General Affairs Council blog, Luxembourg

24th June, 2014

There are few European Council meetings that have garnered such a level of media attention and speculation as the one due to take place this Thursday and Friday in Brussels. The fact that it is the first meeting of the EU Heads of State and Government since the people of Europe went to the polls in the European Parliament elections is contributing to a degree of heightened interest. The rest is as a result of the decision by the UK to opposed the appointment of the former President of the Eurogroup and former Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean Claude Junker, as the new head of the EU Commission.


While it is vital that the right people are nominated and appointed to the right roles, what is even more important where this and other jobs are concerned (the role of the President of the Council and the High Representative of Foreign and Security Policy must also be filled in the coming months) is the agenda set by that leadership for the years ahead. Prioritising the issues that impact the lives of EU citizens and that will ensure continued economic progress is crucial. That is why the work carried out at the General Affairs Council (which prepares the agenda for the EU Council to follow) is so important. That is also why that work remains focused on growth, jobs, competitiveness, energy, justice and migration issues.


The political priorities set out for the next five years must ensure that confidence in the EU is restored and that we work together in all of our interests, to the benefit of all of our people. Agreeing a strategic agenda is central to this. Much work was done in Luxembourg today on this text, which the European Council will conclude later in the week.


By reinforcing the global attractiveness of the EU and continuing work on trade agreements such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US, while also promoting a Union that values and protects its people, we can build a path to a better future.


If we prioritise and fully develop the capacity of the Single Market, and work to complete the Digital Single Market by 2015, we can strengthen our ability to trade with one another and to create thousands of jobs in a sector that has enormous potential, especially for a country like Ireland.


Work is also ongoing on energy and food security. The events of recent months have reinforced the fact that we need to diversify our supply of fuel and gas and become more energy efficient. We can do his by aiming to build an affordable, secure and green Energy Union.


Stronger cross border cooperation in the justice area will also enable us to better tackle organised crime and terrorism. Today, Ireland recorded the biggest seizure of cigarettes in Europe so far this year. The activities, in this instance, of an international organised crime group, which was headed up by UK and Irish nationals in Europe, represents an estimated loss to the Exchequer of €13 million. This emphasises the need for us to work together on issues that have a significant impact, financial and otherwise, on us all.


In my interventions on Ireland’s behalf at this month’s GAC, I stressed the importance of encouraging investment, especially for SMEs, through the restoration of bank lending. I also emphasised the role that non-bank actors, such as the European Investment Bank, can play in our future prosperity. I also raised the issue of Ireland’s legacy bank debt which remains an outstanding issue for Ireland.

I was particularly delighted with the decision taken at the GAC today to grant EU candidate status to Albania, which should serve to spur that country on in terms of making the reforms needed to propel it forward. I visited Tirana (in Albania) in January and was struck by how united the Government and Opposition were, despite their differences, in their ambition to improve the situation for the people they represent. Candidate status is just the first step on the path to EU membership. I am delighted to have played a part in the journey Albania is taking towards deeper EU integration.