General Affairs Council blog

12th February, 2014

On Monday evening, I headed to Brussels for the General Affairs Council (GAC), which was taking place the following day. That night, I represented Ireland at a dinner of the Foreign Affairs Council of the EU.

The dinner was attended by, among others, Turkey, Montenegro and Serbia, who are EU candidate countries. The topics for discussion ranged from Syria to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and the outcome of the recent referendum on immigration in Switzerland.

In contributing to the debate, I spoke of my recent trip to Sarajevo and the political situation there. Sadly, we have recently witnessed the frustration of the people of BiH who have taken to the streets to demonstrate about the high levels of unemployment and the conditions they are facing.

During my visit to Sarajevo I gave a public address at the University of Sarajevo and spoke to students, NGOs and other civil society groups about issues of concern to them as the country attempts to chart a way forward. I emphasised the need for the EU to engage directly with communities in BiH and to support their journey to a prosperous and more inclusive society.

The GAC, which is my monthly Ministerial meeting in Brussels, was held on Tuesday. One of the responsibilities of the GAC is to prepare work for the European Council meeting to follow. It was, what can only be described as, a lively meeting, with the sensitive issue of Genetically Modified (GM) crops taking centre stage.

There was a proposal on the table to allow the cultivation of a GM maize product in the EU. As this is a product which would only be grown in warmer climates, the crop in question is not relevant to Ireland. However, taking account of the concerns of the counties opposed to its introduction, Ireland voted against the proposal.

We did this in recognition of the fact that GMOs are an issue of concern and public sensitivity for many across the Union. We also felt it was pre-mature to authorise this product without the proper framework in place to allow Member States to reflect national concerns. In the absence of such a framework which would allow Member States to opt out, Ireland voted with those countries and against the proposal.

The meeting also included a discussion on the recent Swizz referendum, through which the people voted to limit the number of immigrants coming into the country. This will undoubtedly have consequences for Switzerland’s relationship with the EU, and for the other EU freedoms which Switzerland has availed of until now. We await the response of the Swiss Government.