General Affairs Council on coordinating EU measures to curb COVID-19 pandemic
Today, State Secretary Gašper Dovžan attended the General Affairs Council meeting, held in person for the first time since the outbreak of the new coronavirus. Council members focused primarily on the preparations for the special European Council meeting (later postponed to 1 and 2 October) and on the coordination of measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic at the EU level.
Preparing for the special European Council meeting next week, ministers discussed the single market, industrial policy, and digital transformation. State Secretary Dovžan welcomed the expected discussion of European leaders and the draft conclusions regarding economic recovery and efforts aimed at deepening the single market. He underscored the importance of a functional single market all the while ensuring the strategic autonomy of the EU and reducing its dependence on third countries. SMEs, digital transformation and AI should be given due consideration. In advance of the foreign policy discussion among European leaders, the Council exchanged views on the EU’s relations with Turkey and China. State Secretary Dovžan called for respect of the sovereignty of all EU Member States and expressed their full solidarity with Greece and Cyprus in relation to the latest escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean. He welcomed the announcement of a strategic discussion on EU policy towards China. In addition, the State Secretary advocated a united response to the ongoing situation in Belarus, where the EU should act decisively in defence of democratic values, human rights, and the rule of law.
Ministers also discussed the coordination of national measures to curb the C-19 pandemic. While the adoption of restrictive measures falls under the competency of Member States, the State Secretary welcomed the endeavours of the German Presidency to adopt a Council recommendation allowing greater coordination among EU Members in their efforts to contain the spread of the virus. In his view, the measures should simultaneously protect public health and minimise the obstacles to the functioning of the single market and the exercise of the four freedoms to the greatest extent possible. The EU should not forego its ambition to exit the crisis stronger than before.
The State Secretary expressed support for the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier to secure a balanced agreement in negotiations with the UK in accordance with the mandate conferred to the Commission by the Council. He was keen to highlight the importance of future unity between EU Member States, especially in light of the Internal Market Bill, which he considered a serious violation of the UK’s obligations under the withdrawal agreement.
Ministers and state secretaries for European affairs also took stock of the rule of law situation in Poland and Hungary as well as the progress in negotiations with the European Parliament on the 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework and the recovery instrument. They were also briefed on the Commission’s letter of intent concerning its draft work programme for 2021, and its 2020 Strategic Foresight Report entitled Charting the Course Towards a More Resilient Europe.