Press remarks by Vice-President Šefčovič at the General Affairs Council

Source: European Commission (EC) i, published on Tuesday, September 21 2021.

Good afternoon,

We indeed had a very productive first meeting under the Slovenian Presidency. And I am looking forward to our good cooperation, dear Gašper, because the General Affairs Council will continue to play a crucial role in our coordination, as we draw lessons from the pandemic and move towards recovery.

Slovenia has taken over the Council Presidency at a key moment, with many important files on our table - all aiming to deliver long-term solutions to the present challenges.

I particularly welcome the fact that your Presidency has decided to put resilience and open strategic autonomyvery high on the political agenda - something close to my heart, particularly in the framework of strategic foresight.

This also resonated during our discussions today. It was the case under the legislative programming point where I presented: The Commission's Letter of Intent, setting the scene for our upcoming 2022 Work Programme, which is under preparation. As well as when I presented our recent Strategic Foresight Report, precisely on the need to boost the EU i's open strategic autonomy through action in 10 specific areas. A number of recent events reconfirm that there is no time to lose.

The EU's global leadership and resilience also resonated under the preparation of the October European Council when focusing on the digital agenda. Here, the Commission very much hopes that the leaders will give a strong political push to quickly advance on various important files already tabled. But also on those coming up, namely a Data Act and a European Chips Act.

Turning to the pandemic - another focus of the next European Council - let me stress the need to continue with ambitious vaccination campaigns, to address existing difference between the Member States in vaccination rates. For the Commission's part, we will continue to act decisively to ensure that Member States will have enough doses.

It is worth noting that there are five vaccines currently under rolling review by the European Medicines Agency. And in the case of a market authorisation, we foresee Advance Purchase Agreements for three of them.

Lastly, on the external relations part of the European Council, let me focus on COP16 and COP25. The Commission, together with the Member States, is working very hard to ensure ambitious outcomes - we should indeed use all our combined diplomatic weight and build alliances with like-minded countries. The EU is leading by example - and we will bring our own ambitious policies to the negotiating table, putting pressure, in a positive sense, on other parties to follow our lead.

Turning to EU-UK relations, I informed the Ministers about our ongoing engagement with the United Kingdom, as the EU continues to seek practical solutions to the issues that matter most to the people of Northern Ireland.

Solutions that we seek will be in the framework of the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland. We are absolutely convinced that the Protocol is the best solution we found with the UK to address the unique situation of the island of Ireland. Because it means stability, certainty and predictability - and ultimately opportunities, as was confirmed to me during my meetings with Northern Irish stakeholders on the ground last week.

I appreciate the unity around the Council table and the support received from the Ministers for this approach.

The issue of licences for French fishermen for the waters around the Channel Islands was also discussed. We continue to work closely with the French administration on this matter in order to find a long-lasting solution with the UK.

Now a few words on EU-Swiss relations. We are important partners, both economically and politically.

That is precisely why we sought to repair the issues that currently hamper our relationship via an Institutional Framework Agreement - and regret Switzerland's unilateral decision to terminate the negotiations, which lasted for several years.

While our door is always open, the ball is now clearly in the Swiss court - to show the clear, unambiguous political will that is necessary, and concrete and credible proposals to address the serious outstanding issues.

Here, I also felt support from the Ministers.

Let me conclude these opening remarks on the Conference on the Future of Europe with my colleague Vice-President Dubravka Suica i also present.

The biggest novelty of the Conference, the European Citizens' Panels, have finally started. We also see more and more national events taking place - it was encouraging to hear the Member States' plans for weeks to come.

Let's also do our utmost to promote the multilingual digital platform, which has so far seen three million unique visitors and over 27-thousands participants registered.

I hope that the next year will further strengthen the momentum, as 2022 should be devoted to our young people.

Thank you for your attention.