European Union foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg today for their monthly talks will cover an extensive foreign policy agenda. EU officials say the centerpiece of the meeting will be Iraq and the upcoming donors conference in Madrid. Ties with Iran and the situation in the Middle East will also figure prominently, as will Russia, relations with the bloc's new neighbors and the compliance of the western Balkan countries with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
Luxembourg, 13 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union's growing foreign policy ambitions are reflected in a correspondingly increased workload faced by the foreign ministers representing the 15 current and 10 future member states.
Iraq will top the meeting's agenda. More precisely, the focus will be on preparations for the donors conference scheduled to take place in Madrid on 23-24 October.
The European Commission has already proposed a 200 million euro ($234 million) contribution from the community budget for Iraq in 2004. Officials say the offer has been well received in member state capitals, which will have to approve it and are likely to supplement it with individual pledges.
However, EU officials speaking off the record say no figures are available yet as to how much the member states are prepared to add. One official said some could "declare their hand" today, but others may wait for more detailed sector-by-sector reports on Iraq's needs. The reports will spell out the background to the "headline figure" of $36 billion for four years put out by the World Bank earlier this month.
Officials deny reports that some member states are not prepared to make additional individual pledges going beyond the 200 million euros coming from the joint EU budgets.
An EU official briefing reporters on 10 October said the 200-million euro joint EU pledge will need to be approved by a plenary sitting of the European Parliament on 23 October. Some deputies have called for an increase in the funds, whereas others indicate their approval will depend on whether a new UN Security Council resolution on Iraq has been agreed by then. EU ministers are also expected to approve the design of a multi-donor trust fund into which the EU money will go, and which will remain separate from the Iraqi Development Fund set up by the U.S.-led coalition authorities. Details of the trust fund will be made public in New York tomorrow.
Officials say EU foreign ministers are likely to hear requests from member states to reconsider the policy options the EU has available to influence the situation in the Middle East.
France and the Netherlands were mentioned as among those pushing for a debate going beyond the otherwise expected routine reiteration of EU concern. However, no details of possible new EU measures are available.
An EU official on 10 October said the fundamental EU position has not changed -- member states still believe the road map to peace approved by the United States, the EU, the United Nations, and Russia remains the best option for both sides of the conflict. However, the official noted, both Israel and the Palestinians "clearly lack the political will" to implement it.
The ministers are likely to express concern over the growing rift between Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei. The EU will also repeat its wish to see a fully "empowered prime minister" at the helm of the Palestinian administration, separate from the president and in full control of security forces.
Arriving in Luxembourg today, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana expressed concern over delays in forming a stable Palestinian government, as well as over what he called Israel's "disproportionate" use of military force. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw also lamented the delay in setting up a new Palestinian government.
Nuclear issues and the evolving human rights dialogue will dominate the ministers' discussions of Iran.
Officials say relatively little new is expected on the nuclear front, where the EU is still awaiting Iran's response to the 31 October deadline set by the International Atomic Energy Agency last month.
The ministers are likely to express satisfaction with the evolving human rights dialogue between the EU and Iran. They will also take note of Iran's continuing moratorium on death sentences by stoning, increased access provided to UN representatives, and continuing judicial reforms.
Nevertheless, officials say, given that serious human rights concerns persist, the EU must decide whether it wants to resume its past practice of tabling resolutions in UN committees condemning the situation in Iran. One official said the EU commissioner for external relations, Chris Patten, believes dialogue and engagement are bringing results.
Discussions on Russia will deal with three major issues -- the modus operandi of the new Permanent Partnership Council tasked with streamlining EU-Russian cooperation, preparations for the summit in November, and Russia's progress toward membership in the World Trade Organization.
The Permanent Partnership Council was agreed at the St. Petersburg summit in May, and its first meeting is scheduled for 28 October in Moscow. Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen will represent the EU, but officials in Brussels say the bloc's Italian presidency has asked for a debate on a Russian request that all five current and new member states be represented.
One official said the ministers are expected to be almost unanimous in rejecting the Russian call, as it would not sit well with the aim of streamlining and improving the efficiency of the existing political dialogue.
Turning to the EU-Russia summit in Rome on 6 November, the official said many points on its agenda remain open.
The EU was said to have four main objectives. First, to improve Russia's understanding of enlargement. The EU side argues it will have no negative implications for Russia, but if some were to arise, Russia would not be entitled to any compensation, as it is not a member of the World Trade Organization.
Secondly, the EU wants to "encourage" cooperation on common challenges in the fields of environment and justice and home affairs, as well as the fight against terrorism and dealing with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Thirdly, the EU is trying to engage Russia in "joint solutions" to regional conflicts, especially Transdniester, but perhaps also Georgia. The EU views Russia as a key player in both cases. The official quoted above said good progress has been made toward signing an agreement with Russia allowing it easy participation in the EU's forthcoming military missions. Ukraine and Canada are expected to sign similar agreements.
Finally, the EU is seeking further definition of a number of common spaces agreed with Russia. Whereas there is already a task force dealing with the Common European Economic Space, the official said very little "beyond labels" has been agreed on the others, such as external security, research, and education spaces.
Whilst acknowledging Russia's request for visa-free movement in the long term, the EU will reiterate its position that Russia will need to secure its southern and eastern borders, sign a readmission agreement committing it to taking back illegal immigrants, and ratify border agreements with Estonia and Latvia.
The ministers will also be briefed on the progress the European Commission has made with its Wider Europe project to offer opportunities for integration to its new neighbors after enlargement.
EU leaders approved the concept at their Thessaloniki summit in June, and the European Commission has set up a special task force headed by Verheugen.
Verheugen will brief the ministers on ongoing work on action plans for seven of the new neighbors -- Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, and the four Mediterranean countries with which the bloc has Association Agreements -- Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, and Israel.
The plans will list short- and medium-term EU priorities, including benchmarks and time frames for measuring progress. They will focus on five main areas -- enhanced political cooperation, cooperation on common security threats, the approximation of regulatory and legislative frameworks for closer economic integration, enhanced collaboration on crime and immigration, and the development of joint energy, transport, and communication networks.
An EU official said the action plans will "refine the incentives" the EU is offering to each of the countries, as well as set out a list of commitments that it will be seeking from each of the countries in exchange.
The action plans will be made public next spring, when the Commission will also present a broad strategy paper and reports on each of the seven frontrunners among the new neighbors.
Finally, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Carla del Ponte, will brief EU ministers on the compliance of the western Balkan countries.
Officials say she will note that a number of unfulfilled demands remain, and will -- along with the EU -- underline that compliance with the ICTY must extend beyond the handover of indictees to include access to witnesses and archives.
An EU official said the EU views the issue extremely seriously, adding that any failure to comply can only jeopardize the countries' good relations and further integration with the EU.
The official said del Ponte's criticism is likely to be lightest in the case of Croatia, where the prosecutor has said considerable cooperation exists, with the exception of the arrest of remaining fugitive General Ante Gotovina.