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Tuesday, 20 June 2017

EU Council: Main results of the Eastern Partnership ministerial meeting, 19 June 2017

Main results of the Eastern Partnership ministerial meeting, 19 June 2017

High Representative Federica  Mogherini chaired the annual Eastern Partnership (EaP) ministerial meeting with the participation of EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn. It brought together EU foreign ministers and their counterparts from the six Eastern Partnership countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine) to work on the preparations of the EaP summit to be held in November 2017 in Brussels.

Ministers recalled the main achievements of the partnership since the last summit in Riga in 2015, focusing on the tangible benefits delivered to the citizens of the six partners countries.

"Today, we have reaffirmed the strong commitment of the EU and the Eastern Partners to our close cooperation. Our summit in November will show our unity and focus on concrete deliverables."

Federica Mogherini, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

They confirmed that the upcoming summit should provide further guidance for strengthening cooperation in the four priority areas of engagement agreed in Riga: 

  • a stronger governance, to strengthen institutions and good governance
  • a stronger society, to increase mobility and people-to-people contacts
  • a stronger economy, to boost economic development and take advantage of market opportunities for more prosperity 
  • a stronger connectivity, enhancing interconnections, notably in the areas of transport and energy.

For that purpose, High Representative Mogherini and Commissioner Hahn presented the ministers with a working document, jointly prepared by the EEAS and the European Commission:  "Eastern Partnership - Focusing on key priorities and deliverables". The document identifying 20 deliverables for 2020 in the four areas was first presented in December 2016 and revised this month based on contributions from EU Member States and EaP Partner countries. It lays out, in concrete terms, tangible results expected of the cooperation and should work as a common work plan, for the summit, and for 2020.

Ministers also discussed a more efficient and effective EaP multilateral structure to better align it with the four policy priorities with the aim to adopt it at the next summit.

A new visual identity for the partnership, to highlight this more structured approach around the 4 priority areas and 20 deliverables, will be launched, this week on 22-23 June, at the 3rd EaP Youth Forum in Warsaw.


EU Background

At the Foreign Affairs Council  meeting on 15 May 2017, EU ministers exchanged views on the Eastern Partnership. They reiterated the crucial importance of the Eastern Partnership for the European Union, highlighting their unity in supporting the region and each individual EaP country in a tailored way. They also stressed their determination to deliver concrete results for the benefit of citizens, both in the EU and in the EaP countries. 

In this context, they welcomed the entry into force of visa liberalisation for Georgia and Ukraine and underlined the importance of the implementation of Association Agreements /  Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (AA/DCFTAs) and of reforms.

Ukraine, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova signed association agreements  with the EU, including deep and comprehensive free trade areas (DCFTAs) in 2014.

The EU and Armenia  have finalised negotiations on a comprehensive and enhanced partnership agreement for deepening bilateral relations. Negotiations on a new comprehensive agreement with Azerbaijan have started. While tangible steps by Belarus  to respect democracy and human rights continue to be necessary for the shaping of the EU's future policy towards this country, the EU-Belarus coordination group provides for a more comprehensive approach to bilateral relations.

The Eastern Partnership  initiative was launched in 2009 with the main focus on regional cooperation in the EU's eastern neighbourhood. It sets out to promote political association and economic integration with the EU among six EaP countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. It is reform-driven and focuses on increasing the resilience of the partner countries as well as stabilising the neighbourhood .

It is based on the common values of democracy and the rule of law, respect for human rights and freedoms, and commitment to market economy principles.

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EU revises its budget framework for 2014-2020 to meet new priorities

The European Union is devoting more resources to help boost jobs and growth and to address the migration crisis. It is also strengthening its capacity to react to unexpected events. These are the main purposes of a revised EU budgetary framework for 2014-2020 which was adopted by the Council on 20 June 2017. 

"Today's decision adjusts the EU's budgetary framework to bring it in line with the challenges we face. It means that the EU budget will be an even more effective instrument to strengthen growth, create jobs and tackle the migration crisis. It also allows the EU to react more quickly and take the necessary decisions when faced with new challenges", said Dr Helena Dalli, Maltese Minister for European Affairs and Equality and President of the Council. 

