So what’s a General Affairs Council?

2nd October, 2013

Now there’s a snappy title for a blogpost!

I am just back from a 2 day engagement in Brussels. This was centred around participation in the General Affairs Council on Monday.

This Council is a monthly ministerial meeting of my counterparts from across the European  Union. The group is responsible for 2 key areas.

– Dealing with policy areas that impact on many dimensions of EU policy, for example preparation of the budget for the European Union.

– Preparing the agenda for the Head of State meetings (referred to as the European Council). This is the meeting that the Taoiseach attends.

I contributed twice in this meeting.

First, to signal strong Irish support for maintenance of current eligibility criteria for measures to tackle youth unemployment and for no change in the size of the European Social Fund. This was made in the context of discussions between the European Parliament (the MEPs that each country elects) and the European Council (roughly – the representatives from different governments). All of this is very important to ensure that investment is targeted towards the areas that matter most to Ireland.

Second, to argue that the completion of a robust banking union is essential for breaking the funding link between nation states and banking systems. I argued that this was essential in the recent stability of the euro. While is is a matter for the Finance Ministers this became a topic of discussion in the GAC so I intervened to make clear the Irish view.

This above contribution was accompanied by my observations on the current status of EU accession and neighbourhood policy. I will explain more of what this means when I write an update on a Head of State meeting that will focus exclusively on this area.

After this I met my colleague David Lidington, who is the UK Europe Minister. We exchanged views on many areas while focusing on our relationship on Justice and Home Affairs. This is in the context of some changes that the UK is considering to make under the Lisbon Treaty.

My second day consisted of a range of meetings with individuals within the European Commission, Parliament and Council. This was a very full day. Each of these meetings had a number of objectives.

First – to press the case for completion of banking union. I specifically argued this point in meetings with individual MEPs. This covered off issues in relation to the Single Supervisory Mechanism, the Resolution Framework and the status of deposit guarantee plans.

Second – to understand work plans and priorities ahead of the new Commission and Parliament next year. This is so that we can best present our policy proposals and issues.

Third – to introduce myself to key figures that I will be working with across my term in office.

The day finished meeting staff from our Permanent Representative Office in Brussels. I met many of the people that were involved with our Presidency and thanked them for their trojan work.