On 18 November, the EEA Council convened in an informal meeting through videoconference under Liechtenstein Chair Katrin Eggenberger, Minister of Foreign Affairs, holding the Presidency of the EEA Council this term. Michael Roth, State Minister of Europe, co-chaired the meeting, which was also attended by Ine Eriksen Søreide and Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, respectively Minister for Foreign Affairs of Norway and Iceland, as well as by Members of the Council of the European Union and representatives of the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS).
The main topic of discussion was the overall functioning of the Agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA Agreement) and the effect of COVID-19 on the Internal Market. In her opening remarks, Chair Eggenberger said “Looking ahead, we need close coordination and cooperation, ranging from medical research and procurement to the management of our borders and state aid. As new measures are in place to contain the second wave of the pandemic, we must work hard to maintain the integrity and coherence of the Internal Market.”
Representing the Presidency of the EU Council, Mr Roth said “We are facing one of the greatest challenges of our times. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown our vulnerabilities, but at the same time it has shown the values of working together. The EEA Agreement continues to be the cornerstone of our close cooperation. It unites us as equal partners in the Internal Market.”
The EU Commission represented by Kerstin Jorna, Director General DG GROW, gave a briefing on the impact of COVID-19 on the Internal Market.
The second main topic of the meeting was on Europe’s digital future, to which Chair Eggenberger commented by saying that ”the digital transformation of our societies and economies is crucial for the economic recovery and to strengthen our resilience. The EEA EFTA States share the EU´s ambition in this field, as highlighted for example in the recent EEA EFTA Comment on Artificial Intelligence.”
Director-General of DG Connect, Roberto Viola, also took the floor to present the latest advances.
Finally, the members of the EEA Council made a joint statement addressing the following areas:
- response to the Covid-19 pandemic
- cooperation in the EEA
- political dialogue
- the withdrawal of the UK from the EU and the EEA Agreement
- development of the Internal Market
- incorporation of EEA-relevant EU acts
- the European Green Deal
- Digital Europe
- EU programmes
- EEA and Norway Financial Mechanisms
- Agricultural Trade
On the first point, the Ministers stated:
“We acknowledge the far-reaching effects of the COVID-19 crisis and stress the need to meet this unprecedented challenge in a spirit of solidarity. Furthermore, we welcome the particularly close cooperation between the EU and the EEA EFTA States. We highlight the joint efforts on free movement of persons, border management and the repatriation of nationals stranded abroad, on the acquisition of medicines, medical and protective equipment, as well as on the research and development of a vaccine. Reaffirming the central role of the EEA Agreement in closely linking our societies and economies, we continue to stress the need for such close cooperation and the importance of considering how to help alleviate the serious socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic through all available instruments. Ensuring the integrity of the Internal Market and a smooth functioning of the EEA Agreement remain essential priorities in this context.”
Read the full statement here.
Find pictures from the EEA Council videoconference here.
Political dialogue on major foreign policy issues
Before the videoconference of the EEA Council, the EEA EFTA Ministers had an informal political dialogue with EU counterparts on current foreign policy issues of mutual interest. The EU-side was chaired by Heiko Maas, Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany. Ministers exchanged views on transatlantic relations, focusing on Belarus, China and the USA.
Individual statements from the Ministers:
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