The revised multi-annual financial framework (MFF) increases the resources earmarked for the EU's main priorities by €6.01 billion for the years 2017-2020 

  • €2.08 billion will help stimulate growth and create jobs through a number of highly effective programmes such as the youth employment initiative (+€1.2 billion), Horizon 2020 (+€200 million), and Erasmus+ (+€100 million)
  • €2.55 billion will be available to address migration, enhance security and strengthen external border control
  • €1.39 billion will be available for tackling the root causes of migration

 So that the EU is better prepared to address unforeseen needs, the revised MFF: 

  • increases the annual amounts that can be spent under the flexibility instrument and the emergency aid reserve by an average of €150 million and €23 million respectively in the years 2017 -2020
  • allows unused amounts from the EU solidarity fund and the European globalisation adjustment fund to be used under the flexibility instrument; these amounts would otherwise have been lost; for 2017 this means that additional €646 million  will be available under the flexibility instrument
  • increases by a total of €5.9 billion the maximum amount by which the annual MFF payment ceiling can be raised in the years 2019 and 2020 to recycle unused payments; the overall ceiling will be kept unchanged in real terms through a corresponding decrease in the payment ceilings for the years in which they are not fully used

 The increased scope for recycling unused payments will also reduce the risk of an excessive backlog of unpaid bills. In addition, the Council and the European Parliament undertook to take steps to avoid the excessive accumulation of unpaid bills. 

Background 

The MFF regulation sets out annual maximum amounts which the EU is allowed to spend on different policy areas over the period from 2014 to 2020. It translates political priorities into figures, ensures budgetary discipline for the EU and facilitates the adoption of the annual EU budget. 

Next steps 

The revised MFF regulation will now be published in the EU Official Journal and enters into force 20 days later. 

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Council conclusions on EU Action Plan for nature, people and the economy

THE COUNCIL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION: 

RECALLING the new global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the United Nations General Assembly at its 70th session on 25 September 2015 and STRESSING the key objectives of the General European Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 'Living well, within the limits of our planet' (the seventh Environment Action Programme - 7th EAP) [1]

RECALLING its conclusions of 16 December 2015 on the Mid-Term Review of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 [2]

RECALLING its conclusions on the European Court of Auditors' Special Report No. 01/2017 entitled 'More efforts needed to implement the Natura 2000 network to its full potential' [3]

NOTING that, while hosting some of the most densely populated areas in the world, Europe also has a very rich and diverse natural heritage, which is an inherent and vital component of Europe's natural, social, cultural and economic capital, and must therefore be protected, cared for and conserved for the benefit of nature, people and the economy; 

UNDERLINING that the Nature Directives [4] are essential components of European nature protection and that they have so far played a vital role in the attainment of this objective; and RECONFIRMING their important role in achieving the targets of the CBD Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, including the Aichi Biodiversity targets, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change; 

RECOGNISING that the conservation status of a number of species and habitats protected under the Nature Directives, despite many efforts, continues to be under serious pressure from unsustainable practices in economic sectors such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries and infrastructure as well as the impact of climate change and of alien invasive species; 

STRESSING that the comprehensive evaluation of the Nature Directives known as the 'Fitness Check' undertaken by the Commission under its commitment to Better Regulation, in consultation with the Member States and a diverse range of stakeholders, including citizens, has found that, as a cornerstone of broader EU biodiversity policy, the Nature Directives are fit for purpose but that achieving their objectives and realising their full potential can only be accomplished by substantially improving their implementation[5]

OBSERVING that the Fitness Check has identified important gaps in the effectiveness and efficiency of the implementation of the Nature Directives and has identified the need for further action, including working in partnership with different stakeholder communities in the Member States and across the EU to deliver practical results on the ground, enhancing the integration of nature objectives into other policy areas, improving knowledge and access to data, strengthening enforcement and allocating additional resources; 

RECOGNISING that the Fitness Check has shown that where targeted action takes place on a sufficient scale, the status of species and habitats improves, sometimes leading to remarkable recoveries; 

UNDERLINING that Europe's natural heritage is inextricably linked to the quality of life of its citizens and to various sectors of Europe's economy and that investing in nature conservation and its sustainable use offers opportunities and value for nature, people and the economy; 

