On 25 May 2020, the EEA Council convened in an informal meeting through videoconference, to discuss the overall functioning of the Agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA Agreement) and the impact of COVID-19 on the Internal Market. The Council also held an orientation debate on the European Green Deal and EEA EFTA Ministers discussed future relations with the United Kingdom with EU counterparts.
The meeting was chaired by Gordan Grlić-Radman, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Croatia, representing the Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU). The EEA EFTA side was chaired by Ine Eriksen Søreide, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway, who was accompanied by Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Icelandic Minister for Foreign Affairs and Katrin Eggenberger, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Liechtenstein.
On the EU side, the meeting was also attended by members of the Council of the European Union and representatives of the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS).
Due to the unprecedented situation of the coronavirus pandemic, the EEA Council was conducted by videoconference. In a matter of weeks, the world has changed dramatically, and all countries are facing exceptional challenges
“I want to emphasise that it is exactly in times like these we need to rely on strong and effective cooperation. I would like to express our thanks to the Croatian Presidency of the Council for its work in these demanding circumstances, and to the Commission and the EEAS for their efforts,” co-chair Søreide said in her opening remarks. She stressed the importance of cooperation between EFTA and the EU in dealing with the challenging situation of COVID-19.
“Over the last months, there has been a particularly close and intensive cooperation within the EEA to handle the crisis and there are many excellent examples of the benefits of this cooperation. I would also highlight the successful repatriation of our respective nationals stranded abroad, which was considerably assisted by the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.”
Søreide also noted the situation in March regarding the export of personal protective equipment, which was solved swiftly by government officials in the EFTA States and the EU with assistance from the EFTA Secretariat.
“Allow me also to stress how important it was to find a swift solution for the EEA EFTA States regarding the recent EU Regulation on export restrictions on personal protective equipment. This was also necessary to safeguard the integrity of the Internal Market.“
The EEA EFTA States brought up the immediate task ahead in dealing with the pandemic. Firstly, there is a need to continue to join forces to develop and acquire vital medicines, medical and protective equipment. Furthermore, the management of borders needs to be coordinated to ensure the right balance between containing the virus by restricting border traffic, but also ensuring the flow of goods and essential services. Lastly, the EEA EFTA States, represented by Søreide emphasised the need to maintain the economic level playing field in the Internal Market during and after these exceptional circumstances. In relation to the final point, the EEA Council continued a discussion on the future of the Internal Market.
“We must remain agile and well-coordinated also in the handling of future COVID-19 measures, to ensure a well-functioning Internal Market. To succeed, we need to keep sharing information in real time in order to align our responses,” said Søreide about the future of the Internal Market.
Orientation debate on the European Green Deal
The orientation debate concerned the European Green Deal, which the EEA EFTA States warmly welcome. From the EU side, presentations were given by Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President for the Green Deal, and Stefano Sannino, Deputy Secretary-General at the EEAS.
The EEA EFTA States are positive towards the many proposals presented in the Green Deal Roadmap which was launched at the end of last year, and several of the proposals fall within the scope of the EEA Agreement and are relevant for the Internal Market.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected our societies. It has caused an economic setback of which we still do not know the full consequences. What we do know, however, is that the need to tackle climate change has become no less urgent. Pursuing an economic recovery that facilitates the transformation of our societies into competitive, sustainable, zero-emission, circular economies is therefore paramount,” Søreide said on behalf of the three EEA EFTA States.
“Through the EEA Agreement, the EEA EFTA States and the EU enjoy a uniquely close relationship. Our common point of departure is a strong and unequivocal commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement. Based on these shared values and commitments, we look forward to making full use of our cooperation with the EU to further the ambitious agenda of the European Green Deal.”
Political dialogue on Brexit and the external dimension of covid
Prior to the informal meeting of the EEA Council, the EEA EFTA Ministers had an informal political dialogue with EU counterparts on current foreign policy issues of mutual interest, such as the external dimension to COVID-19. They also discussed future relations with the UK with Michel Barnier, the EU’s Head of Task Force for Relations with the UK.
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