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European Affairs ministers on preparations for the European Council, the rule of law and EU enlargement

State Secretary Gašper Dovžan chaired today’s regular session of the General Affairs Council in Brussels. The discussion focused on the preparations for the December European Council meeting, the rule of law in five member states, with the cases considered in alphabetical order, and EU enlargement. Ministers and state secretaries for European affairs also took note of the state of EU-UK relations and the European Commission’s work programme for the next year.

In preparation for the European Council to be held in Brussels on 16 and 17 December 2021, the ministers and state secretaries for European affairs mainly focused on coordinating measures in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The topics discussed ranged from vaccination disinformation and efforts to achieve higher vaccination rates in some member states, to the expected revision of recommendations on travel within the European Union and for third countries. The officials agreed that further efforts should be made to ensure timely, fair and universal access to safe, affordable, quality and effective vaccines and medicines, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. The ministers and state secretaries also devoted attention to the Union’s crisis management and resilience and to EU-Africa relations in the run-up to the EU-African Union Summit.

They once more exchanged views on energy prices and on the situation on the EU-Belarus border.

As part of the annual dialogue on the rule of law, members of the General Affairs Council exchanged views, experiences and best practices of five member states, i.e. Croatia, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia and Lithuania. A constructive and open discussion took place based on the chapters of the Commission’s annual Rule of Law Report, which is an important preventive tool that makes a valuable contribution to better mutual knowledge and understanding of the Union’s fundamental values that bind us together. “We honoured our commitment to make the rule-of-law dialogue stronger and more structured, while fully respecting the principles of objectivity, non-discrimination and equal treatment of all Member States,” State Secretary Dovžan said at the press conference.

Following the EU-Western Balkans Summit on 6 October in Brdo pri Kranju and before the adoption of the conclusions of the General Affairs Council to take place in December, the ministers and state secretaries today discussed the enlargement, stabilisation and association process. They examined the possibilities to achieve further progress in the negotiation processes with the Western Balkan countries. The Slovenian Presidency is making significant efforts to hold the first two intergovernmental conferences with North Macedonia and Albania during its Presidency and to start accession negotiations with these two countries at the earliest possible opportunity.

“The EU enlargement agenda is the key policy with transformative power in the Western Balkans. This is why the progress on the EU path must be unlocked,” underlined State Secretary Dovžan.

The ministers and state secretaries also took note of the proposal for the European Commission’s work programme for the coming year. Following a European Commission report on the talks with representatives of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, the ministers exchanged views on the current state of play of relations.

The focus was directed towards efforts to find flexible solutions that would ensure the full implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Member states appealed for unity and solidarity, expressing their support for the proposals and activities of the European Commission. The officials also exchanged information on other current issues, e.g. the licensing of fishing vessels from EU member states.

The Council’s conclusions on strengthening preparedness, response capacity and resilience to future crises, which is one of the priority areas of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU, were also adopted at the meeting.

“We started working on shoring up the EU's preparedness for crises on day one of our Presidency. Today's conclusions agreed by Member States are an important step forward on our common path to build back a more resilient Europe together.” - State Secretary Gašper Dovžan.