WELCOMING the establishment of a 'European Natura 2000 Day' to be celebrated on 21 May each year through awareness-raising events and networking activities to be organised all over the EU; 

1.         WELCOMES the Commission's Communication on an Action Plan[6] to help improve and boost the implementation of the Nature Directives and the delivery of their objectives, as well as to strengthen their coherence with socio-economic objectives and to mobilise engagement with national, regional and local authorities, stakeholders and citizens; 

2.         HIGHLIGHTS the importance of further stakeholder engagement at national, regional and local level, given the strong territorial dimension of the Nature Directives; 

3.         WELCOMES the role that the EU institutions can play in supporting the delivery of the Action Plan, and in particular the Committee of the Regions as regards outreach and building ownership at regional and local level; 

4.         While taking into account economic, social, cultural and regional requirements, in line with the Habitats Directive, ACKNOWLEDGES the potential of the Action Plan to contribute to improving the practical implementation of the Nature Directives and moving closer towards the EU 2020 goal of halting and reversing the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services[7], thus benefitting Europe's nature, people and economy; 

5.         RECOGNISES that the four priority areas of the Action Plan respond to the findings of the Fitness Check, and thereby: 

Under Priority A: Improving guidance and knowledge and ensuring better coherence with broader socioeconomic objectives

6.         Without jeopardising the conservation objectives and requirements set within the Nature Directives, RECOGNISES that the flexibility of implementation approaches that take into account specific national circumstances contributes to the reduction and progressive elimination of unnecessary conflicts and problems between nature protection and socioeconomic activities, as well as to addressing the practical challenges resulting from the application of the annexes to the Directives; 

7.         In this context, WELCOMES the fact that the Commission, in close cooperation with the Member States, will update, develop and actively promote clear guidance and knowledge in all official languages of the EU to support the implementation of the Nature Directives, including updating by 2018 the guidance document on species protection rules and species action plans, whilst ensuring greater coherence between Europe's broader socioeconomic objectives and nature policy and engaging with stakeholders, land and marine users to explore smarter participative approaches; 

8.         WELCOMES the Commission's initiative to develop guidance on the integration of ecosystem services into decision-making, allowing for potential positive impacts on human wellbeing as well as sustainable economic growth and social development; 

9.         WELCOMES the support mechanism that the Commission will establish to help Member State authorities address key challenges in applying the Nature Directives' requirements related to permitting procedures, without jeopardising the application of the principle of subsidiarity, and ENCOURAGES national, regional and local authorities to make full use of these opportunities; 

10.      AGREES that traditional, practical and scientific knowledge and access to data and information is key for the effectiveness and efficiency of conservation measures and, ultimately, the Nature Directives, and that continued efforts at all levels are needed to deliver improvements in these areas, including through effective and efficient monitoring and appropriate reporting by the competent authorities, and through public online access to knowledge and information necessary for the implementation of the Nature Directives; 

Under Priority B: Building political ownership and strengthening compliance

11.      While taking into account the dynamic nature of ecosystems, RECOGNISES that the completion and effective management of the Natura 2000 network and the establishment and implementation of the necessary conservation measures for all sites are key actions towards achieving the Directives' objectives, and are primarily a responsibility of Member States, therefore CALLS UPON national, regional and local authorities to increase efforts in these areas; 

12.      ACKNOWLEDGES the Commission's commitment to increase support to Member States in achieving this objective and the crucial role of stakeholder awareness and cooperation; in this regard, RECOGNISES the beneficial role of stakeholder platforms in promoting good practices and practical solutions under the Nature Directives; 

13.      UNDERSCORES the need to build and maintain political ownership for the implementation of the Nature Directives and to strengthen compliance, and WELCOMES the Commission's support to improve synergies between relevant EU Directives, Regulations, programmes and other policies; 

14.      WELCOMES the voluntary, dedicated bilateral dialogues between the Commission and Member States within the framework of the new Environmental Implementation Review process, aimed at addressing structural problems,  responding to the needs of Member States and reflecting data submitted by them; CONSIDERS that the Environmental Implementation Review process complements and is without prejudice to compliance; 

