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General Affairs and External Relations


Ursula Plassnik
Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs
  

The Foreign Ministers of the Member States of the European Union meet in the General Affairs and External Relations Council. They meet in Brussels once per month as a rule, but their meetings in April, June and October take place in Luxembourg. As in the case of all the other Council meetings, the chair of the Council of Foreign Ministers rotates every six months. Austria’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ursula Plassnik, will take the chair on 1 January 2006.

Since June 2002 the General Affairs and External Relations Council has held separate meetings on General Affairs and on External Relations respectively.

General Affairs

The General Affairs Council deals with dossiers involving more than one of the European Union’s policy areas. These dossiers are also referred to as "horizontal affairs". They include negotiations on EU enlargement, the multi-annual budgetary perspective, and institutional and administrative matters. In addition, the General Affairs Council has a coordinating role to ensure the overall consistency of the work carried out in the other Council configurations. It also prepares the European Council, the meeting of Heads of State and Government.

External Relations

The External Relations Council covers the whole spectrum of the EU’s external action. This includes the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), security and defence policy, which is part of the CFSP, development cooperation, and trade relations with countries outside the EU.

The Foreign Ministers coordinate external relations dossiers with the High Representative for the CFSP, Javier Solana. The Commissioners responsible for these fields are Benita Ferrero-Waldner (External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy), Louis Michel (Development and Humanitarian Aid) and Peter Mandelson (Trade).

Depending on the items on the agenda, the Ministers for Defence or Development may also participate in the meetings of the Foreign Ministers.

In addition to the formal Council meetings, an informal meeting of Foreign Ministers known as a “Gymnich” is held every six months. This meeting is called after a castle in the German town of Gymnich where the first such meeting was held. The Gymnich meeting will be held during the Austrian Presidency on 11 and 12 March 2006 in Salzburg.

 

More information about the work of the General Affairs and External Relations Council:

 

Date: 10.04.2006