General & Foreign Affairs Councils: Serbia-Kosovo deal welcomed, Syria sanctions eased

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The General Affairs Council (GAC) and the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) were held in Luxembourg on Monday 22 April. High Representative Catherine Ashton briefed EU Foreign Ministers on last week's Serbia – Kosovo deal. The agreement paves the way for the normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina.

This deal led the European Commission to issue a recommendation on Monday to Member States to begin EU accession negotiations with Serbia and to open negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA). The meeting also saw the EU ease specific sanctions against Syria, including the oil embargo, to help the civilian population and support the opposition in that country.

General Affairs Council (GAC): Serbia – Kosovo deal welcomed

Ireland's Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore (as Dublin holds the rotating EU Presidency) briefed ministers on discussions with the European Parliament for the next multiannual financial framework (MFF).

In addition, Ministers heard a presentation by the Commission of joint reports by the Commission and High Representative on Serbia and Kosovo, as well as a Commission report on the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The Council took note of progress made by all three countries in the areas identified in the Council conclusions of 11 December 2012. The Council in particular welcomed the agreement reached last Friday between Serbia and Kosovo on the principles governing the normalisation of the relations between them. Ministers acknowledged the historic dimension of the deal, congratulated the two countries' Prime Ministers for their political commitment and thanked the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) for helping to broker the deal.

The Council took note of an initiative for a new and more effective mechanism to safeguard fundamental values in member states.

Foreign Affairs Council: Certain EU sanctions eased against Syria

The Council eased certain EU sanctions against Syria, including the oil embargo, to help the civilian population and support the opposition in that country.

Authorities in EU member states can now authorise three types of transactions: imports of oil and petroleum products, exports of key equipment and technology for the oil and gas industry to Syria and investments in the Syrian oil industry. Before approving any such transaction, authorities will consult with the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces and ensure that the transactions do not circumvent EU sanctions against Syria, specifically the asset freezes on those associated with the violent repression. Today's decision comes in the wake of the Council's announcement that it would "assess and review, if necessary, the sanctions regime against Syria in order to support and help the opposition" .The EU import ban on Syrian oil and petroleum products was imposed in September 2011.

The Council took stock of the situation in Myanmar/Burma and welcomed developments towards democracy, a strong parliament and freedom of expression. It congratulated the government of Myanmar/Burma on what has been achieved, but was conscious that there were still significant challenges to be addressed. In response to the changes, the Council decided to lift all sanctions with the exception of the arms embargo, which it extended for one year.

The Council also examined the situation in Mali and reiterated its determination to support efforts to eradicate the terrorist threat in the Sahel and in Mali. It welcomed the Malian commitment to implementing the roadmap for the transition and organising free, credible and transparent elections in July. The Council was also prepared to envisage additional EU support for the judiciary and domestic security in Mali.