A meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council was held in Brussels on 25 May 2016. EU Finance Ministers discussed the following items:
Anti-tax avoidance package
Ministers held an exchange of views on a compromise text relating to the anti-tax avoidance directive. Ministers agreed that this file would return to ECOFIN in June for further discussion and possible agreement.
Current legislative proposals
The presidency updated the Council on the state of play of financial services dossiers.
State of play of the banking union
The Commission gave an update on several dossiers linked to the banking union: the single resolution fund, the bank recovery and resolution directive and the deposit guarantee scheme directive.
VAT action plan
The Council held an exchange of views and agreed Council conclusions relating to the Commission’s VAT action plan, published 7 April, and a European Court of Auditors special report.
Following preparation by the Economic and Financial Committee, the Council adopted conclusions on the 2016 in-depth reviews of macroeconomic imbalances and the implementation of the 2015 country specific recommendations.
A meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council will be held in Luxembourg on 17 June 2016. EU Finance Ministers are due to discuss the following items:
Anti-tax avoidance package
The presidency will seek a political agreement on a compromise text relating to the anti-tax avoidance directive.
Financial transaction tax
An update will be provided on the progress regarding implementing a financial transaction tax in participating member states. The UK is not taking part in the financial transaction tax.
Strengthening the banking union
A presentation will be given on a road map regarding strengthening of the banking union, alongside an oral update from the presidency on progress made in Council working groups.
Current legislative proposals
The presidency will update the Council on the state of play of financial services dossiers.
State of play of the banking union
The Commission will give an update on several dossiers linked to the banking union: the single resolution fund, the bank recovery road map and resolution directive and the deposit guarantee scheme directive.
Analysis by the Commission on temporary VAT derogations—reverse charge mechanism
Following a request by the Czech Finance Minister, the Commission will present analysis relating to widening the use of the reverse charge mechanism to combat VAT fraud. This will be followed by an exchange of views.
Implementation of the stability and growth pact
The Council will be asked to endorse the draft decisions to close the excessive deficit procedures for Cyprus, Ireland and Slovenia based on recommendations by the Commission. As these decisions cover euro area member states, the UK does not have a vote.
Report of the European Court of Auditors on the excessive deficit procedure
Following preparation by the Economic and Financial Committee, the Council will adopt conclusions relating to a European Court of Auditors report on effective implementation of the excessive deficit procedure.
Contribution to the European Council meeting on 28-29 June 2016
The Council will prepare a number of items ahead of June European Council. Specifically, Ministers will endorse the 2016 country specific recommendations, part of the European semester process.
Following this, views will be exchanged on: national productivity boards within the euro area; economic and fiscal governance; unified euro area representation at the IMF; and the Commission’s recent communications on external aspects of migration and the investment plan for Europe.
I will attend the EU Environment Council in Brussels on 20 June, along with my noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Climate Change (Lord Bourne).
Following adoption of the agenda, the list of “A” items will be approved.
Under legislative activities the Council will debate a proposal to reform the EU emissions trading system. The presidency will provide a state of play report on the ongoing negotiations with the European Parliament to agree the national emissions ceiling directive.
Under non-legislative activities, the Council will aim to adopt Council conclusions on the EU action plan for the circular economy and the EU action plan against wildlife trafficking. They will also discuss a Council statement on the ratification of the Paris agreement.
The following items are due to be discussed under any other business:
a) NOx emissions by diesel cars
b) Recent international meetings:
i) High-level meeting (Montreal, 11-13 May 2016) and preparations for the ICAO assembly (Montreal, 27 September to 7 October 2016)
ii) Second session of the United Nations Environment Assembly of the United Nations Environment Programme (Nairobi, 23-27 May 2016)
iii) Eighth Environment for Europe ministerial conference (Batumi, Georgia, 8-10 June 2016
c) REACH forward priorities for effective regulation (Brussels, 1 June 2016)
d) High-level meeting “Make it Work” (Amsterdam, 4 April 2016)
e) Communication on environmental implementation review
f) Global amphibian deaths—combatting the fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) infecting salamanders and newts in the EU
g) Informal meeting of the Environment and Transport Ministers (Amsterdam, 14-15 April 2016)
h) Endocrine disruptors
i) Work programme of the incoming presidency
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will attend the Foreign Affairs Council on 20 June and I will attend the General Affairs Council on 24 June. The Foreign Affairs Council will be chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, and the General Affairs Council will be chaired by the Dutch presidency. The meetings will be held in Luxembourg.
Foreign Affairs Council
The agenda for the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) is expected to include the Arctic, Sahel, middle east peace process and Macedonia. Ms Mogherini is expected to raise Libya, Burma, cultural diplomacy and the forthcoming EU-China summit in her opening remarks.
The UK will support the proposed Council conclusions on the Arctic which we expect to be adopted at the Council, following the publication of the Joint Communication on 27 April. The conclusions acknowledge the important role the EU has in helping to meet the challenges now facing the region, and that the EU should focus on those areas where it can add value, such as research, climate change and the environment.
The discussion will focus on the EU’s overall approach to the Sahel, and its support to the G5 Sahel group of countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger). Ministers will consider how to accelerate implementation of the Mali peace agreement one year after its signature. The UK priority will be to ensure the EU’s approach in the Sahel and the instruments at its disposal are focused on tackling the long-term drivers of instability and migration.
Middle East Peace Process
Ministers will exchange views on the outcome of the international meeting which was held in Paris on 3 June.
