Syria and Africa among top issues at July Foreign Affairs Council

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The crisis in Syria, relations with the Europe's Southern Neighbours and developments in Mali, Sudan/South Sudan and Somalia dominated the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday 23 July. Speaking on arrival, High Representative Catherine Ashton, who chairs the monthly meeting of Foreign Ministers from all EU countries, spoke of the "terrible situation evolving" in Syria and reiterated the EU's commitment to the Syrian people and the Annan plan.

The Council also reiterated support for political reconciliation in Zimbabwe, concern over Mali and the whole Sahel region and expressed support the African Union Roadmap for relations between Sudan and South Sudan. In addition the parties in Somalia were encouraged to end the political transition and move into a new era. Ministers also have given their support for Lebanon and the outcome of the Libyan elections. Finally, there was recognition of the progress made in Common Security and Defence Policy and the launch of three new missions.

After every point on the agenda the Council issues "Conclusions" which set out the official EU position. Below is a summary of their July meeting:

Syria - EU stands by the Syrian people

After discussions Ministers issued a statement saying "the EU stands by the Syrian people at this critical juncture in their peaceful and courageous struggle for freedom, dignity, democracy and human rights. It strongly condemns the ever increasing use of force by the regime, including use of heavy artillery and shelling against populated areas in blatant violation of its obligations under the Annan Plan and UNSC resolutions 2042 and 2043."

It went on to say that "the EU is deeply concerned about the recent intensification of violence, including in Damascus, which demonstrates the urgent need for a political transition that would meet the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people and bring back stability in Syria. The EU remains committed to the sovereignty, independence, national unity and territorial integrity of Syria."

The EU also strengthened the enforcement of the arms embargo against Syria. Catherine Ashton said that "today we are taking practical steps towards limiting the supplies that fuel the fighting."

Libya elections – a significant milestone

The Council also gave its formal support to "pluralistic and overall peaceful conduct of Libyan elections" for the National General Congress on 7 July 2012.

It went on to say that "the EU warmly congratulates the Libyan people for this significant milestone in the ongoing transition and believes that these historic elections should lay the foundation for the future democratic development of Libya."

Egypt – Catherine Ashton reports back on Morsi meeting

Speaking on her arrival Catherine Ashton said she would brief Foreign Ministers on her recent visit to Egypt where she met the new president Mohammed Morsi and a women's group. She said "I will be reporting on my successful meeting with President Morsi in Egypt at the end of last week. I was very impressed by what he said: that he believed in democracy, that he wanted to see the future of his country and we will continue to work with him on that basis and work with the people of Egypt for a successful future; we talked about how the EU can support Egypt both politically and economically in the future."

She went on to say "I was also very pleased to participate in the Women's Conference in Egypt where we were offered 4 million euros in additional support for women; our support for the women of Egypt is absolutely clear. We believe that they are 50% of the population not just in name but also in talent and in ability."

Lebanon – strong EU support for "unity, stability, independence"

The EU reiterated its strong and continued commitment to Lebanon's unity, stability,independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. The EU welcomes and supports the efforts of the Lebanese government to overcome divisions and promote national unity and peace.

Support for Roadmap for Sudan and South Sudan

In their Conclusions Ministers said that "the EU reiterates its strong support for the AU Roadmap for Sudan and South Sudan and UN Security Council Resolution 2046 (2012) and urges the Parties to implement the Roadmap/UNSCR 2046 fully and unconditionally within the given timeframe."

They said that "Sudan and South Sudan stand at an important crossroads. Full implementation of the Roadmap/UNSCR would open up a much more positive perspective for both countries, in terms of good neighbourly relations between Sudan and South Sudan and improved relations with the rest of the international community, including the European Union, allowing it to consider further support. Non-compliance, on the other hand, would have negative consequences."

Read more in the BACKGROUND NOTE: FOREIGN AFFAIRS COUNCIL - Monday, 23 July 2012, in Brussels

Mali and the wider Sahel region – concern for deteriorating situation

The situation in Mali and the impact it is having on the wider region were also discussed. Ministers condemned human rights violations and the deteriorating humanitarian situation.

Zimbabwe – EU encouraged by progress

The morning also saw Foreign Minsters say that the "the EU is encouraged by the progress that is being made in implementing the Global Political Agreement (GPA) by the Government of National Unity (GNU) in Zimbabwe". It also said it welcomed the re-engagement of the EU with all parties in the National Unity government. It also said that steps take by the Government "to improve the freedom and prosperity of the Zimbabwean" justified lifting some trade restrictions.

Somalia – strong call for an end to the transition

For Somalia EU Foreign minsters urged "the Somali leadership and all other stakeholders to implement their commitments to end the current transition on 20 August 2012 and to demonstrate they are acting in the interests of the Somali people as a whole".

Progress on Common Security and Defence Policy welcomed

Ministers welcomed the progress on Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) that has been achieved since then, as set out in the report by the High Representative Catherine Ashton.  The Council looks forward to the imminent launch of three new CSDP missions, EUCAP Nestor in the Horn of Africa, EUCAP SAHEL Niger, and EUAVSEC South Sudan as well as the continued planning for EU support to border security in Libya.

Energy and Foreign Policy

Over a working lunch Ministers discussed Energy and Foreign Policy as energy demand is due to rise by more than 50% by 2030 according to the International Energy Agency.

At a press conference after the meeting Catherine Ashton outlined the main conclusions - and also outlined humanitarian measures the EU was taking for Syrian refugees and to help those countries affected by the crisis.

From left to right: Ms. Erato KOZAKOU-MARCOULLIS, Cypriot Foreign Minister; Mr Karel ERJAVEC, Slovenian Foreign Minister