EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (file photo) (epa)
EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Monday to discuss a wide range of current issues. Their external relations agenda is topped by Iraq, Iran, and the Middle East. Closer to home, Bosnia-Herzegovina will take another step towards EU membership as it will be cleared to start talks on a key intermediate agreement. The ministers will also briefly discuss the EUís deadlocked 2007-2013 budget for which time is running short.
Brussels, 21 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The external relations part of the EU ministersí agenda -- described as "fluid" by officials as late as 18 November -- is likely to be topped by Iraq, Iran, and the bloc's impending border mission in the Middle East.
EU officials say the ministers will give the green light to long-gestated plans to open a European Commission representation in Baghdad next year. However, the timing, as well as other details -- such as the location of the mission and the security arrangements -- remain a closely guarded secret.
The ministers will hear a report detailing the EUí' contribution to the reconstruction effort in the country since 2004. Officials say the EU takes particular pride in its role as the biggest donor for the recent constitutional referendum and the wider electoral process -- expected to be capped by the election in December of a first fully constitutional postwar Iraqi parliament.
The EU has begun to look beyond the elections. One issue the ministers are likely to discuss at length today is the longer term future of EU-Iraqi relations.
Emma Udwin, a European Commission spokeswoman for external relations, told RFE/RL on 18 November that this will involve the conclusion of a partnership treaty, the precise terms of which remain to be worked out.
"Once there is a constitutionally elected government in place, clearly we have to go further in our relationship between the EU and Iraq," she said. "Now, we have already during 2005 launched what we call a political dialogue, that means there're already formal meetings between the existing Iraqi authorities and the EU. But that is a first step, we hope that we can go further with that relationship. Now, normally that means the negotiation of some kind of contractual relationship. The scope of that relationship, that new agreement has not yet been defined."
Officials say trade relations will play an important part in any eventual treaty. Energy is a key EU interest.
Other issues central to any EU-Iraq cooperation agreement are provisions for EU aid for institution-building -- likely to include guidance on political and judicial reforms, as well as more practical assistance to the country's various ministries.
Udwin confirms that one element that is certain to feature in any EU cooperation treaty is the requirement that the partner country must respect human rights and international law: "We have a wide variety of different kinds of agreement, but there are common elements that we put into all such of agreements. To name just some of them -- human rights, the fight against terrorism, nonproliferation [of weapons of mass destruction], are factors that are always integrated in a community-style agreement."
The EU ministers are also likely today to exchange views on recent reports of widespread torture and other abuse allegedly practiced by parts of the Iraqi security apparatus.
The European Commission last week expressed its "dismay" over the reports and welcomed assurances by, among others, Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari that the reports will be investigated.
EU member states and the European Commission are still incensed over comments made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad a few weeks ago in which he said Israel should be "wiped off the map." On 16 November, EU external affairs commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told the European Parliament the president had crossed a "red line" and must retract the statement.
However, most ministers today are likely to be more immediately concerned with the upcoming board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on 24 November. The meeting has been cast as a deadline for Iran to give up all uranium enrichment-related activities and return to talks with the so-called EU-3 -- Britain, France, and Germany.
EU officials said on 18 November that the ministers of the three countries will brief their colleagues on their most recent contacts with Tehran.
Agencies reported over the weekend that Iran is rejecting attempts at compromise and continues converting uranium ore into gas that it could later enrich and turn into nuclear fuel. That process can also be used to produce weapons-grade uranium. The United States has in past weeks repeated claims Iran is intent on acquiring a nuclear weapon.
The ministers will today discuss preparations for the EU's first-ever, border-monitoring mission in the Middle East. By the end of the week up to 70 EU monitors are expected to oversee Palestinian border guards on the border between Gaza and Egypt. An EU presence was one of the conditions Israel set for giving control over the crossing points to the Palestinian Authority.
The EU ministers will also discuss a planned observer mission to monitor the Palestinian legislative elections in January. The mission is creating some controversy among member states -- which have been unable so far to agree whether or not the mission should be allowed to seek out contact with candidates fielded by Hamas. Hamas is on an EU blacklist of terrorist organisations, but officials say electoral observers are normally expected to talk to all candidates.
Bosnia-Herzegovina will become the last Western Balkan country to get the go-ahead to negotiate a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU. An SAA is a crucial step towards EU membership for the countries of the region -- all of which are guaranteed eventual accession. Officials say SAA talks could start "within days" after today's expected decision.
Bosnia will also be told the EU does not intend to cut troop levels in its EUFOR operation in 2006.
The British EU presidency will make another attempt to revive EU 2007-2013 budget talks, which collapsed in June. The talks are largely deadlocked because Britain and France cannot agree on the future of the EU's generous farm subsidies. The delay is causing consternation among the EU's new eastern member states, some of which say they are already resigned to not being able to cash in on all subsidies due to them in 2007. Officials say Britain wants to wait until two weeks before the EU summit in December before it presents a new compromise proposal, in the hope that time pressure will force governments to compromise. A special meeting of EU foreign ministers will be convened for that purpose on 7 December.
EU development ministers will also discuss longer term aid priorities during their meeting.
Officials say old and new member states are at odds over whether to extend the definition of development aid to include countries the EU has so far defined as "medium income nations." Most new member states offer most of their aid to ex-Soviet countries, among them Ukraine, Moldova, and the Caucasian republics. With the exception of Armenia, the latter do not qualify for inclusion among the so-called "low income" nations the EU has so far targeted, which are mostly located in Africa.