EU foreign ministers approve mandate to begin negotiations with Russia on new agreement

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia
Press Release
May 27, 2008

On 26 May in Brussels, the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) meeting took place, with the participation of Foreign Minister Maris Riekstins. Under the auspices of the GAERC, there was also an EU defence ministers meeting with the participation of the Latvian Defence Minister Vinets Veldre, as well as a development co-operation ministers meeting, with the Foreign Ministry’s Under-Secretary of State Maija Manika representing Latvia.

At the outset of the GAERC meeting, the foreign ministers approved without discussion the mandate for commencing negotiations with Russia on a new EU-Russia Partnership and Co-operation Agreement, thereby attesting that the reservations to date expressed by the member states have been duly reflected in the negotiation mandate and its attachments. The approved negotiation mandate comprises all possible areas of co-operation and provides an opportunity to address during the talks all issues that are of importance to Latvia.

At the GAERC general affairs session, the member states agreed on the draft agenda for the 19-20 June European Council meeting, which includes important issues such as the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty, the climate and energy legislative package, the rise in food prices, the extension of the eastern dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy, the Western Balkans, and EU progress in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.

At the GAERC external relations session, opinions were exchanged on Georgia, focussing in particular on the 21 May parliamentary elections and their results, and on the relations between Georgia and Russia. The Council positively assessed the fact that, regardless of existing challenges, the elections overall took place in accordance with international standards, but at the same time expressed concerns about the increased tensions in Georgia-Russia relations. Participating in the exchange of opinions, Foreign Minister Maris Riekstins urged the EU to be more active in supporting the peace initiatives proposed by the President of Georgia, to render assistance to Georgia in carrying out democratic reforms and to facilitate the resolution of issues such as the introduction of eased visa procedures and trade liberalisation.

On the issue of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the European Commissioner Peter Mandelson informed foreign ministers on the current situation in the WTO multilateral trade liberalisation talks. The EU foreign ministers exchanged views about the texts of discussions about agricultural and industrial goods market access as disseminated on 19-20 May, and also about the further negotiations process of the WTO Doha development round.

The EU foreign ministers also reviewed the current situation in Serbia after the parliamentary and local government elections on 11 May, and discussed issues concerning the situation in the Middle East. The GAERC external relations session also addressed the current political, security and humanitarian situation in Africa – in Somalia and Zimbabwe. On the issue of Iraq, the EU member states debated EU’s contribution to Iraq and the annual review conference on the International Compact with Iraq organised jointly by Sweden, the United Nations and Iraq, which is to be held on 29 May in Stockholm.

At the GAERC meeting, Foreign Ministers of Sweden and Poland gave presentations on the EU Neighbourhood Policy in relation to the need to deepen relations with the EU eastern neighbouring countries.

During the GAERC meeting, foreign ministers in a joint session with defence ministers examined the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), its missions and operations. In preparation for the International Conference in Support of Afghanistan to be held in Paris on 12 June, ministers exchanged opinions on the current situation and the kind of support required for Afghanistan, emphasizing the need for a UN co-ordinated and strategically coherent co-operation among the international assistance donors. The ministers also approved the adoption of the revised EU guidelines on children affected by armed conflicts.

The EU defence ministers at the GAERC meeting dealt with issues such as the European Defence Agency, the European Security and Defence Policy – EU operations in the Western Balkans and Africa, and also military capabilities.

On the evening of 26 May in Brussels as part of the GAERC meeting, the EU development co-operation ministers discussed issues on the promotion and protection of children’s rights in the EU’s external activities – in the field of development and humanitarian issues, with a particular emphasis on the elimination of child labour.

Representatives of the EU member states discussed current issues related to the rendering of assistance to Burma/Myanmar, acknowledging that work should continue with the authorities of Burma/Myanmar so as to expedite the delivery of humanitarian aid and allow international humanitarian aid providers to participate in the distribution of assistance.

The meeting of the development assistance ministers within the GAERC will continue on 27 May, with discussions on the EU contribution toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals in preparation for the UN high-level event on this subject in New York on 25 September 2008, and on the Economic Partnership Agreements between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.