I attended the General Affairs Council on 13 December. The meeting was chaired by the Slovak Presidency and held in Brussels.
The General Affairs Council discussed: the mid-term review of the multiannual financial framework; inter-institutional agreement on better law-making; enlargement and stabilisation and association process; preparation of the European Council on 15 December 2016 and the European semester 2017.
A provisional report of the meeting and the conclusions adopted can be found at: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetings/gac/2016/12/13/
Multiannual financial framework
There was no agreement on the multiannual financial framework and discussions will continue into next year. With the exception of Italy, who maintained their reserve, all member states were supportive of the current mid-term review proposal.
Inter-institutional agreement on better law-making
The joint declaration on legislative programming was adopted. This was signed by the presidents of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission in Strasbourg. Vice-President Timmermans flagged this achievement saying it focused on real deliverable priorities.
Preparation of the European Council on 15 December 2016
There was a discussion of the agenda items for the European Council which took place on 15 December. The agenda would cover: migration, security (internal and external/defence) economic and social development (youth) and external relations, which will cover the EU/Ukraine association agreement.
I intervened to underline the importance of preparing business affecting all member states at meetings of the 28, and our intention to observe the rights and obligations of membership until we leave the EU.
On migration, I intervened to express our on-going commitment to a comprehensive approach, and sought proper evaluation of existing partnership frameworks before extending them to new countries.
On external security, I requested that the text of the draft Council conclusions be amended to clarify that the proposed planning and conduct capability should be for non-executive purposes only, to bring the text in line with conclusions at the FAC Defence in November, which had outlined a balanced approach that avoided duplication with NATO.
On economic and social development, I registered the UK’s support of ambitious language on the single market, including maintaining momentum on services and deepening of the single market.
On external relations, I supported the Foreign Affairs Council conclusions on Syria and pressed for explicit reference to Iran as an ally of the Syrian regime and a reference to restrictive measures among the options the EU ought to consider within the European Council conclusions.
European semester 2017
This agenda item was not discussed at the meeting, but the inclusion of the item followed the Commission publishing the Autumn Package of the European Semester on 16 November 2016.
Enlargement and stabilisation and association process
The Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Sir Alan Duncan MP, took part in a discussion on enlargement, which focused on Turkey’s EU accession path. The Council could not reach agreement on the overall package of enlargement conclusions. Instead, the presidency issued a statement covering the conclusions which enjoyed broad support from the overwhelming majority of member states. We remain firmly committed to driving forward reform, embedding stability and addressing shared challenges in the Western Balkans and Turkey. EU and NATO accession processes are fundamental to delivering these objectives.