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Meeting in Neumünster Abbey in Luxembourg on 14 March 2005, the chairpersons of the Foreign Affairs Committees of national parliaments of the Member States and candidate states welcomed the Prime Minister and current President of the European Council, Jean-Claude Juncker.
As an introduction, the Prime Minister gave a brief report on preparations for the European Council meeting of next 22 and 23 March. Regarding the Stability and Growth Pact, Jean-Claude Juncker informed the national representatives that meetings of Ministers for the Economy and Finance in the Eurogroup and the enlarged Eurogroup will take place on Sunday, 20 March, and that it will be necessary to "reach an agreement in order to be able to discuss the next steps under the best conditions."
Regarding the Lisbon Strategy, Jean-Claude Juncker noted that it is essential "to safeguard the original Lisbon balance adopted in March 2000" among the three economic, social and environmental pillars. On this latter point, the Prime Minister indicated that "we want a more balanced environmental policy in order to meet the requirements of sustainable development."
Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker then answered various questions from chairpersons of national parliament committees, essentially on foreign policy issues.
About Russia, Jean-Claude Juncker stated that Russia is and will continue to be a priviliged partner of the Union. According to Jean-Claude Juncker, "of all the Russian presidents, Vladimir Putin is the one who, more than others, is oriented towards Europe."
About Croatia, Jean-Claude Juncker pointed out that the General Affairs and Foreign Relations Council of Wednesday 16 March, will have to take a decision on the beginning of negotiations, but according to the Prime Minister, "Member States are under the opinion that Croatia's cooperation with the European Union is not full and entire." Jean-Claude Juncker stated that "we are going to try to find a wording for the conditions based on which the negotiations could begin.(…)" Referring to the conclusions of the European Council of 17 December 2004, according to which "the European Council has asked the Council of the European Union to reach an agreement on the framework so that accession negotiations can open on 17 March 2005, provided that Croatia cooperates fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)," Jean-Claude Juncker considered "that there are no conditions other than those decided in December 2004."
On the Middle East and the Israel-Palestine conflict, Prime Minister Juncker said that "the international community must show that it is prepared to react to the efforts undertaken by the Palestinian Authority.(…) No matter how difficult the past has been, friendships are emerging. I have asked the Palestinians and the Israelis to write me a joint letter on their needs for the very short term. If we receive this first joint letter, the European Union will have given birth to an event that would have been unthinkable just a few months earlier."
Regarding the situation in Lebanon and Syria, Jean-Claude Juncker indicated that "pressure on Syria must continue for there to be a complete withdrawal of the army and secret services. In response to a question about the conditions set by United Nations Resolution 1559 – the resolution requires Syrian forces to withdraw from Lebanon and the armed branch of Hezbollah to be dismantled – the Prime Minister answered that "the troop withdrawal may not be sufficient." Taking as an example the many demonstrators present in the streets of Beirut over the past days, Jean-Claude Juncker added that "Hezbollah has demonstrated that it is a political force that cannot be ignored."
On Cyprus and Turkey, the Prime Minister acknowledged that it was "difficult to get those who have problems, not with the European Union, but between the two of them, to meet in the same room." Jean-Claude Juncker declares "that a UN initiative would be desirable once the Cypriots and Turks have agreed to speak directly to each other. I have not given up hope that we can create the climate to resolve this issue."
Regarding Iran, Jean-Claude Juncker stated that the three European Foreign Affairs Ministers dispatched to Iran "did a remarkable job. (…) The Americans see this initiative with a good dose of scepticism," but "the European Union has to show that the political and diplomatic options can also bring about results."
Finally, on transatlantic relations, the President of the European Council observed that even though "we still have disagreements, (…) the gap in viewpoints is narrowing and relations are improving."
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