15.      UNDERLINES the importance of focussed discussions at the biogeographical level to share experience, expertise and solutions regarding structural and cross-border challenges, as well as thematic discussions across those biogeographical regions and the importance of investing in capacity-building with a view to enhancing implementation and gaining experience on transboundary management of species; and WELCOMES the development of roadmaps as a possible tool for cooperative action in the context of the Natura 2000 Biogeographical Process; 

16.      UNDERLINES that improving the conservation status of protected species and habitats requires concerted action by Member States, especially in certain cases such as when considering migratory species, and RECOGNISES that Species and Habitats Action Plans may, among other tools, be appropriate to reach this goal and SUPPORTS their further development and implementation in collaboration with relevant international Conventions and Agreements; 

Under Priority C: Strengthening investment in Natura 2000 and improving synergies with EU funding instruments

17.      RECOGNISES that funding shortages are a key obstacle preventing the Natura 2000 network from delivering its benefits in full and are a major factor undermining the effective implementation of the Nature Directives, and, therefore, UNDERLINES the need to ensure predictable, adequate, regular and targeted EU financing; in this regard, ENCOURAGES the Commission to reflect on ways to better integrate nature protection into EU funding; 

18.      RECOGNISES the need to further improve multiannual financial planning for investment in nature, and, having regard to Article 8 of the Habitats Directive, AGREES that there is a need to update and improve the Prioritised Action Frameworks (PAFs), notably through a simplified template, in view of the next programming period, taking into account the experience of the current PAFs; 

19.      CALLS on the Commission and the Member States to more effectively integrate Natura 2000 and wider biodiversity with the common agricultural policy, cohesion policy, common fisheries policy, integrated maritime policy and research and innovation policy, and RECOGNISES the potential of these policies to positively contribute to the attainment of the objectives of the Nature Directives; 

20.      RECOGNISES the strategically important role of the LIFE programme and WELCOMES the Commission proposal for an increase in dedicated funding for nature and biodiversity within the current LIFE envelope, increasing opportunities for investment in Natura 2000 and other green infrastructure; 

21.      HIGHLIGHTS the particularly important role of the European Agricultural Rural Development Fund under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and WELCOMES Commission plans to evaluate the impact of the CAP on biodiversity until 2019 that take into account proportionate control and verification requirements and also ensure compliance with the delivery of environmental outcomes, in order to further develop schemes that are adapted to the needs of Natura 2000 as well as of other high-value nature areas, including through results- and value-based payment approaches and training for farmers through Farming Advisory Services; 

22.      HIGHLIGHTS the importance of an updated needs assessment for the implementation of the Nature Directives, and of assessing the actual use of financial allocations for biodiversity protection, including Natura 2000, with a view to ensure their effective use during the current multiannual financial framework, and REITERATES its call for the Commission to analyse the effectiveness of the integrated approach for biodiversity financing [8]

23.      RECALLS its conclusions on the European Court of Auditors' Special Report, acknowledging the need for funding schemes to be tailored more effectively to the specific objectives of Natura 2000 and agreeing with the recommendation that the Commission establishes cross-cutting Natura 2000 indicators for all relevant EU funds for the next programming period and HIGHLIGHTS the need for Member States to include indicators and targets for the relevant funds specific to Natura 2000 and to allow for more precise and accurate tracking of the results generated by Natura 2000 funding; 

24.      UNDERLINES the importance of stimulating private sector investment in nature, and NOTES the support for biodiversity-related projects under the Natural Capital Financing Facility (NCFF), as well as the development of pilot projects to promote private land stewardship and better involvement of the finance sector; 

25.      WELCOMES the development of guidance to support strategic deployment of green infrastructure that contributes to the goals of the Nature Directives, particularly through better connectivity of Natura 2000 in a cross-border context; and in this regard REITERATES its call on the Commission to put forward a proposal for a trans-European network for green infrastructure (TEN-G) [9]

26.     Under Priority D: Better communication and outreach, engaging citizens, stakeholders and communities

27.      UNDERSTANDS that the success of the Action Plan ultimately depends on the awareness and engagement of Europe's citizens and all other stakeholders, including land-owners, and on the strengthening of links between natural and cultural heritage, and hence SUPPORTS the Action Plan's objective of strengthening and promoting such engagement at all levels, particularly at the local level and through the involvement of young people with the European Solidarity Corps; 

28.      NOTES that Member States are responsible for the implementation of the Nature Directives and ENCOURAGES the Commission, alongside national, regional and local authorities, to promote and implement the Action Plan in order to help them attain the objectives of the Nature Directives; 

29.      RECOGNISES that the timeframe for delivery of the Action Plan is short and therefore URGES the Commission to monitor its delivery across the 15 actions identified therein, in close collaboration with the Member States and the EU institutions, in particular the Committee of the Regions, the European Environment Agency, and all other relevant stakeholders.


