Foreign Affairs Council configuration (FAC)

Council of the EU

The Foreign Affairs Council is responsible for the EU's external action, which includes foreign policy, defence and security, trade, development cooperation and humanitarian aid.

How does the Foreign Affairs Council work?

The Foreign Affairs Council is composed of the foreign ministers from all EU member states. Depending on the agenda, the Council also brings together: 

  • defence ministers (common security and defence policy)
  • development ministers (development cooperation)
  • trade ministers (common commercial policy)

Meetings of the Foreign Affairs Council are chaired by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, currently Federica Mogherini. The High Representative is assisted by the European External Action Service (EEAS).

However, when the FAC discusses common commercial policy issues, it is presided by the representative of the EU member state holding the six-monthly rotating presidency of the Council of the EU.

The Foreign Affairs Council meets once a month.

About foreign affairs policy

Together with the European Commission and with the assistance of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the Council's main role is to ensure the unity, consistency and effectiveness of the EU's external action.

It also defines and implements the EU's foreign and security policy, based on guidelines set by the European Council. In particular, the Council can launch EU crisis management actions, both civil and military, in pursuit of the EU's objectives of peace and security. It can also adopt measures needed to implement the EU's foreign and security policy, including possible sanctions.

As it is an exclusive competence of the EU, the Council adopts measures implementing the EU's common commercial policy together with the European Parliament. This includes trade and investment relations, intellectual property rights and foreign direct investment. In trade policy, the Commission is responsible for negotiating and managing trade agreements involving tariff amendments, customs and trade provisions and protective measures. However, the Council plays a central role as it mandates the Commission to open negotiations and gives negotiating directives to the Commission.

Priorities of the Foreign Affairs Council during the Maltese presidency

The Council will pay particular attention to further development and consolidation of European Neighbourhood Policy, EU relations with Turkey and its strategic partnership with Africa, as well as development and humanitarian aid policies. The Mediterranean region will be the focus of engagement throughout the presidency.

In February 2017 the presidency will host a meeting in Malta to evaluate the implementation of the Joint Valletta Action Plan, launched at the 2015 Valletta summit on migration, and to plan further action.

The Council will seek to implement the new Partnership Framework with third countries and work to ensure continuing implementation of the EU-Turkey statement.

The considerable security challenges in the wider Middle East will remain a priority. Among the main tasks are: ensuring peace in Libya and Syria, supporting efforts to break the deadlock in the Middle East peace process and encouraging a deepening of relations with the League of Arab States.

In relation to development and humanitarian aid, the priorities are to implement the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development across EU policies and to work towards the new European Consensus on Development.

International trade will be a key policy area during the Maltese presidency, which will work on further defining the EU's position with a view to the WTO Ministerial Conference in December 2017 and on maintaining the Council's engagement on the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) and the Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA). The Maltese presidency will also look to make headway in ongoing negotiations with Japan and monitor the development s of negotiations with Tunisia, Mercosur, Mexico and the ASEAN countries. Another aim will be to make substantial progress on  the EU-China Investment Agreement.

A particular focus of the Maltese presidency will be the reform of trade defence instruments (TDIs), including their modernisation, and a new anti-dumping methodology to reflect the evolving WTO context.