I represented the UK at the General Affairs Council in Brussels on Tuesday 27 February. The items on the agenda were: presentation of the priorities of the Bulgarian presidency; annotated draft agenda for the European Council on 22 and 23 March 2018; and rule of law in Poland I article 7(1) treaty on European Union (TEU) reasoned proposal.
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 Bulgarian presidency
The presidency set out the four priorities for its tenure: the future of Europe and young people; security and stability; the western Balkans; and the digital economy.
Annotated draft agenda for the European Council on 22 and 23 March 2018
The presidency presented the annotated draft agenda for March European Council, which includes: jobs, growth and competitiveness (and possibly trade); and the western Balkans. Leaders would also discuss migration and digital taxation.
On the jobs, growth and competitiveness agenda item, the Council welcomed a discussion on the single market, digital single market and social issues. I intervened to call for any tax discussion to focus on digital taxation, reflecting progress at international level. I also highlighted the UK’s publication of a position paper on corporate tax and the digital economy last autumn.
Under the western Balkans agenda item, Ministers welcomed the adoption of procedural conclusions on the EU-Western Balkans summit in May. I intervened to welcome the focus on the western Balkans region. I highlighted the UK’s close co-operation with the presidency and the Commission ahead of the Berlin Process Western Balkans summit in London in July, which will seek to deliver on regional priorities identified at the May summit.
On migration, the Commission highlighted the need to reach agreement on internal asylum reform.
Rule of law in Poland/article 7(1) TEU reasoned proposal
The Commission presented its reasoned proposal under article 7(1) TEU, concerning the rule of law in Poland. The Commission referred to the improved levels of dialogue with Poland but emphasised that it wanted to see action taken to address its concerns. Poland acknowledged the improved dialogue and stated that its forthcoming paper on this issue would place its judicial reforms into their wider systemic context.
I intervened to emphasise the importance the UK places on the rule of law and judicial independence, and that the UK expects its partners to respect international norms. I affirmed the UK’s view that responsibility for constitutional issues lies primarily with national Governments and welcomed the improved dialogue between the Commission and Poland. I highlighted that a solution is most likely to be found in this dialogue leading to a common understanding on how to resolve the issue in a way which aligns with international norms.