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General Affairs and External Relations

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) brings together the ministers for foreign affairs of the Member States. Ministers responsible for European affairs, defence, development and trade also participate, depending on the agenda. The GAERC meets once a month.

General Affairs

During sessions on General Affairs, the GAERC examines dossiers that affect more than one of the EU's policies, such as negotiations on enlargement, preparation of the multi-annual budgetary perspectives, issues relating to the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC or EURATOM) or institutional and administrative issues. It also coordinates the work carried out by the other configurations of the European Council in the different policy areas. It coordinates, for example, the preparation and monitoring of European Council meetings.

External Relations

During the sessions devoted to external relations, the GAERC deals with the whole of the EU's external action, including common foreign and security policy, European defence and security policy, external trade and development cooperation, as well as the conventions and agreements concluded by the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC) in the Euratom Treaty.

  • Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP): The objectives and purposes of the CFSP are to safeguard the common values, fundamental interests, the independence and the integrity of the European Union; to reinforce the security of the European Union in all its forms; to maintain peace and strengthen international security; to promote international cooperation; to develop and strengthen democracy and the rule of law, as well as respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Within the framework of the CFSP, the General Affairs and External Relations Council adopts common positions and actions, and conclusions on the main issues of the day. All its decisions are taken by a unanimous vote.

The Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union, High Representative for the CFSP, Javier Solana, participates in GAERC meetings and is a driving force in formulating, developing and implementing the CFSP.

  • European Defence and Security Policy (EDSP): The GAERC is responsible for European Defence and Security Policy. The ministers for defence usually participate in GAERC sessions twice a year.
  • External Trade Policy: The European Union, which accounts for a fifth of total world trade, plays a major role in international trade. The European Union is involved in multilateral negotiations within the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and in bilateral negotiations with certain third countries.

The European Commission is mandated by the Council to implement the trade policy. It works closely with one of the committees of the Council, called the 'Article 133 Committee', which takes its name from the treaty article on trade matters. This committee assists the Commission in conducting trade negotiations and overseeing trade policy management.

  • Development Cooperation and Aid: Development policy is a fully-fledged Community policy, which does not however prevent Member States from creating their own bilateral development aid policies. The aims of the Community policy are to develop and strengthen democracy and the rule of law, and, in developing countries, promote sustainable economic and social development as well as their unified and progressive integration into the global economy, and to combat poverty.

Taking the total amount of bilateral aid allocated by Member States and Commission funding on behalf of the 27 Member States, the European Union is the largest development aid donor in the world. The EU distributes Official Development Assistance (ODA) in one form or another to 145 countries. Nevertheless, within this development cooperation and aid policy, the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP) have a pre-eminent status under the terms of the revised Cotonou Agreement (2005), which establishes the framework for EU-ACP relations.

Several instruments finance the Community cooperation policy: the Financing Instrument for Development Cooperation (DCI), the Instrument for Humanitarian Assistance, both based on community funds, and the European Development Fund (EDF), which is intended for ACP countries and supplemented by contributions from Member States. France is the second-largest contributor in this area providing 19.55% of funding, after Germany (20.5%).

These three development and humanitarian aid instruments are bolstered by other EU tools such as trade or sectoral policies. In terms of trade and direct investment, the EU is the main partner of many developing countries.

In cooperation and development-related matters, the GAERC acts by qualified majority in co-decision with the European Parliament.


Documents "General Affairs and External Relations Council"

  • Updated: 10.07.2008
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