I represented the UK at the General Affairs Council (GAC) in Brussels on 18 July 2019. From September 1 until exit day, the UK will no longer attend most EU meetings, in order to make the best possible use of UK resources. The UK is still committed to the duty of sincere cooperation and this decision is not intended in any way to frustrate the functioning of the EU. A provisional report of the meeting and the conclusions adopted can be found on the Council of the European Union’s website at:
Multiannual Financial Framework 2021 - 2027
The Presidency presented its plan for approaching the next phase of negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for 2021-2027, and indicated its commitment to the European Council’s objective of concluding the MFF by the end of the year. To prepare for discussions between EU Leaders on the MFF in October, the Presidency outlined a new timetable for delivery and prepared a questionnaire for Member States to complete over the summer. The Commission welcomed the timetable and noted the need to consider the views of the new European Parliament.
Presentation of the priorities of the Finnish Presidency
The Presidency delivered a presentation on its priorities for the next six months. The overarching priorities include strengthening common values and the rule of law; making the EU more competitive and socially inclusive; strengthening the EU’s position as a global leader in climate action; and protecting the security of citizens comprehensively. Other issues to be discussed throughout 2019 in the GAC format include the MFF, rule of law, enlargement and hybrid threats.
Implementation of the Strategic Agenda 2019-2024
Ministers discussed the implementation of the new EU Strategic Agenda 2019-24. The Strategic Agenda was adopted by the European Council on 20 June 2019 and will guide the overarching priorities for the next institutional cycle. The priority areas are: protecting citizens and freedoms; developing a strong and vibrant economic base; building a climate-neutral green, fair and social Europe; and promoting European interests and values on the global stage.
Ministers discussed how the Strategic Agenda could be implemented. The discussion was guided by a Presidency paper which provided an initial indication as to which Council configuration would consider the main issues and set out proposed timings for these discussions. Member States agreed on ensuring a coherent agenda across all three institutions; supported greater engagement with citizens and national Parliaments through clear communication; and stressed the importance of achieving concrete results. I intervened to welcome the broad themes of the Finnish Presidency and stated that the UK would support its delivery of priorities whilst we remained a Member State. I also reaffirmed the UK’s continued commitment and support for the security and competitiveness of the EU, and welcomed the greater focus on hybrid threats and cyber threats.
Several Member States referred to the programme set out by Commission President-elect von der Leyen, and called for the Strategic Agenda to inform the Commission Work Programme. The GAC will return to this agenda item in October and December, while the European Council will discuss the follow-up to the Strategic Agenda at the October European Council.
Commission communication on further strengthening the Rule of Law
The Commission presented its new communication on further strengthening the rule of law in the EU which was adopted on 17 July. The proposals centered on the three pillars of promotion, prevention and response and included a Commission-driven ‘Rule of Law Review Cycle’ and an ‘Annual Rule of Law Review’. These proposals will engage all Member States to prevent backtracking on the rule of law.
Rule of Law in Poland / Article 7 (1) TEU Reasoned Proposal
The Commission provided a further update on the rule of law in Poland. This followed the recent judgment of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on Poland’s Supreme Court law.
This statement has also been made in the House of Commons: