Foreign Affairs & General Affairs Council blog

14th May, 2014

The last two days had me in Brussels; on Monday to attend the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) meeting in place of the Tánaiste and on Tuesday for my own General Affairs Council (GAC) meeting, which I attend monthly.


As expected, the FAC was dominated by Ukraine. As the situation has deteriorated in recent weeks, Member States were taking stock of current circumstances in a bid to decide the most effective and appriopriate way forward.


The meeting was addressed by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Chairman in Office, the Swiss President, Didier Burkhalter, who gave an outline of the roadmap the OSCE is undertaking. There was a good exchange of views and it was good to have President Burkhalter in attendance to inform the Council of the most up-to-date position.


In light of the fact that there has been no de-escalation of the current situation, a decision was taken to impose further sanctions on those responsible for violating the territorial integrity of Ukraine. This involves an expansion of Phase 2 sanctions, which sees travel restrictions and asset freezes being imposed on 13 additional individuals. This brings the total list of sanctioned individuals to 61. Sanctions were also imposed on two entities that are deemed to have benefitted from the illegal annexation of Crimea. This is the first time companies have been added to the sanction list.


The meeting also reaffirmed the fact that the EU will not recognise any illegitimate and illegal ‘referenda’ held in Ukraine. This comes on the back of people in Donetsk and, Luhansk in the east of the country, going to the polls earlier in the week, violating international and Ukrainian law. There was a call from High Representative Ashton for Russia to now implement the terms of the Geneva Declaration, the aim of which is to bring an end to violence and provocation, which were agreed on 17 April.


There has been a tragic loss of life in Ukraine in recent weeks, with the peace and stability of that country becoming more and more uncertain. It is crucial that dialogue and a path to negotiation remain open and that every effort is made to bring the situation to a peaceful resolution.


It is also imperative that free and fair presidential elections are permitted in Ukraine on 25th May and that the people of Ukraine are allowed to freely determine their own political future. To that end, Ireland will be sending a team of election monitors to Kiev under the auspices of the OSCE.


The FAC meeting also discussed the Middle East Peace Process (MEPP), the future direction of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), the recent elections in Iraq, and the horrific abductions in Nigeria. There was agreement that Boko Haram should be listed by the EU as a terrorist organisation, with the EU stressing the need for the Nigerian Government to take all appropriate steps to bring the girls back to their families.


At the FAC, I intervened on behalf of Ireland to support the role of the OSCE in Ukraine, to stress the importance of the presidential elections in that country, and to call for a renewed focus on the MEPP.


The General Affairs Council meeting of my European Affairs Ministerial counterparts took place on Tuesday. This meeting prepares the way for the European Council meetings to follow, which are attended by the member States’ Heads of State. This month’s discussion centred on the European Semester process, regulatory fitness (REFIT), climate and energy policy, Justice & Home Affairs guidelines, and the signing of Association Agreements with Georgia and Moldova. I made contributions on Ireland’s behalf in respect of the European Semester process and climate change.


Following the meeting, there was a press conference to mark the tenth anniversary of the accession of the ten new Member States in 2004. I was delighted to take part and to have the opportunity to recite Seamus Heaney’s ‘Beacons at Bealtaine’; a poem which was specially commissioned for the accession which took place during Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union at that time.