General Affairs Council, 25 January 2022 - Main contents
Priorities of the French presidency
The French presidency presented its priorities for its six-month term during a public session, in which European sovereignty constituted a common thread.
‘Reinforcing democracy and integrity of elections’ legislative package
Ministers held a policy debate in public session on the ‘reinforcing democracy and integrity of elections’ legislative package, presented by the Commission on 25 November 2021.
The package includes legislative proposals on the transparency of political advertising, on the statute and funding of European political parties, and on the rights of citizens residing in a Member State of which they are not nationals in European and municipal elections.
The aim of this legislative package is to guarantee free and fair elections and open public debate, and to make the digital world more responsible, as well as to better protect our democracy and our electoral processes in the face of attempts to interfere with and manipulate information.
The goal is for this legislative package to be adopted and implemented in time for the 2024 European elections.
Discussions focused on enhancing transparency and regulating the funding of European political parties and foundations, on the role, visibility and activities of European political parties in terms of public debates in the Member States, and on the right to vote of citizens residing in a Member State of which they are not nationals, as well as on political advertising, particularly in the digital sphere.
The presidency will have the two-fold objective of identifying, on the one hand, how to increase citizens’ participation in the European democratic process and, on the other hand, how to adapt our legislative toolkit in the face of new threats to electoral processes, in particular information manipulation and foreign interference.
Clément Beaune, Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs
Conference on the Future of Europe
The presidency informed the Council about the state of play of the Conference on the Future of Europe, including the latest developments and the outlook.
In particular, ministers had the opportunity to exchange views on the first sets of recommendations of the European citizens’ panels that continue to meet, after the plenary session on 21-22 January, and on the holding of national consultations.
Subject to the development of the epidemiological situation, the panels are expected to complete their work by the end of February 2022, with plenary sessions in March and April. The French presidency is planning a political conclusion of the exercise by the three joint presidents on 9 May.
Infographic - A common approach to COVID-19 travel measures in the EU
COVID-19: coordination at European Union level
Ministers held an exchange of views on the health situation and the measures taken at national level, and took stock of coordination at EU level.
The continued circulation of the Delta variant and the rapid spread of the Omicron variant remain causes for concern. In this context, the vaccination campaigns, including the administration of booster doses, should continue as a matter of urgency. It is also important to tackle vaccine hesitancy and disinformation.
The General Affairs Council adopted a revised recommendation on travel within the European Union. This revised recommendation takes into account advances in vaccination and the expansion of the Omicron variant and reflects a change of approach, from one initially based on the epidemiological situation in each region to an individual approach based on the status of each traveler.
The discussions on the revision of the recommendation on travel into the European Union from third countries will continue.
The Council also referred to international solidarity, since the pandemic will only be overcome through global cooperation based on trust and mutual assistance. The European Union is the world’s largest vaccine exporter and donor. The Council reiterated the European Union’s desire to step up its support for those countries most in need, in particular in Africa, both by continuing to provide European support to COVAX and on a bilateral basis, in cooperation with partners.
Relations between the European Union and the United Kingdom
European affairs ministers held a discussion on relations between the European Union and the United Kingdom.
They referred to the ongoing talks with the United Kingdom with a view to identifying practical solutions within the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland to address the specific implementation difficulties that people in Northern Ireland have been experiencing. They also addressed the persisting divergences in the implementation of the withdrawal agreement with regard to citizens’ rights and the challenges associated with the implementation of the trade and cooperation agreement, in particular as regards fisheries and fair competition. Lastly, ministers took stock of the ongoing negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom on Gibraltar.
Mr Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the European Commission, briefed ministers on the latest developments regarding those issues, and following his meeting with Liz Truss on 24 January.
Ministers reaffirmed the unity between Member States and their clear support for the European Commission’s approach.
The presidency will seek to preserve the unity of the Member States with regard to the principles which have hitherto guided relations with the United Kingdom, and to ensure that the United Kingdom fully complies with its commitments. In this context, it has noted Member States’ support for seeking pragmatic solutions to facilitate trade in goods with Northern Ireland, in compliance with the agreements concluded with the Union, and the need to continue to ensure the proper implementation of the provisions of the trade and cooperation agreement.
Clement Beaune, Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs
The Council also adopted without discussion the items that figure in the lists of legislative and non-legislative A items.
-25 January 2022