EU General Affairs Council appealed to the parties of Middle East crisis

The General Affairs Council of the European Union, meeting in Luxembourg on October 29, expressed concern on the tense situation in the Middle East. The absence of any political prospect is fuelling further confrontation and playing into the hands of extremists, the foreign ministers said. The statement urged Israel to withdraw its forces from the Palestinian controlled areas and pressed Palestinians to stop the strikes against Israel. They appealed to both parties for the restart of peace negotiations.
The foreign ministers recalled the primary objectives of the Madrid Conference that launched the peace process 10 years ago – the creation of a viable and democratic Palestinian state and an end to the occupation of their territories as well as recognition of Israel´s right to live in peace and security.

The EU foreign ministers confirmed their support to the US led military operations in Afghanistan.
The meeting also dealt with EU´s relations with the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan. The EU Presidency foreign minister Louis Michel will leave for Central Asia on Tuesday, October 30 followed by an EU delegation. They will have talks in Uzhbekistan, Tadchikistan, Turkmenistan and Russia on ways how the EU could promote development in these countries.

The General Affairs Council also discussed the situation in the West Balkans, especially the implementation of the framework agreement on Macedonia, the elections to be held in Kosovo on November 17 and the Stability Pact for South East Europe. An association agreement was signed between the EU and Croatia.

Consultations with Zimbabve on human rights

The EU foreign ministers expressed their grave concern on the human rights situation in Zimbabve by launching the procedure of consultations with Zimbabve according to article 96 of the EU`s Cotonou Agreement with African, Caribbean and Pacific Nations. This article calls on such talks with any signatory state considered to have failed to respect democratic principles and the rule of law.

Preparations for the WTO Ministerial Conference in Doha

The GAC discussed the preparations for the 4th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation. The EU believes that a new global round of trade negotiations can be launched in the conference starting on November 9 in Doha. Minister for Foreign Trade Kimmo Sasi said that agriculture will certainly be the most difficult question. Fishing is also a delicate matter to some EU member states, in addition to a rapid reduction of tariffs for textile products. According to Sasi, another complicated issues is the protection of intellectual property, especially the patents of medicines.
That the conference will be held in Doha is an expression of support for the moderate Arab states, said Minister Sasi. Only exceptional events in the neighbourhood of Doha could mean its relocation.

The Council also reached a political understanding on the taxation of the pay for members of European Parliament. In addition to community tax they can also be taxed nationally. Finland supported this alternative. The new rules of procedure for the MEPs are to be agreed upon before the Summer of 2004, when the next elections for the European Parliament will be held.

Conclusions of the General Affairs Council(Linkki toiselle web-sivustolle.)

Additional information: Counsellor Helena Tuuri, Europe Division, tel 1341 5079