I participated in a meeting of the European Council in Brussels on 24 and 25 June. The agenda included Covid-19, economic recovery, migration, relations with Russia and Turkey, and the situation in the eastern Mediterranean. We also discussed Belarus and adopted conclusions on Libya, the Sahel, Ethiopia and cybersecurity. In addition, we had a discussion on LGBTQI equality. Our meeting began with an exchange with the UN Secretary General. We concluded on Friday with a meeting of the Euro Summit. I will report on our discussions with the UN Secretary General and on Covid-19, economic recovery, Russia, Belarus, LGBTQI equality and the Euro Summit. The Minister of State, Deputy Thomas Byrne, will address the remaining issues in his concluding remarks.
In advance of the first session of the European Council, I met my counterparts from the Nordic and Baltic member states to discuss the agenda for the meeting. I updated them on the current situation in Northern Ireland.
We also agreed that we should take a clear stance on LGBTQI+ equality at the meeting.
The European Council began with an exchange of views with the United Nations Secretary General, Mr. António Guterres. I emphasised the need for global multilateral co-operation to tackle the complex challenges we currently face. The United Nations system cannot succeed without the constant support and engagement of its member states. Ireland engages openly with all members of the Security Council but of course, we work particularly closely with our European Union partners.
I also highlighted Ireland's work on some of the most pressing issues on the Security Council agenda. These include supporting efforts to support the Iran nuclear agreement, working to ensure life-saving humanitarian assistance in Syria and drawing attention to the very serious situation in Ethiopia. In response, the United Nations Secretary General paid warm tribute to the role that Ireland is playing, especially on Syria. I very much welcome the European Council's engagement with the Secretary General, reflecting the strong co-operation between the European Union and the United Nations. We share a strong commitment to fundamental values and attach the same urgency to addressing global challenges. It is important that we work closely together.
On Covid-19, our exchanges took stock of the good progress on vaccination across the member states and the overall improvement in the epidemiological situation. Approximately 400 million doses have already been delivered across the European Union and close to 60% of the EU adult population has received at least one dose. While continuing to advance our successful vaccination programmes, leaders agreed that continued vigilance and co-ordination is needed on the emergence and spread of variants of concern.
We noted the agreements reached on the European Union digital Covid certificate, and on the revision of the two Council recommendations on travel within the European Union and on non-essential travel into the European Union. These will be applied by member states in a manner that will help achieve the full return to free movement when the public health situation allows.
The European Council also reaffirmed its commitment to continue to support global solidarity to ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines around the world. This includes further clear actions to help boost global production in tandem with addressing supply and distribution bottlenecks. We welcome the decision adopted by the Seventy-fourth World Health Assembly to set up a special session in November 2021 to discuss a framework convention on pandemic preparedness and response. The European Union will continue working towards an international treaty on pandemics.
Leaders also held an initial exchange on the lessons that can be learned from the pandemic on the basis of a report prepared by the Commission on 15 June 2021. We invited the incoming Slovenian Presidency to take work forward in the Council to enhance collective preparedness, response capability and resilience to future crises, and to protect the functioning of the Internal Market.
As I indicated to the House last week, while the European Union and its member states have accomplished much during the pandemic, there is room for stronger collective efforts in the sphere of public health, while acknowledging areas of national competencies. There is scope to reduce unnecessary duplication of effort across member states, improve co-ordination and harness our collective strengths as we address common challenges. The success of the vaccination programme shows us what can be achieved when we work together as a Union.
On Thursday evening, European Council President, Charles Michel, facilitated an important discussion on LGBTQI equality and the importance of European Union values. This was a passionate and serious discussion. The European Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. These are enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union. There simply must be adherence to these values right across the European Union. I was pleased to sign a joint letter with other leaders ahead of the meeting to mark Pride Day and in light of threats against fundamental rights, in particular, the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.
Last week, the Minister of State with responsibility for European Union affairs, Deputy Thomas Byrne, also co-signed a declaration to this end, led by the Benelux countries, at the General Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg. We expressed our grave concern at Hungary's use of child protection as a pretext for introducing measures that violate freedom of expression and target a minority community. It is simply not acceptable. We urged the European Commission to use all the tools at its disposal to ensure full respect for European Union law. The Commission has made clear that it will take any necessary action under the treaties.
For my own part, I made very clear in my intervention that discrimination has real-world effects on our young people. Discrimination starts on paper but ends up on our streets and in our schools. I made clear Ireland's unambiguous national commitment to maintaining the values upon which the European Union is founded. I took the opportunity to share with European Union leaders a discussion I had last November with Ruairí Holohan from Drogheda in the context of a UNICEF project on the rights of children. Ruairí raised the issue of homophobic behaviour in schools, the difficulties for young people, teenagers in particular, as they come out, as well as the challenges and sometimes the hostility, our young people have to face. I raised that in the context of the amendments to the Hungarian legislation that have been brought in by the Hungarian Parliament and Government.
