Afghanistan, the Middle East Peace Process and new sanctions on Syria were three key aspects of the Foreign Affairs Council held in Brussels on 14 May. The day also saw a meeting on Development where a new "Agenda for Change" proposal was adopted which will make EU Development aid more responsive to a changing world. The meetings were chaired by Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign affairs chief and brought together Ministers from the 27 members of the European Union.
The Council reaffirmed EU's long-term commitment to Afghanistan
In their meeting EU Foreign Affairs ministers reaffirmed the long-term commitment of the EU to support Afghanistan during its transition and period of transformation. At the same time, the Council stated that this commitment requires a reciprocal and genuine effort by the Afghan authorities to meet the agreed reform obligations. In line with this, it was agreed that the EU will continue to prioritise Afghanistan, making an enhanced contribution to support for the country. Catherine Ashton said that EU's support in Afghanistan would focus on "governance, including significant work with the Afghan police force, and the rule of law, as well as on sectors like health and rural development."
The Middle East Peace Process – two-state solution reaffirmed
The Middle East Peace Process was also discussed and Ministers reaffirmed the EU's commitment to a two-state solution to the conflict and urged that the viability of such a solution be maintained. Reiterating its fundamental commitment to the security of Israel, it expressed at the same time deep concern about developments on the ground which threaten to make a two-state solution impossible, including in area C of the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.
Safety of humanitarian workers in Syria
The Council discussed recent events in Syria, reiterating its call on the Syrian authorities to fully and immediately comply with Special Envoy Kofi Annan's six-point plan as endorsed by the UN Security Council. It underlined that a complete cessation of violence by all parties is an essential step. Given the gravity of the situation, the Council once more strengthened EU restrictive measures against the Syrian regime. Catherine Ashton was worried about the situation in Syria, and described the continuing violence in the country as "appalling".
The 27 EU Ministers were yesterday highly concerned about the safety of peace observers in Syria. The EU called on all sides to respect the safety of humanitarian workers and deplored the death of two humanitarian workers killed on 24 and 26 April. The EU reiterated its call on the Syrian authorities to grant immediate, unimpeded and full access of humanitarian organisations to all areas of Syria in order to provide relief to the one million people identified as in need of humanitarian assistance.
Development policy - An Agenda for Change?
During their meeting Ministers also discussed ways in which the EU's Development policy could be changed to meet the needs of a changing international environment. The "Agenda for Change" is to reflect the way in which many developing countries have either themselves become donors and some Least Developed countries (LDCs) have seen high growth rate.
The message from the meeting stressed that the "rapidly changing global environment and the new international aid architecture require a more comprehensive, responsive and effective approach in EU external action and development policy. The Arab Spring is a case in point".
In particular human rights, democracy, the rule of law and good governance will remain at the centre of the EU's efforts it said.
The Council adopted its second report to the European Council on EU development aid targets. It notably reconfirmed the collective commitment of the EU and its member states to increase aid spending to 0.7% of Gross National Income by 2015.
Myanmar/Burma: New reforms herald Development cooperation
As a sign of the continued reform process in Burma/Myanmar, the Council also discussed ways in which the European Union can work with the authorities in the country to phase in development aid. Promoting ethnic peace, economic and social engagement and donor coordinating are all areas set to see cooperation between the European Union and Burma / Myanmar.