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General Affairs Council lays groundwork for next European Council meeting

General Affairs Council in Brussels on Monday. Sept. 25, 2017.
General Affairs Council in Brussels on Monday. Sept. 25, 2017. Source: (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Monday's EU General Affairs Council meeting in Brussels focused on preparations for the European Council meeting to be held in October as well as an exchange of views on a letter of intent from the European Commission.

Estonian Deputy Minister for EU Affairs Matti Maasikas, who chaired the meeting, delivered an overview of the priorities of the Estonian presidency of the Council of the EU, emphasizing that the digital summit to be held in Tallinn on Friday will provide a good opportunity to better highlight digital innovation needs, according to a presidency press release.

"This year, trust in the EU has risen, the economy is growing and we can once again see optimism," Maasikas said, emphasizing the general shift toward pro-European sentiment. "The EU's unity is stronger. We must maintain it, and everyone must act in this interest. Only in this way can we support our citizens and protect society's stability."

The first General Affairs Council meeting to be held during the Estonian EU presidency gave an overview of the activities of the Council of the EU during the current six-month period, and discussed both the topics to be addressed at the October European Council meeting and the draft 2018 European Commission work program, based on the priorities set for 2014-2019 and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s Ten Priorities, including employment, economic growth, the digital single market, cybersecurity, migration policy and the EU's role at the international level.

The final work program will be discussed at the General Affairs Council in November, following which negotiations between the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European Commission will begin for agreeing on the legislative priorities for next year.

Likewise discussed was the dialogue with Poland regarding the rule of law, with Commissiner Frans Timmermans providing an overview of the current situation there.

"The topic of the rule of law is important for one and all," Maasikas said. "It is one of the fundamental principles of the EU, and matters concerning adherence must be resolved in dialogue between the member state and the Commission. All opportunities afforded by dialogue and cooperation must be utilized for this purpose."

The October General Affairs Council meeting will take place in the afternoon in an EU27 format, where the Commission will provide an overview of thesituation of the negotiations on the United Kingdom's decision to leave the EU.

"It is in the interest of us all to maintain the unity of the EU27 in the exit negotiations and maintain close and friendly cooperative relations between the U.K. and the EU," Maasikas said. "A great deal of work lies ahead of us, and reaching compromises will take time. Key questions of the negotiations, such as citizens' rights, financial agreements and the border with Ireland will still require serious discussions."

Maasikas also signed a document on Monday establishing the European Sustainable Development Fund on behalf of the Council of the EU. The fund will contribute to European foreign investments in the EU's neighborhood and Africa.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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