[1]       Decision No 1386/2013/EU of 20 November 2013. 
[2]       15389/15. 
[3]      9645/17.
[4]      Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (Habitats Directive) - OJ L 206, 22.7.1992, p. 7 and Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds (Birds Directive) - OJ L 20, 26.1.2010, p. 7. 
[5]      15671/16 - SWD(2016) 472 final (Commission Staff Working Document: Fitness Check of the EU Nature Legislation (Birds and Habitats Directives).
[6]       8643/17 - COM(2017) 198 final + ADD 1 - SWD (2017) 139 final. 
[7]       9658/11 - COM(2011) 244 final. 
[8]       15389/15 - Council conclusions on the Mid-Term Review of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020, paragraph 13.
[9]      15389/15 - Council conclusions on the Mid-Term Review of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020, paragraph 30.

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Uniform format for short-stay visas (Schengen): Council adopts regulation on the update of security features in the visa sticker

On 20 June 2017, the Council adopted a regulation amending regulation (EC) No1683/95 laying down a uniform format for visas. 

This regulation establishes a new common design for the visa sticker to update its security features in order to prevent forgery. The current visa sticker, which has been in circulation for 20 years, has been compromised by serious incidents of counterfeiting and fraud. 

The regulation is likely to be signed in early July by the Council and the European Parliament before its publication in the EU Official Journal. 

Ireland and the United Kingdom will not be subject to the application of the new measures, in accordance with the protocols annexed to the EU treaties. However, upon a request from these member states, the Commission shall enter into arrangements with them to exchange technical information in relation to the format for their national visas.

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EU response to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – a sustainable European future

The EU has played a leading role in the process that led to the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015. It is now determined to take the lead in its implementation. 

The  conclusions adopted by the Council today reiterate the strong commitment of the EU and its member states to  implement in full the 2030 Agenda and accomplish the 17 SDGs. The conclusions set out the EU's response to the 2030 Agenda and its approach to how it is implemented at EU level. They cover next steps, the means and resources required, how multilateral stakeholders can be involved, and measures on future monitoring and review. 

The conclusions underline the importance of achieving sustainable development across  the three dimensions (economic, social and environmental), in a balanced and integrated way. It is vital that  sustainable development is mainstreamed into all policy areas, and that the EU is ambitious in the policies it uses to address global challenges. 

The Council calls on the Commission to set out by mid-2018 an implementation strategy with timelines, objectives and concrete measures to implement the 2030 Agenda in all EU policies. The Commission should also identify by mid-2018 gaps where the EU needs to do more by 2030 in the areas of policy, legislation,  governance structures for horizontal coherence and implementation. 

The EU calls on other UN member states and all stakeholders, including civil society and the private sector, to contribute to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. 

More needs to be done to promote  the 2030 Agenda. In its conclusions the Council emphasises the lack of public engagement and calls for action to raise awareness among EU citizens. 

Background 

The conclusions are based on the recent Commission communication on the 'next steps for a sustainable European future' presented in November 2016, which links the sustainable development of the 2030 Agenda to the EU policy framework and the Commission's priorities. It provides an insight into where the EU stands on addressing the sustainable development goals and identifies the most relevant sustainability gaps and concerns. 

2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development 

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development 'Transforming our World' was adopted at the UN Sustainable Development Summit (New York, 25-27 September 2015). It includes a set of global sustainable development goals that replaced the millennium development goals as from 1 January 2016. 

The 2030 Agenda responds to global challenges by addressing poverty eradication and the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development in a comprehensive way. The 17 new sustainable development goals and the 169 associated targets cover key areas such as poverty, human rights, food security, health, sustainable consumption and production, growth, employment, infrastructure, sustainable management of natural resources, oceans, climate change and gender equality. 

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