European Affairs Ministers and State Secretaries at the General Affairs Council
Today, State Secretary Gašper Dovžan took part in a video conference of European Affairs ministers and state secretaries. In the framework of the annual Rule of Law Dialogue, the morning session of the General Affairs Council (GAC) focused on the country-specific discussions on the rule of law situation across five EU Member States (Germany, Ireland, Greece, Spain and France), based on the European Commission’s first annual report published in September 2020.
This is in line with the two-tier approach adopted last year, including the general debate on the situation across the EU and the discussion on the situation in individual Member States. The ministers held a constructive exchange of views on specific aspects, such as the functioning of justice systems, the fight against corruption, media pluralism and freedom of media, and the balance of power between branches of government in the abovementioned EU Member States. They also touched on the impact of measures introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, outlining in more detail the challenges they are facing as well as the examples of good practice.
State Secretary Dovžan welcomed the continuation of the debate on the rule of law situation across individual Member States, which was first held during the German EU Council Presidency. He announced that the Slovenian Presidency in the second half of 2021 will lead the annual dialogue based on the second annual report on the rule of law and continue with the established approach. A general debate on the rule of law situation in the EU will also be held during Slovenia's Presidency, as well as the country-specific discussions on the rule of law situation in the following group of EU Member States: Croatia, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, and Lithuania.
During the afternoon session, the ministers assessed the state of play of EU-UK relations, in particular the implementation of the withdrawal agreement and the timeline for the reading of the trade agreement. It is important for Slovenia that the withdrawal agreement and within its framework, the Northern Ireland Protocol, be fully applied. Its full application is also essential for safeguarding the unity of Member States and implementing the principle of non-discrimination, including in regard to the fees charged for the issuance of UK work visas.
The General Affairs Council members went on to discuss the preparations for the Conference on the Future of Europe to be officially launched on 9 May 2021 and the coordination of measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the close of the meeting, the Presidency gave a brief overview of the current state of play and the further EU Council discussion on the EU enlargement.
State Secretary Dovžan welcomed the groundwork that the Portuguese Presidency has laid for the official launch of the Conference on the Future of Europe, in which Slovenia will also be actively involved as the next country to hold the EU Council presidency. In terms of managing the crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, fair and equal access to vaccines is vital for Slovenia to play its part in achieving the common vaccination coverage target of 70% of European citizens by summer. The introduction of digital green certificates will facilitate the gradual lifting of restrictions. Still, a common approach to using individual vaccines, a coordinated response to new variants, and a global approach to vaccination would also contribute to curtailing the pandemic.
As Slovenia supports the EU enlargement process, further positive development in this area would be of great importance for the country. This includes the earliest possible start of negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, organisation of intergovernmental conferences with Montenegro and Serbia, an effective role of the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA III), and assistance to the Western Balkans in acquiring vaccines.