The Foreign Affairs Council was established with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, which separated the tasks of the previous General Affairs and External Relations Council. The Foreign Affairs Council deals with the whole of the Union's external actions. Included in this are common foreign and security policy, foreign trade and development cooperation. Member States support the common foreign and security policy taking shape in an intergovernmental framework in the spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity.
European policy on major international issues is defined by the Foreign Affairs Council at its regular meetings, about once a month in a meeting of the Foreign Ministers and – depending on the topic – the Ministers of Defence, Development or Trade. The position of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, established by the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam was substantially changed and extended with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. Since then the High Representative, currently Catherine Ashton from Great Britain chairs sessions of the Foreign Affairs Council, with the exception of trade policy debates. On these occasions, it is the rotating presidency which assumes this role. The defence ministers of EU Member States do not have a separate Council formation of their own; two times a year they do convene in the Foreign Affairs Council format to review the most important common security and defence policy issues.
Common Foreign and Security Policy
Development of the Common Foreign and Security Policy started in 1993, when the Maastricht Treaty entered into force. In order to give the EU a greater political influence in parallel with its increasing economic strength, the external relations policy, and within this the common security and defence policy had to be reinforced further. Member States conduct intergovernmental cooperation in the framework of the EU’s “second pillar” the CSFP, requiring a consensus for the majority of the decisions made. The objective of the CSFP is to give the EU a single voice in the international arena and to allow it to articulate its opinion on armed conflicts, human rights issues and other questions, which are related to the fundamental principles and values of the EU that need to be protected.
During the recent decade, intergovernmental cooperation based on Common Security and Defence Policy has been dynamically developing and has been implementing the tasks set forth in CSFP. Its purpose is to allow the EU to intervene in situations of international crisis through its own crisis management and peace building capabilities. Beside the military aspects, more and more emphasis is placed on the civil aspects of the work during the course of building the EU’s own crisis management capabilities.
Military operations comprise peacemaking, peacekeeping operations, evacuation operations as well as assistance provided for humanitarian missions. In the context of these missions, among others the EU relies on rapid reaction forces, the so-called battle groups (deployment of these has not been necessary until now). Civil operations cover on the one hand, assistance aimed at strengthening the rule of law and the public administration; and the deployment of observers to ensure that human rights are respected. The EU has launched several missions – autonomous as well as joint missions with other international organizations – on the Western Balkans, Central-Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
European Neighbourhood Policy
The fifth round of enlargement, during which ten Central and Eastern European countries joined the EU shifted the Union’s borders to the east. In May 2004, the EU became the neighbour of countries, which by virtue of their geographical position or the relative abundance of their energy resources became important partners, although some of them are still struggling with security and other challenges. European Neighbourhood Policy is based on the principle of strengthening cooperation between the EU and its neighbour countries and is aimed at developing political stability and economic prosperity in the given regions through the gradually approximation of European norms and regulations, thereby indirectly improving Europe’s security.
Common Trade Policy
The Common Trade Policy is the oldest, fundamental community policy of the EU. It came into force in 1970 after the final customs barriers were cleared between Member States. Since then Member States may not enter into bilateral trade agreements with third countries, since trade policy is entirely under the EU’s supervision. Representing one-fifth of all the trade in the world, the European Union plays a leading role in international trade relations. The fundamental objective of the Common Trade Policy is to promote open, honest trade based on efficient international regulations, which are beneficial to the EU and the entire international community. The EU strives to achieve this during talksin the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO), as well as bilateral or regional trade negotiations.
International development cooperation
In the field of international development cooperation, the activities of the EU and the Member States complement each other. Member States enjoy independence in shaping their own international development policies; however they endeavour to coordinate them with others and to implement them in line with the mutually agreed principles. The EU development cooperation policies are primarily aimed at reducing poverty in the world and the establishment of democratic conditions based on the respect for human rights. The main directions of this activity are defined by the Millennium Development Goals adopted at the UN General Assembly in 2000, which aim to achieve results by 2015 in the field of education, health (mother and infant mortality, epidemics), gender equality and environment protection. More and more emphasis is given in the EU international development policies to promoting the economic growth of Partner States. The EU is the world’s largest development aid donor. The 27 Member States and the EU institutions provided a total of EUR 49 billion in official development funds in 2009, which is 0.42 percent of their aggregate gross national income (GNI).
THE PERIOD OF THE HUNGARIAN PRESIDENCY
The role of the rotating presidency has decreased significantly in the aspects of external relations with the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty, in the field of common foreign and security policy, as well as common security and defence policy the tasks will be taken over by the High Representative and the European External Action Service (EEAS). Providing support to the High Representative and the EEAS is the main objective for Hungary in these areas. The development of the EEAS structure will accelerate during the period of the Hungarian Presidency. Hungary wishes to provide all assistance necessary to ensure that this new institution is fully able to perform its tasks set forth in the Treaty as soon as possible.
