I will attend a meeting of the European Council next Thursday and Friday, 15 and 16 October. It is expected that the agenda, which has yet to be finalised, will include Brexit, Covid-19, climate change and EU-Africa relations. Depending on developments, further items may be added in due course.
Before addressing the upcoming meeting, it might be helpful for the House for me to report briefly on the special meeting of the European Council that took place in Brussels last week on 1 and 2 October.
As Deputies will be aware, that meeting was postponed from 24 and 25 September. Last week's meeting discussed a number of pressing external relations issues, including EU relations with Turkey and the importance of a stable and secure environment in the eastern Mediterranean; the situation in Belarus, in response to which we agreed targeted sanctions; the recent outbreak of violence in Nagorno-Karabakh; and the shocking recent assassination attempt on Alexei Navalny in Russia. These issues are a stark reminder of the many challenges that continue to exist on the Union's doorstep. They are also a reminder of the stability that the Union has brought to our part of Europe and the obligation on us to act as a reliable and principled partner in supporting the rule of law, human rights and democracy in all of our neighbourhood.
We also discussed the health and economic impacts of Covid-19 and agreed the need to strengthen our co-ordination, especially as regards the development and distribution of a vaccine at EU level. We agreed to hold regular discussions on this issue. The response to Covid-19 also formed part of our consideration of our agenda item on the Single Market industrial and digital policy. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of the Single Market to our economic well-being. While we have come to take its existence for granted, Covid-19 has also demonstrated how quickly it can be disrupted, including when member states do not act in a coherent and co-ordinated way. As leaders, we agreed that the pandemic will have a lasting impact on European and global economies, highlighting both our assets and dependencies. The Single Market will be a strong driver of our economic recovery with what we described as the "twin pillars" of the green and digital transformations helping us to foster new forms of growth, cohesion and convergence, strengthening the EU's resilience.
In our discussion of Covid-19, it was clear that most member states are experiencing an increase in case numbers, with more younger people affected than was the case earlier in the pandemic. Our meeting was a useful opportunity to share experience and ensure greater co-ordination in the future, particularly as regards travel, quarantine frameworks and the distribution of vaccines, which I fully support.
We also discussed relations between the EU and China. In his contribution to the debate, the Minister of State with responsibility for European Union affairs, Deputy Thomas Byrne, will provide a report of that discussion, as well as further detail on the other external relations issues.
On the second day of our meeting, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, provided an update on the negotiations of a future relationship agreement with the United Kingdom. Her intervention followed the conclusion of the ninth round of negotiations that day. It also followed a bilateral meeting I had with President von der Leyen on Thursday at which we shared an assessment on the state of play in the negotiations and agreed that the UK needs to engage seriously if we are to bridge differences on important outstanding issues, including fisheries, state aid and governance. We also discussed progress on the implementation of the withdrawal agreement and, in particular, the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland.
As the House will be aware, on Thursday morning, the European Commission launched infringement proceedings against the UK as a result of its failure to withdraw elements of its internal market Bill that are in breach of commitments in the withdrawal agreement. Over the coming weeks, the Commission will follow up in line with its procedures and the UK has the opportunity to respond. For any deal on the future relationship to be possible, the UK will have to work to restore the trust of all member states by implementing the withdrawal agreement fully and in good faith.
At Friday's meeting of the European Council, I shared my assessment of the current state of play, the remaining prospects for a free trade deal to be agreed in the period ahead and on the importance of sustained and positive progress on implementing the protocol. Deal or no deal, the protocol will enter into force on 1 January 2021 and its terms must be honoured in full.
Last week's meeting discussed a number of vitally important issues on the EU agenda and that will also be the case when we meet again next week. We will return to the issue of Brexit. President von der Leyen spoke to Prime Minister Johnson on Sunday, following which, in a joint statement, they asked negotiators on both sides to work intensively to try to bridge remaining gaps and agreed the importance of finding an agreement, if at all possible, as a strong basis for a strategic EU-UK relationship in the future. It remains my firm view that the best outcome for all is a future relationship agreement between the UK and the EU based on free, fair and sustainable trade and which protects job standards and our respective economies. I hope that when we meet on 15 October, real progress will have been made. I wish the EU's negotiator, Michel Barnier, and his team every success in the important work ahead. However, to guard against all eventualities, the European Council will also discuss work on preparedness for all scenarios after 1 January 2021.
The European Council will also discuss Covid-19, climate change and EU-Africa relations. The Minister of State, Deputy Thomas Byrne, will provide details on what is envisaged for the discussion on EU-Africa relations in his concluding remarks. We will discuss Covid-19 and take stock of developments since we last met in terms of EU co-ordination.
On climate, the European Council will review progress towards the Union's objective of climate neutrality by 2050. Since leaders most recently discussed this issue in December 2019, the Commission has proposed a 2030 climate target plan including a European climate law and a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. At next week's meting, it is planned to hold an orientation debate on climate with a view to returning to the matter at our meeting in December. Our commitments on climate are essential to protecting the well-being of this and future generations and that of the planet. The green transition is also an essential pillar of our economic recovery. The development of a European climate law is consistent with Ireland's domestic approach. The climate action Bill under preparation and to be published later today will enshrine a national 2050 emissions reduction target into law. I will discuss with fellow leaders Ireland's support for increased ambition at European Union level while asserting the importance of cost effective and fair sharing of the effort across member states.
I will also have an opportunity to discuss these matters with the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, whom I look forward to welcoming to Dublin tomorrow. In our meeting, we will discuss the important programme of work for the European Council for the period ahead, including matters on the agenda for next week's meeting. I look forward to engaging with my EU colleagues, collectively and bilaterally, at next week's meeting of the European Council and will report back to the House in due course.