Annual Rule of Law Dialogue
In the framework of the annual Rule of Law Dialogue, ministers held a country-specific discussion covering rule-of-law developments in five member states: Germany, Ireland, Greece, Spain and France.
This was the second country-specific discussion to take place at the Council, after that of last November, which focused on the situation in Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechia, Denmark and Estonia. The exercise is part of a strengthened, more structured approach, aimed at further improving the rule of law in all member states, within the framework of the conclusions adopted by the Council in 2014, that established the dialogue.
The overall objective of this exercise is to further improve the Rule of Law in the European Union, including: the reinforcement of independent justice systems, putting in place effective anti- corruption frameworks that foster transparency and accountability, the establishment of safeguards for media pluralism, other issues linked to checks and balances and to bringing citizens closer to the decision-making process. It allows for an open and constructive debate on the situation regarding the Rule of Law in all member states.
Ana Paula Zacarias, Portuguese Secretary of State for European Affairs
European affairs ministers assessed the state of play of EU-UK relations, in light of the most recent events.
On 3 March 2021 the UK government stated its intention to unilaterally delay the full application of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. On 15 March the EU sent the UK a letter of formal notice for breaching the substantive provisions of the protocol and the good faith obligation, as well as a political letter calling on the UK government to rectify. In parallel, contacts between the EU and the UK are ongoing at technical level to find swift pragmatic solutions within the framework of the protocol. On 16 April 2021, Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič held an informal meeting with Lord David Frost as part of the EU's overall efforts to find joint solutions.
In December 2020 EU and UK negotiators reached an agreement on a trade and cooperation agreement (TCA) and a security of information agreement, which are provisionally applied as of 1 January 2021. On 23 February 2021 the EU-UK Partnership Council decided to extend the provisional application until 30 April 2021 to allow sufficient time to complete the legal-linguistic revision of the agreements. On 26 February 2021, the Council requested the European Parliament's consent to its decision on the conclusion of the agreements.
COVID-19 EU coordination
Ministers for European Affairs took stock of the COVID-19 pandemic and the EU response, covering the state of play on vaccines, the ongoing work on digital green certificates, and the epidemiological situation and travel restrictions.
On 14 April EU ambassadors approved the Council mandate to negotiate the digital green certificate with the Parliament, which is intended to facilitate the safe free movement of people within the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic. The negotiations in the framework of ordinary legislative procedure are scheduled to take place in May, with a view to conclusion in June. The ongoing technical work on COVID-19 interoperable digital certificates is part of the preparations for a common approach to the future gradual lifting of restrictions. However, due to the serious epidemiological situation, the current measures, including on non-essential travel, will be kept in place for the time being.
Enlargement and Stabilisation and Association process
The Presidency shared a state of play about Enlargement and the Stabilisation and Association process and its intentions for the coming months.
Some of the important issues in this area are the state of the negotiations on the IPA III Regulation, the ongoing discussions on the application of the revised enlargement methodology to Montenegro and Serbia, and the organization of Intergovernmental conferences (IGCs) with Western Balkans candidate countries.
Conference on the Future of Europe
Ministers for European Affairs were informed by the Presidency about the state of play regarding the Conference on the Future of Europe, following the first two meetings of the Conference's Executive Board.
The Conference on the Future of Europe is aimed at involving citizens in a wide-ranging debate on Europe’s future in the coming decade and beyond, including in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
-20 April 2021