Hungary strives to ensure that European Union relations with strategic partners promote the strengthening of the EU’s global positions. The review of the policies related to strategic partners will also continue during the Hungarian Presidency period. During this course, Hungary wishes to contribute to the development of individual partner strategies under the leadership of the High Representative and based on the guidance of the European Council.
Eastern dimensions of EU external relations
One of the high priority tasks of the Hungarian Presidency will be to renew the EU Neighbourhood Policy. The EU has a direct interest in further developing existing economic, political, cultural and human relations with its closest neighbourhoods. This is a priority for Hungary also. The second Eastern Partnership Summit is to be organized in Budapest in May 2011, which in all probability is going to strengthen the eastern dimensions of EU external relations and will contribute to converting the objectives declared in the EU Eastern Partnership into tangible action that takes into account the needs and the abilities of Partner Countries.
Common Security and Defence Policy
In the field of the EU’S Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), the most important challenge during the term of the Hungarian Presidency is going to be ensuring a smooth execution of CSDP-missions and – in case of a possible crisis situation – the launching of new CSDP mission(s). It is also an important task to elaborate and fill with content the novelties introduced by the Lisbon Treaty in the field of CSDP; to strengthen the EU civilian and military crisis management capabilities; and to reinforce the harmony with crisis prevention and crisis management structures developed within the framework of the EEAS. It is expected that the EEAS will already during the Hungarian Presidency assume most of the functions of the rotating presidency in the area of the CSDP, but the EEAS can continue to rely on the support of the Hungarian Presidency. Hungary will also be organizing numerous professional events related to CSDP.
Trade policy and competitiveness
The most important task of the Hungarian Presidency in the field of trade policy will be to promote the implementation of the renewed trade policy strategy aimed at realizing the Europe 2020 Strategy. Increased attention will have to be given to ensure that the implementation of the strategy efficiently serves the purpose of improving the EU’s competitiveness: the objectives of job creation and growth within the EU, especially in respect of small and medium businesses.
During the first half of 2011, we can expect intensive negotiation rounds aimed at concluding the so-called Doha Round, the trade-liberalization negotiations started ten years ago in the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO accession talks of Russia may reach their final phase. Significant progress is expected in the bilateral free trade negotiations underway with India, Singapore, Ukraine and Canada. Special attention will have to be given to initiatives launched with a view to the approximation of regulations with significant global economic actors (USA, Japan, China), since in the case of these partners the differences in internal regulations pose a much greater obstacle to trade and investment than customs tariffs.
The Lisbon Treaty has made the European Parliament (EP) a co-legislator when it comes to the development of EU trade policy regulations. The EP will in the future also have to endorse international trade agreements. In accordance with this, the Hungarian Presidency will strive for efficient cooperation with the European Parliament.
Future of the development policy
Hungary assumes the Presidency in a period, which is important for international development cooperation. The debate on the future of EU international development policies will commence, which aims to discuss the new directions that will help promote economic growth in developing countries. There will also be a need to review the implementation of obligations undertaken by the EU Member States so far, with a view to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and the steps to be taken until 2015 also have to be charted. The debate on the efficiency of support provided by the EU and its Member States to developing countries will also continue during the Hungarian Presidency. The objective of this is to prepare a common position that the EU would represent at the High Level Forum to be organized in South-Korea during the second half of 2011.
Preparations for the international conference in May 2011, in Istanbul organized under the auspices of the UN on the development of the least developed countries (LDC-IV) will also be an important task, as well as representing and conveying the EU message at the event. In line with its national priorities, one of the important objectives of the Hungarian Presidency will be to emphasize the role of water in international development cooperation. As a Member State that joined the EU in 2004, Hungary during its Presidency wishes to provide an opportunity for discussions on the European Transition Compendium on the experiences gained during the social, economic and political transition.
During the Presidency, Hungary will host numerous international conferences and forums, like the conferences of the ACP-EU Parliamentary Assembly or the conference on the participation of civil organizations and local governments in development cooperation.
In the field of humanitarian assistance the Hungarian Presidency will focus on the tasks stemming from the midterm review of the European Humanitarian Consensus Action Plan and the renegotiation of the UN Food Aid Convention.
Péter Györkös is Hungary’s Permanent Representative to the European Union. Diplomats carry their duties wherever they are ordered by his superior officers, but Péter Györkös has a “personal attachment” to his present assignment: for more than twenty years, he has been monitoring closely the process of European unification and has actively worked for it in his successive positions.