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General Affairs Council

Volume 629: debated on Tuesday 10 October 2017

My right hon. Friend Baroness Anelay of St Johns DBE, Minister of State for Exiting the European Union, has made the following statement:

I represented the UK at the General Affairs Council (GAC) meeting in Brussels on Monday 25 September. This was the first meeting of the GAC under the Estonian presidency.

The main items on the agenda were: presentation of the priorities of the Estonian presidency; preparation of the European Council on 19-20 October 2017; June European Council follow-up; and legislative programming for 2018, letter of intent.

A provisional report of the meeting and the conclusions adopted can be found on the Council of the European Union’s website at:

Presentation of the priorities of the Estonian presidency

The presidency made a brief presentation of its priorities, namely: an open and innovative European economy; a safe and secure Europe; a digital Europe and the free movement of data; and an inclusive and sustainable Europe.

Preparation of the European Council on 19-20 October 2017

The presidency presented the draft October European Council agenda, which is due to cover migration, digital Europe, defence and external relations.

On the migration agenda item, GAC Ministers discussed external migration and returns, as well as reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS).

As part of the digital Europe item, delegates focused on implementation of the Digital Single Market (DSM), cyber security and digital taxation.

Regarding defence, the Council considered increasing EU autonomy, the admissions criteria for the Permanent Structured co-operation (PESCO) and EU-NATO co-operation. There were also discussions about the work on the industrial development programme and the Athena mechanism (which handles the financing of common costs relating to EU military operations under the EU’s common security) and the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).

Under external relations, Ministers discussed EU-Turkey relations and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Some member states also asked that trade should be added to the agenda, as well as the follow-up to the June European Council.

I intervened to highlight the UK’s on-going commitment to European security and reiterated our preference for counter-terrorism and internal security to be discussed at the European Council. I also welcomed the focus on the digital agenda, as well as the need to maintain momentum following the Tallinn summit on 29 September. Regarding EU-Turkey relations, I emphasised the importance of the accession process as an important tool for co-operation with Turkey. I also agreed that a unified EU position should be sought on the DPRK.

Legislative programming for 2018, letter of intent

GAC Ministers discussed the Commission’s priorities for the Commission Work Programme (CWP) 2018. Vice President Timmermans asked for a final mandate on the CWP and stressed the need to focus on delivery within the limited time available. I intervened to welcome the inclusion of certain aspects in the CWP, including the Single Market and DSM. I also spoke to advocate for open and free trade.


Vice President Timmermans updated Ministers on the state of play of its dialogue with Poland on the Rule of Law. I emphasised the importance the UK placed on the Rule of Law and urged both the Commission and Poland to avoid escalation and return to substantive, sustained and constructive dialogue.