Despite addressing many difficult topics, yesterday’s General Affairs Council did make progress in a number of areas. Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth, who led the meeting that took place during Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union, pointed out that:
The EU remains capable of action even in the most difficult times – this we have proven. We have shown that, when we’re put to the test, we will tackle the challenge collectively and in a spirit of solidarity.
Coordination in response to COVID-19
One important item on the agenda of the General Affairs Council meeting was intra-European coordination in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. EU member states were able to agree on a Council Recommendation that regulates how member states will coordinate their efforts with a view to limiting the spread of SARS-CoV-2. In this first, important step, Ministers agreed on comparable data on which restrictions are to be based, as well as on a map with a traffic light system for risk areas. This is intended to give citizens a better overview of where and how they can travel within Europe.
Minister of State Roth also highlighted that this agreement was only a first step in EU-level coordination. Germany will continue to advocate for even better and closer coordination within the Union. One of the main aims in this connection will be to maintain the freedom of travel within the Schengen area, despite the pandemic.
A first rule of law dialogue
For the first time, Ministers at the General Affairs Council meeting conducted the new so-called EU rule of law dialogue. Based on the report on the rule of law situation across the European Union and in the individual member states, they held a general discussion on the rule of law in the European Union. Beginning in November, discussions are scheduled to focus on individual member states. The systematic assessment will continue beyond Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the EU. Before the meeting, Minister of State Roth stressed the importance of the new Format:
This is a major step forward along the path to regaining a common understanding regarding the rule of law in the European Union.
More information on Germany’s efforts to promote the rule of law in the European Union is available here.
Difficult Brexit negotiations
Michel Barnier, the Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, informed Ministers about the state of play of the negotiations with the UK Government. 100 days before the end of the transition period, negotiations between the EU and the UK are barely making any progress. Ministers agreed on four priorities for the EU at this time:
- EU member states continue to support Michel Barnier’s mandate and negotiation efforts.
- Negotiations will proceed at EU level in an objective and constructive spirit. No new negotiating tracks will be opened between EU member states and the United Kingdom.
- The objective remains full implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement and, in particular, of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.
- Although the EU continues to work flat out on reaching a solution, both the EU and its member states will intensify their contingency planning so as to be prepared for a “no deal” scenario.