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Brussels, 16 March 2001
The European Commission Background Note on the General Affairs Council on 19 March
Key items are
Preparations for the Stockholm European Council
The ministers have an opportunity to discuss all main items on the Stockholm agenda. The Presidency has drawn up a synthesis document (ref. 7171/01 LIMITE POLGEN 3) that provides a brief overview of the preparatory work carried out by the Commission and the Council since Nice.
The principal contributions from the Commission can be found from a special web site (http://ec.europa.eu/stockholm_council/) and they are
The discussion with the President of Russia
is intended to focus on economic and trade relations between the EU and Russia. Time will not allow for an extensive discussion on a wider variety of topics. The meeting itself is expected to last for approximately an hour followed by lunch. Preparations for the meeting continue. It is probable that the discussion will mainly cover economic co-operation and investment conditions in general.
In this context other possible issues include
Are likely to be discussed during a joint dinner for Heads of State and Government and Foreign Ministers on Friday 23rd. Possible topics include
European Security and Defence Policy
The purpose of the discussion is to draw the attention of the Member States to the call for contributions recently issued by the Swedish Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Justice with regard to the definition of concrete targets for an EU police rapid reaction capacity. This specific call is, in the view of the Swedish Presidency, the preparatory step to the holding of a Police Conference on May 10th. The Conference is to be held at the level of the national Heads of Police.
The Commission's contribution in support of police operations focuses on local capacity-building technical assistance in countries dealing with crisis or emerging from crisis. This contribution is provided under external aid programmes. It could be envisaged that in crisis situations the Rapid Reaction Mechanism would also be used for this type of activity. Against the background of increasing demands by some MS of common funding (Community or CFSP) to cover costs of deployment (e.g. common equipment for police forces), it should be noted that, neither the RRM, nor other budgetary instruments as currently constituted, allow the Commission to fund the deployment of police forces in executive missions.
If Council were to decide on common funding for EU police deployment in the future, this would probably require substantial amendment to existing budgetary instruments.
The Commission is participating actively in developing concrete targets in the four areas identified by the Feira European Council : police, rule of law, civilian administration and civil protection.
A number of things will be discussed. These include
Bosnia and Herzegovina
In the general elections (11th November 2000) non-nationalists received a majority for the first time since Dayton (1995). After about four months, governments have now been constituted at state level (under Bozidar Matic), in the Federation (FBiH - under Alija Behmen) and in Republika Srpska (RS - under Mladen Ivanic). All three governments declare themselves to be reformist and willing to take "ownership" of the reform programme (although doubts remain about SDS influence on RS government). With these governments (which in FBiH and at state level are based on a disparate and shaky "Alliance for Change"), BiH may have "turned a corner". Nevertheless, obstacles to success, including a determined nationalist opposition remain.
The intensity of nationalist opposition is indicated by the current stand-off between OHR/IC and the Croat nationalist HDZ. Objecting to changes in election rules before the November elections, HDZ (which gained an overwhelming majority of the Croat vote) refused to co-operate in government formation. A "Croat National Council" on 3 March 2001 proclaimed an "Inter-Cantonal Council", a form of Croat self-administration. With the support of the entire international community, HR Petritsch judged this (and the demand for full cantonisation of BiH or the creation of third Croat entity) to be incompatible with Dayton; he removed Ante Jelavic from his position as member of the BiH presidency. Further moves against HDZ extremists including a visa ban - are under consideration, but channels of communication with HDZ moderates and the Bosnian Croat population remain open.
The situation has calmed a little. NATO, with EU support has brokered a cease-fire on 12 March between armed Albanian groups and the FRY security forces before negotiations proper start. NATO has agreed to the gradual return of FRY forces, conditional on withdrawal of heavy armour, to the less sensitive parts of the 5 kilometre buffer-zone along the Kosovo boundary (ground security zone).
This was extremely difficult for the Albanians groups to swallow who have placed a caveat in the cease-fire agreement. Lightly armed VJ troops returned to Sector C (the sensitive border with FYROM) on 14 March. The next deadline is 19 March, by which preparations for start of negotiations should begin. There is still disagreement as to where and with whom.
EC had already given almost €1m in humanitarian assistance and assistance under the Energy for Democracy and Schools for Democracy programmes to the region. On 15 February the Commission announced a further € 900 000 for 24 projects, identified with local mayors (school reconstruction and furnishing, water supply networks, garbage trucks and containers) under the Schools and Towns for Democracy programmes. We're also examining what can be done under 2001 funds for Serbia - not a specific programme for region, but disproportionate coverage under priority areas already identified with FRY/Serbian governments.
There is real alarm over the turn of events in recent days. Foreign Minister Kerim will be received on Monday at 9 am by FM Lindh, HR/SG Solana and Commissioner Patten and is likely to meet Ministers over coffee.
Tension between FYROM security forces and armed Albanian groups remains high. The attacks on 14 March in and around Tetovo have alarmed everyone. Some inhabitants in a number of small villages along the border have fled their homes but there have been no large scale population movements. KFOR has taken action to clear the Kosovo side of Tanusevci, the village which the extremists first occupied. Things now appear to have improved with joint operation on 13 March to clear the village of Tanusevci on both sides of the border to allow the inhabitants to return.
The FYROM government has been active in the UN Security Council, NATO and the EU (Foreign Minister Kerim addressed the Political and Security Committee of the Council) securing support for its handling of the crisis. On the whole it has carried the largest ethnic Albanian political party with its policy. The EU has commended FYROM's restraint so far and encouraged its continuation. The Commission has flagged up its assistance to promoting inter-ethnic reconciliation between the majority Slav and minority Albanians, notably through support (€5m) to the politically important Albanian language university in Tetovo. We are also talking to Skopje about helping to improve border management.
Events in FYROM and Presevo may well overshadow discussion. The Commission expects the Council to approve conclusions on this question. The Commission wants to
The Presidency and Commission will report on the recent (12th and 13th March) visit of the troika to Middle East.
The Commission decided on Tuesday 13th March to allow the convertion of up to € 60 million from a special cash facility to possible direct budgetary aid to the Palestinian Authority. The facility was set up last December to provide reimbursable loans to the Authority to help it to continue to function in situations where Israel did not transfer revenue due to the Authority.
Payments will not start unless the Palestinian Authority meets the conditions attached to the assistance. These include reductions in core items of expenditure and monitoring by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The Commission decision to is part of an overall EU attempt to address the current problems of the Palestinian Authority and to assist the parties to de-escalate. The effort consists of
Since December the situation on the ground has worsened, as has the economic and budgetary situation of the Palestinian Authority, due the closure of the Palestinian territories by Israel. Since the beginning of the crisis in October 2000, Palestinian economic activity has decreased by 50%, poverty rate has increased from 21% to 32% and unemployment affects 38% of the population. In addition, the closure policy and the financial crisis have severely eroded the ability of the Palestinian Authority to function as an institution.
Under these circumstances, the special cash facility is no longer the most appropriate way of meeting the needs of the Palestinian Authority.
The decision is in line with the conclusions of the General Affairs Council meeting of 26 February, which stressed the need for the EU to play an important role in a concerted international effort aiming at avoiding economic and institutional collapse in the Palestinian territories. It is intended to organise a meeting of potential donors, probably in early April in order to take forward a co-ordinated international effort to provide financial support to the Palestinian Authority.