Within the framework of the Hungarian V4 Presidency, a V4 coordination meeting took place before the General Affairs Council meeting on the 25th of September 2022. At the V4 coordination meeting and the General Affairs Council meeting, Hungary was represented by Minister Judit Varga and Secretary of State Oszkár Ökrös. The Council was chaired by Clément Beaune, French Secretary of State for EU Affairs, and the Commission was represented by Vice-Presidents Dubravka Šuica and Maroš Šefčovič.
Priorities of the French Presidency
In a public session, the French presidency presented its priorities for the General Affairs Council for the next six months, including i.a. the protection and strengthening of EU values and the rule of law, the follow-up to the Conference on the Future of Europe and the EU-UK relations, the COVID-19 coordination as well as the promotion of the EU enlargement policy.
Several ministers took the floor and welcomed the presidency's priorities.
A number of delegations expressed their support for the Presidency’s objectives in relation to the protection and strengthening of the rule of law and fundamental rights, the strengthening of the dynamics of the Conference on the Future of Europe and the EU's crisis management and resilience, the reform of the Schengen area and the Pact on Asylum and Migration. They also emphasized the importance of strengthening the EU's defence and security policy capabilities and advancing the Strategic Compass and the EU's enlargement policy towards the Western Balkans. Some Member States also addressed issues related to the "Fit for 55" package, energy policy, economic governance reform, the social pillar as well as the coordination on the COVID-19 epidemic.
Minister Judit Varga pointed out that, although great tasks are on the horizon for the French Presidency, we are sure that by facilitating unity among Member States and acting as a real honest broker, Paris will be able to make progress on the dossiers most important for the future of the EU. Hungary will support France in every initiative that is based on the Treaties and serves the interest and the prosperity of the Union, the Member States, and its citizens.
‘Reinforcing democracy and integrity of elections’ legislative package
The General Affairs Council has had a public debate on the European Commission's Democracy Package. Most Member States welcomed the Commission's proposals and stressed the need to protect European democracy and the integrity of elections from external influences. Regarding the details of the proposal, the importance of the transparency of processes, respect for the principles of proportionality and subsidiarity, as well as the data protection in elections was emphasized. The detailed discussion of the proposals is ongoing at expert level. The French presidency plans to adopt a common Council approach to the package's proposals on the transparency of funding for European political parties and their foundations, as well as on political advertising, in March and April this year.
Conference on the Future of Europe
The Presidency briefed ministers on the state of play of the Conference on the Future of Europe, in particular with regard to the programmes to be held in February and March. He stressed the need to respect the contributions of EU citizens and to build on their recommendations. The Presidency also pointed out that the time has come to set priorities and develop the Council's position on the basis of the recommendations received. All EU citizens can continue to participate in shaping their own future and the future of Europe as a whole, including through the digital platform (https://futureu.europa.eu/?locale=en).
COVID-19: coordination at EU level
Following the debrief by Vice-President Maros Šefčovič, the General Affairs Council discussed the current issues of EU-level coordination against COVID-19, in particular concerning the spread of the omicron variant, vaccinations, the right to free movement and travel restrictions, and the EU's role in the international distribution of vaccines.
On the basis of Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič’s update the General Affairs Council discussed the state of play regarding the EU-UK relations. The Council primarily focused on the ongoing discussions with the United Kingdom regarding the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement’s Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. Member States unanimously supported the efforts to find pragmatic solutions, within the Protocol, to the genuine implementation problems identified by Northern Irish businesses and citizens. Member States reiterated their commitment to preserve unity among them. The Vice President debriefed the Council on persistent implementation problems in the area of citizens’ rights and fisheries, as well as on the state of play in the negotiations for an agreement with respect to Gibraltar.