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 Estonian presidency

The presidency will continue the process of implementing the objectives of the European neighbourhood policy.

In particular, it will seek to strengthen relations with the six partner countries of the Eastern Partnership. The next Eastern Partnership summit will take place during the Estonian presidency on 24 November 2017. 

Regarding the EU's southern neighbourhood, cooperation in the field of the economy and security will be intensified.

Close transatlantic relations remain important. The Council will aim for continued dialogue with the United States and Canada on matters of common interest, including the fight against terrorism, cyber threats and trade.

The presidency will also promote strategic cooperation with African countries to address socio-economic challenges. Improving security in the African continent is a priority, along with cooperation on migration issues.

Partnerships with African, Latin American and Caribbean countries will be strengthened through summits scheduled until the end of 2017.

Continued cooperation with Turkey and the Western Balkans is another key priority for the presidency, in particular in the area of migration, security, energy and the economy.

Security and defence

The presidency will seek to strengthen the three pillars of the EU common security and defence policy:

  • implementation of the security and defence elements of the EU Global Strategy
  • EU-NATO cooperation
  • implementation of the Commission's European defence action plan

 The presidency will also focus on enhancing member states' military capabilities. It will also contribute to the discussions on permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) , a coordinated annual review on defence (CARD) and a European defence action plan (EDAP). 

Development

The Estonian presidency will promote the use of digital technologies in the implementation of the sustainable development goals.

The presidency will also focus on improving coordination between humanitarian aid and development cooperation, in particular in the context of the refugee crisis.

Particular attention will also be given to protracted displacement due to humanitarian crises and natural disasters.