General Affairs Council on the first report on the rule of law and COVID-19 coordination
State Secretary Gašper Dovžan attended today’s General Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg. The Council discussed preparations for the European Council meeting to be held at the weekend in Brussels. Ministers took note of the state of play in the EU-UK negotiations. They also held a general debate on the first annual report on the situation regarding the rule of law in the EU and endorsed recommendations for COVID-19 coordination
In the context of the discussion on draft conclusions for the upcoming European Council meeting in Brussels on 15 and 16 October 2020, State Secretary Dovžan stressed the importance of coordinating measures to curb the COVID-19 epidemic. The draft conclusions on climate change that envisage an increase in the Union’s emission reduction target by 55% from 1990 levels by 2030 were considered acceptable, provided that national circumstances are duly taken into account. In this context, the State Secretary expressed the hope of finding appropriate solutions to national targets in specific sectors, particularly in transport, mentioning that the proposed EU target should not set out in advance the increase in national targets in individual sectors, especially with regard to renewables. He explained that with 38% of its surface area, Slovenia has the highest share of Natura 2000 protected areas and therefore faces restrictions on the introduction of new renewable energy sources. The State Secretary stressed that member states had the right to create their own energy mix. He also singled out cost-effectiveness as an important principle in achieving the new objective, whereby different views of the member states should be taken into account, including the principles of fair transition, technological neutrality, and solidarity. He called on the European Commission to submit an impact assessment in the member states and on sectoral targets. He called for financial resources to be channelled into the development of technologies for climate-neutral transition and the promotion of additional private investment in this area.
In the context of the Council’s annual rule of law dialogue, the spotlight fell mainly on the Commission’s first annual report on the situation regarding the rule of law in the EU for the period since January 2019. The report is based on an overview of four areas in the EU and in the member states: judicial independence, the anti-corruption framework, media pluralism, and other institutional issues linked to checks and balances. State Secretary Dovžan welcomed the European Commission’s efforts to draw up the first report, which demonstrates how member states are facing different challenges relating to the rule of law. He pointed out the joint responsibility of the member states and EU institutions for progress in this area, calling for a discussion on the further refinement of the methodology towards a more in-depth approach. He also assessed that, in the future, the report could also contain a specific chapter on EU institutions, which are an important element in the rule of law.
The General Affairs Council took note of the current situation in the EU-UK negotiations on future relations. The Union’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, informed the ministers that some key issues remain unresolved, including on the level playing field, fisheries and governance structure of the future partnership. He pointed out that the timeframe for confirming the agreement is narrowing; however, the European Union remains united and committed to reaching an agreement.
The Council today adopted without discussion a recommendation on a coordinated approach to the restriction of free movement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They also took note of the state of play of the ongoing talks with the European Parliament on an agreement on the Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027 and how the preparations for the Conference on the Future of Europe currently stand.