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Ministers discuss a wide-ranging agenda at General Affairs Council

Ministers Simon Coveney and Helen McEntee discuss a wide-ranging agenda with counterparts in Luxembourg

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney T.D. and the Minister for European Affairs, Helen McEntee T.D., attended the General Affairs Council in Luxembourg today. Discussions focused on preparations for the European Council, on the state of play in the Article 50 negotiations with the UK and the bids for the relocation of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Banking Authority (EBA).

 Reflecting on discussions on the Article 50 negotiations Minister Coveney said:

 “Today’s meeting offered an opportunity for Ministers to hear from the EU’s Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, after five rounds of negotiations and to listen to his assessment of progress to date.  While the pace of progress has intensified over the last two rounds in particular, it is clear that there is still more work to be done and Mr Barnier has advised that he will not be in a position to recommend to leaders at the European Council later this week to open discussions on the future relationship. 

“During the meeting I underlined Ireland’s support for the phased approach and expressed my support for Michel Barnier’s view that, with political will, progress is in reach over the coming weeks.

“I shared my views on Ireland’s perspective of the progress made on the Irish issues. I welcomed the particular progress on advancing joint principles on the continuation of the Common Travel Area. I also acknowledged the headway being made towards achieving a common understanding of possible commitments and undertakings necessary to effectively protect the Good Friday Agreement and all its parts and the gains of the peace process, including avoiding a hard border. But I underlined that more work is required".

In the margins of the General Affairs Council, Minister Coveney also met bilaterally with Michel Barnier as well as with his counterparts from Denmark and the Netherlands. The Minister said:

“Ireland continues to work extremely closely with Michel Barnier and his team, in particular on the Irish-specific issues. Our meeting provided a timely opportunity to take stock of progress to date and discuss our expectations with regard to sufficient progress in line with the Taskforce Guiding Principles paper.  

“In my meeting with Michel Barnier, as well as with my Danish and Dutch counterparts, I also recalled Ireland’s view that a transitional arrangement is crucial for ensuring an orderly withdrawal and stressed the importance of achieving sufficient progress on the withdrawal issues as soon as possible.”

Minister of State McEntee also met with her Portuguese counterpart, during which she discussed Ireland’s bids for the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Banking Authority (EBA).

At the General Affairs Council, the Minister for European Affairs, Helen McEntee T.D., urged her European counterparts to look at the immense opportunities for innovation, growth and jobs offered by the digital transformation. “Digitalisation can boost competitiveness,” she said, “but if the target of completing the Digital Single Market (DSM) by the end of 2018 is to be met, work in this area will need to be accelerated.” On digital taxation she stressed the importance of keeping the focus on the work underway at global and OECD level and that any future work at EU level needs to build on and be consistent with OECD's work in this area

Foreign and European Affairs Ministers assessed progress on measures taken by the European Union to stem illegal migration flows and, while the meeting noted a fall in the numbers travelling across the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy, Minister McEntee expressed concern about reports of human rights abuses in reception centres in Libya.

Ministers also reviewed preparations for the launch of permanent structured cooperation that would enhance capacity and inter-operability on the EU’s common security and defence policy missions such as Operation Sophia which Ireland has just joined, having already rescued over 17,500 migrants from the Mediterranean on a bilateral basis with Italy.  At the meeting Ministers had an in-depth discussion on relations with Turkey, as a strategic partner of the EU and as a key regional player in South-East Europe and the Middle East.