Discussion will focus on the long-standing political crisis in Macedonia. We expect Ministers to register their concern about negative developments in the rule of law, and the impact on regional stability, as well as signal to Macedonia’s leaders that they must reverse this negative trend.
Discussions will focus on extending EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia's mandate to take on two additional tasks: capacity-building and training of the Libyan coastguard and implementing the UN arms embargo on the high seas off the coast of Libya.
General Affairs Council
The General Affairs Council (GAC) on 24 June is expected to focus on preparation of the June European Council, European semester, inter-institutional agreement, better regulation and transparency.
Preparation of the June European Council
The GAC will discuss the agenda for the 28-29 June European Council, which the Prime Minister will attend. The agenda will focus on migration, jobs, growth and investment, external relations and the outcome of the UK referendum.
The GAC will look to approve the country specific recommendations ahead of the European Council.
Inter-Institutional agreement (IIA) and better regulation
The Commission’s 2017 work programme is tabled for discussion at the General Affairs Council ahead of its release in October. The GAC will also discuss legislative programming in future years.
AOB—Slovakia’s presidency priorities
The GAC will take note of the draft priorities presented by Slovakia for their EU presidency, which begins on 1 July. They intend to focus on four areas: economic and financial; single market; external relations; and migration. The Slovak presidency will continue the work of the Dutch presidency, and be followed by that of their trio partner, Malta.
The final Justice and Home Affairs Council of the Dutch presidency took place on 9 and 10 June in Luxembourg. The Minister for Immigration (James Brokenshire) attended the justice day and I attended the interior day.
Justice day (9 June) began with a progress report on the draft directive on the supply of digital content. The proposal aims to advance the growth of cross-border e-commerce in the EU by setting common rules for governing the supply of digital content.
The Council then discussed four files in which the UK does not participate: matrimonial property regimes; registered partnerships; the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO); and the directive on protection of the Union’s financial interests. Ministers agreed general approaches on both matrimonial property regimes and registered partnerships, enabling negotiations with the European Parliament to begin. Ministers secured broad conceptual support on a number of issues relating to the internal functioning of the EPPO, and on the directive on protection of the Union’s financial interests, Ministers did not reach agreement on a number of compromise options. The presidency then presented a progress report on negotiations to extend the European criminal record information system (ECRIS) to third country (non-EU) nationals. The Immigration Minister intervened to support the principles behind the ECRIS proposal and to emphasise the importance of finding a suitable technical solution to data sharing.
Over lunch, the presidency facilitated a discussion on compensating victims of crime, focusing on improving co-operation and sharing best practice. The Commission committed to look at practical steps to support improved co-operation.
After lunch, the presidency sought a steer from Ministers on work to improve criminal justice in cyberspace. The Immigration Minister intervened to agree the importance of tackling cybercrime and to stress that best use should be made of existing tools.
Under any other business, the Commission informed Ministers that a code of conduct to combat hate speech online had been developed with the IT industry and the Commission will present an impact report to Council in December. The presidency also updated Ministers on outcomes from the recent EU-US JHA ministerial meeting on 1 and 2 June. Finally, the incoming Slovakian presidency presented its justice and home affairs priorities. The A points were then adopted.
Interior day (10 June) began with a discussion on the draft weapons directive, which relates to control of the acquisition and possession of weapons. Supported by other member states, I intervened to welcome the progress made, but underlined the potential to go even further in ensuring appropriately high standards of regulation. The presidency concluded that there was support for a general approach and trilogue negotiations with the European Parliament will now begin.
The Council then turned to the presidency’s data sharing road map. The road map contains a number of practical proposals aimed at enhancing data sharing between member states to enhance security and law enforcement, which reflects in particular proposals made by the UK and France. I fully supported the presidency’s prioritisation of this work to enhance internal security across Europe, particularly the sharing of data between Schengen and non-Schengen member states. Several member states supported both my position and the objectives and actions set out in the road map.
The discussion on the fight against terrorism focused on a paper from the European Counter Terrorism Coordinator (EUCTC) which made a number of recommendations to advance work to tackle the terrorist threat. I welcomed the role of the EUCTC in supporting member states in tackling terrorist finance, online radicalisation and firearms, and stressed the clear difference in mandate and competence between the work of Europol and that of the member state-driven Counter Terrorist Group (CTG). The CTG, which has provided a multilateral platform to enhance co-operation between independent European intelligence services, also gave a presentation.
The Council noted a report on the implementation of the renewed internal security strategy and the presidency updated Interior Ministers on the outcomes of the EU-US JHA ministerial meeting on 1 and 2 June, and the outcomes from the high-level meeting on cyber security on 12 and 13 May.
Over lunch, there was a discussion on migration through the central Mediterranean route and the Commission presented its communication on external migration. After lunch, the Council discussed the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement of 18 March. Supported by the Commission, I intervened to ensure a continued focus in the Council on the effective and full implementation of the statement by leaders.
The Council then discussed proposals concerning the relationship between the Schengen states and Georgia, Ukraine, Kosovo, and Turkey. There was an exchange of views on these proposals and the Council did not agree a general approach on Georgia. The UK does not participate in these measures.
Next on the agenda was the European border and coastguard, where the presidency provided a progress update on negotiations with the European Parliament. The UK does not participate in this measure.
The Commission then presented its proposals to the Council on reform of the common European asylum system. Finally, the incoming Slovakian presidency presented its justice and home affairs priorities to Interior Ministers.
Wednesday 15 June 2016