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General Affairs Council

Volume 563: debated on Tuesday 14 May 2013

I will attend the General Affairs Council (GAC) on 21 May in Brussels. The GAC will be chaired by the Irish presidency and will focus on the multiannual financial framework (MFF), the preparation for the 22 May European Council and the preparation of the 27-28 June European Council as well as follow-up to previous European Councils.

Multiannual financial framework (MFF) draft amending budgets

We expect the Irish presidency to give a presentation on the progress made in the “trilogue negotiations” following an informal trilogue meeting which took place on Monday 13 May. The Irish presidency represents the European Council in these negotiations, which are between the European Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament. The President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, has made clear that they see the MFF as linked to discussion of the large, €11.2 billion draft amending budget for 2013. I will emphasise that we see the two as distinct issues and progress on the MFF should not be hindered by the separate discussions on the draft amending budgets. There is no evidence at this early stage in the annual budget cycle that extra funding is needed or justified. I will continue to argue, along with our like-minded allies, that this is far too large and there is insufficient evidence to justify these requests. On the MFF we will continue to encourage the European Parliament to consent to the deal as soon as possible, and that the ceilings from the February European Council agreement must be respected.

22 May European Council preparation

The 22 May European Council will focus on tax evasion and avoidance and energy. There will be an update on the latest developments on economic and monetary union (EMU), and there may also be discussion on foreign policy priorities.

We welcome discussion of action to be taken on tax. The Prime Minister has been driving work on this area through the UK presidency of the G8 and will take a leading role in pursuing global action to tackle tax evasion and avoidance, including through the EU. Our principal objective at the May European Council is to ensure that EU action on tax complements action being carried out through the G8, G20 and OECD and contributes to a global tax agenda which clamps down on tax evasion and avoidance.

On energy, the European Council will discuss the energy challenges confronting the EU in the context of the EU’s competitiveness agenda. President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, and President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, have both sought to focus work on completing the internal energy market, boosting investment in modern energy infrastructure and the challenge of high energy prices.

The UK energy market has historically been one of the most open and transparent in Europe and we have consistently supported and called for the completion of the internal energy market. We remain committed to ambitious action on climate change but want to ensure that energy supply is maintained during the low-carbon transition. We will support revisions to the EU’s state aid rules to facilitate investments in low-carbon power generation and we will be seeking to avoid unnecessary EU restrictions on member states, who should be free to decide on their own energy mix.

27-28 June European Council preparation

We expect discussion of the agenda for the June European Council agenda at the GAC. The June European Council will focus on economic policy. This includes the European semester, which is the annual cycle of economic policy co-ordination in the EU, the growth compact which will look at further economic and monetary union within the eurozone, following the last discussion on this in the March European Council, and industrial competitiveness.

The agenda for the June European Council may also discuss foreign policy priorities, which will evolve closer to the Council itself.

Report on the European Council follow-up

Finally the Irish presidency is expected to present a report on the follow-up and implementation of European Council conclusions. We do not expect much discussion on this point. If a discussion does develop, however, I will emphasise the need to maintain momentum on progress towards fulfilling the objectives outlined in the Prime Minister’s EU growth agenda, which focuses on trade, reducing the burdens of regulation and deepening and strengthening the single market, including through the creation of a digital single market.