation for the European Council on 15 and 16 October. My colleagues and I discussed the draft European Council conclusions which covered the economic and financial crisis, the energy and climate change negotiations, energy security, the immigration and asylum pact, the Lisbon Treaty and Russia/Georgia. These GAERC discussions contributed to the success of the October European Council. As Deputies will recall, the Taoiseach and I reported to this House on the outcome of the October European Council last Wednesday.

At the meeting I expressed support for Commissioner Wallström’s invaluable work on a more coherent communications strategy for Commission. I made the point that the Union needs to be more effective in the way in which it communicates with citizens.

On the financial crisis the French Presidency briefed the meeting on the conclusions of the previous day’s Eurogroup meeting. I was able to confirm to colleagues that the terms of Ireland’s bank guarantee scheme had been approved by the Commission the previous evening.

On the Lisbon Treaty, I confirmed that the Taoiseach would provide the European Council with a substantive progress report on developments since June. I informed the meeting that the Taoiseach’s report would cover the results of the independent research commissioned by the Government and the establishment of a special parliamentary Committee on Ireland’s future in the European Union. I indicated that the Taoiseach would seek to identify some of the Lisbon Treaty-related issues that would need to be addressed between now and the December European Council.

Among the external relations items discussed at the GAERC were EU relations with Belarus and Uzbekistan and the situation in Georgia.

The current situation in Zimbabwe was also discussed. The Council agreed to continue observing closely the implementation of the agreement signed on 15 September by both sides in Zimbabwe. The Council also expressed concern at the delay in agreeing on a new power-sharing Government, and urged engagement by the South African Development Community (SADC), the African Union (AU) and the UN in the mediation process led by former South African President Mbeki. The Council also reiterated its concern about the humanitarian situation and the EU’s readiness to re-engage with a new Government which brings a clear promise of change. It was agreed to consider imposing additional restrictive measures on those responsible, if implementation of the 15 September agreement continues to be blocked.

In the interim, the talks on the formation of a government of national unity have reached an impasse. This lack of progress is very disappointing, and we encourage SADC and the AU to redouble efforts to find a solution to the deadlock. The EU and Ireland stands ready to support a transitional government which begins to take genuine steps to restore democracy and the rule of law in Zimbabwe. However, we remain deeply concerned at the lack of progress to date in these negotiations.