At the European Council on 24 and 25 May, we discussed the European Union's strategic relationship with Russia, and invited the Commission and the European External Action Service to present a report putting forward some policy options within the framework of the European Union's long-term agreed five principles for engagement with Russia. These five principles are full implementation of the Minsk agreements, strengthened relations with Eastern partner countries and other countries of Central Asia, strengthening European Union resilience to Russian threats, selective engagement with Russia on certain issues, such as counterterrorism, and support for people-to-people contacts. The analysis of the Commission and the European External Action Service is that relations between the European Union and Russia are unlikely to improve in the short term. I share that analysis. It is also important, however, that when the time is right, we are open to exploring paths that could change the current negative dynamics gradually into a more predictable and stable relationship.
The limitations on fundamental freedoms in Russia and the shrinking space for civil society are of grave concern. It is important that the European Union continues to support civil society, human rights organisations and independent media. Leaders invited the Commission and the High Representative to put forward proposals on how to progress this objective.
At last week's European Council meeting, European Union leaders agreed on the introduction of new restrictive measures against the Belarusian regime in response to the escalation of serious human rights violations, the forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk on 23 May 2021 and the related detention of journalist Raman Pratasevich and of Sofia Sapega.
The new targeted economic sanctions include the prohibition to directly or indirectly sell, supply, transfer or export to anyone in Belarus equipment, technology or software intended primarily for use in the monitoring or interception of the Internet and of telephone communications, and dual-use goods and technologies for military use to specified persons, entities or bodies in Belarus. Trade in petroleum products, potassium chloride and goods used for the production or manufacturing of tobacco products is restricted.
Furthermore, access to European Union capital markets is restricted and providing insurance and reinsurance to the Belarusian Government and Belarusian public bodies and agencies is prohibited. The European Investment Bank will stop any disbursement or payment under any existing agreements with regard to projects in the public sector and any existing technical assistance service contracts. Member states will also be required to take actions to limit the involvement in Belarus of multilateral development banks of which they are members.
The European Union has now fully operationalised the concrete steps and strong response we agreed in May. We have imposed clear costs on the Lukashenko regime for its flagrant disregard for international law. In doing so, the European Union has acted in unity and in co-ordination with like-minded international partners. We will continue to focus on supporting the Belarusian people in their defence of democratic principles and ensuring respect for their human rights.
Central to that is making those responsible for the ongoing repression accountable for their unacceptable actions and pressing the authorities to adhere to their international commitments. That is what Ireland and the European Union will continue to do, including during the ongoing 47th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
We need to find a peaceful and democratic solution to the crisis through a meaningful and inclusive national dialogue that leads to elections that are free and fair. To achieve this goal, it is important to keep Belarus high on the international agenda and press the authorities there to adhere to their international commitments and obligations.
On Friday morning, we turned our attention to economic recovery. The June European Council was an important opportunity for leaders to take stock of economic developments as we look ahead to the next phase of post-pandemic recovery. As I indicated to the House last week, the key focus of this year's European semester process of economic governance is on the full and effective implementation of the €750 billion Next Generation EU package. Ireland submitted its draft national recovery and resilience plan to the Commission on 28 May. Most member states have likewise submitted their plans, with a view to accessing funding under the recovery and resilience facility, which forms the centrepiece of the Next Generation EU package.
Last week, leaders reaffirmed in this context our shared commitment to the headline targets of the European Pillar of Social Rights action plan, consistent with the Porto declaration. The essence of the Porto declaration, which we agreed at last month's social summit, is that the European ideal is first and foremost about improving the lives of our citizens. The concrete employment, skills and poverty-reduction targets to be achieved by 2030 are an exemplar of the practical focus I believe is necessary in setting strategic direction for the period ahead. It is very welcome that the social pillar continues to provide a clear political compass for our collective actions in responding effectively to 21st century challenges and opportunities, and equipping our citizens with the skills and capabilities for full economic and social participation.
At our euro summit meeting, leaders were joined by the president of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, and the president of the Eurogroup, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe. The focus of our discussions was on the economic challenges for the euro area in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis. We acknowledged the strong, swift and co-ordinated economic policy response of the European Union and its member states in preparing the ground for a robust, inclusive and sustainable recovery from the pandemic. We reiterated our commitment to completing banking union and strengthening the integration of our capital markets. The Eurogroup has a strong mandate for advancing further work in this area over the coming months. A further euro summit in December will review progress.
European Union-United Kingdom relations were not on the agenda of last week's European Council. However, I took the opportunity en marge of the meeting to discuss recent developments with EU colleagues. I emphasised the need to address issues in an environment of calm, without heightened rhetoric or drama. As I said, the EU remains committed to finding every flexibility possible within the protocol to make it work as well as possible for businesses and citizens.
This was a long meeting with a number of sensitive internal and external issues on the agenda. Not every meeting can lead to the immediate resolution of even the most pressing of issues. Sometimes, however, the meetings of greatest substance and longest lasting impact are the ones such as this meeting, where the discussion was open, at times difficult, but at all times respectful. It led us back to first principles; the core values of our Union that should guide all our decisions. As I already indicated, the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, will report on our discussions on other external relations issues, including Turkey, Libya, the Sahel and Ethiopia, as well as migration and cybersecurity. I look forward to hearing Members' contributions to the debate.