Within the framework of the Hungarian V4 Presidency, a V4 coordination meeting took place before the General Affairs Council meeting on the 21st of September. At the V4 coordination meeting and the General Affairs Council meeting, Hungary was represented by Secretary of State Oszkár Ökrös. At the General Affairs Council meeting, the Council was chaired by Gašper Dovžan, Slovenian Secretary of State for EU Affairs, and the Commission was represented by Vice-Presidents Maroš Šefčovič and Dubravka Šuica.
Presentation of the priorities of the Slovenian Presidency
At the General Affairs Council meeting on 22 June 2021, the Presidency formally presented the main priorities of their Presidency under a public agenda item. The Presidency presented in particular the key priorities and the work schedule until the end of the year. Among the priorities, the Presidency emphasized the need to ensure effective response and coordination against the epidemic and to strengthen our resilience to further epidemics. The Presidency also emphasized that the EU and the Presidency are also focusing on the economic recovery based on the green and digital transition, drawing attention to the importance of swift and effective implementation of the EU's recovery instrument. Another priority is the fight against climate change, which is why the Presidency is currently focusing on the negotiations on the "Fit for 55" climate and energy package. The Presidency will also place great emphasis on the digital transition and on improving the EU's preparedness and strategic autonomy for future crises.
Preparation of the European Council on 21-22 October 2021
The General Affairs Council held an exchange of views about the preparation of the upcoming special European Council meeting on the 21st and 22nd of October based on the Annotated Draft Agenda. The Ministers focused the discussion on the Covid-19 pandemic, the digitalization, and the external relations.
COVID-19 EU coordination
The General Affairs Council took stock of the actual situation regarding the Covid-19 pandemic. A good vaccination coverage has been achieved in most of the member states and the digital Covid certificate was successfully introduced at the beginning of the summer tourist season. The ministers shared the view that the EU needs to continue to contribute to better global access to vaccines and it would be useful to achieve the mutual recognition of vaccine certificates with more third countries. The biggest challenge however is to fight vaccine hesitancy. All the ministers agreed that that vaccination means the only effective tool to beat pandemic and save citizens’ lives.
Conference on the Future of Europe
The Presidency informed the ministers about the state of play regarding the Conference on the Future of Europe, following the launch of the European citizens' panels on 17 September and in the run-up to the October plenary.
The first of four European Citizens' Panels started its work with a session in Strasbourg from Friday, 17 September to Sunday, 19 September 2021.
The Panels lie at the heart of the Conference on the Future of Europe and will bring together 800 citizens from all backgrounds and corners of the EU. From September 2021 to January 2022, four panels, each comprising 200 citizens, reflecting the EU's demographic and social diversity will deliberate and make concrete recommendations on the future direction they want for Europe. Each panel will meet once to kick off their work before the next Conference Plenary meeting on 22-23 October.
The Presidency reiterated that the Executive Board of the Conference has invited all EU citizens to contribute to shaping their own future and that of Europe as a whole on the digital platform (https://futureu.europa.eu/?locale=en).
Under legislative programming Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič presented the Commission’s second annual strategic foresight report, adopted on 8 September, and its letter of intent, published on 15 September. The latter outlines the key initiatives for 2022, and will form the basis of the Commission’s 2022 work programme. Member States broadly welcomed the priorities set out in the Commission documents, in particular the initiatives aiming at ensuring the EU's strategic autonomy, enhancing the EU's resilience, strengthening the EU's global role, diversifying supply chains of critical raw materials, strengthening cyber resilience and removing barriers to the single market as well as those related to the digital transition and competition policy. Following the presentation of the Commission's annual work programme, the Council will return to the subject in November with a view to preparing the Joint Declaration of the three institutions on legislative priorities for 2022.
On the basis of Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič’s update, the General Affairs Council discussed the state of play of EU-UK relations. The discussion primarily focused on the problems related to the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement. Member States supported the Commission’s efforts to find and discuss with the UK, long-term, flexible and practical solutions to implementation problems identified by Northern Ireland businesses and citizens. Member States also agreed that the Protocol cannot be renegotiated.
The Council was briefed by the Commission on EU-Switzerland relations, in particular on the termination of negotiations on the Institutional Framework Agreement, the Ministers then took stock of the EU-Switzerland relations.
Greece provided information on the EU-Mediterranean Summit (EUMED 9) held in Athens on 17 September 2021, which focused on the challenges posed by climate change and reflected international developments. At the same time, Greece thanked the Member States for their support and solidarity during the August forest fires.