1. The twenty-fourth meeting of the EEA Council took place in Brussels on 21 November 2005 under the Presidency of Ms. Rita Kieber-Beck, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Liechtenstein. The meeting was attended by Mr. Jonas Gahr Støre, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Norway, and by Mr. Geir H. Haarde, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland, from the EEA - EFTA side, as well as by Mr. Douglas Alexander, Minister of State for Europe of the United Kingdom, representing the EU Presidency, by Members of the Council of the European Union and by a representative of the European Commission from the EU side.

2. The EEA Council noted that within the framework of the Political Dialogue the Ministers discussed the fight against terrorism, the OSCE Reform Process and the preparations for the Ministerial Meeting which will take place in Ljubljana on 4 - 5 December 2005, as well as the capacity building in Africa and the responsibility for peace building and conflict resolution.

3. The EEA Council noted that the enlarged European Economic Area of 1 May 2004 has functioned well and welcomed that all the Contracting States had now ratified the EEA Enlargement Agreement.

4. The Ministers appreciated the good progress made in the implementation of the new EEA Financial Mechanism and the Norwegian Financial Mechanism. With the Memoranda of Understanding concluded with the Beneficiary States, the process has entered a new stage of project generation and the Financial Mechanisms are now firmly in the implementation phase. The importance of transparency and broad participation in this work was underlined. The EEA Council welcomed the launching of the first calls for proposals in the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Malta and Poland, which have made close to 200 million euros available to potential applicants.

5. The EEA Council welcomed the applications of Bulgaria and Romania to becoming Contracting Parties to the EEA Agreement and recalled that Article 128 of the EEA Agreement states that any European State becoming a member of the European Community shall apply to become a Party to this Agreement. The Parties concerned were therefore asked to prepare negotiations of the respective Enlargement Agreements in conformity with this. The EEA Council underlined the common objective of the simultaneous accession of new members to the European Union and to the European Economic Area, in order to secure the homogeneity and the good functioning of the European Economic Area. The EEA Council also noted the opening of EU’s membership negotiations with Turkey and Croatia.

6. The EEA Council encouraged all Contracting Parties to inform relevant actors on the EEA Agreement, in order to facilitate a smooth functioning of the Agreement and to safeguard the interests of economic operators throughout the European Economic Area.

7. The EEA Council welcomed the renewed goals of the Lisbon Process and expressed optimism that they would promote delivery of growth and implement reforms.

8. Regarding the review of the overall work in EEA co-operation, the EEA Council noted the Progress Report of the EEA Joint Committee. The Ministers welcomed the continuation of well-functioning co-operation, and the speedy incorporation of new legislation for the Internal Market into the EEA Agreement.

The EEA Council in particular:
• Welcomed the timely EEA - EFTA participation in EEA-relevant Agencies of the European Union and looked forward to a decision by the EEA Joint Committee on EEA
- EFTA participation in the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) as soon as possible.

• Recalled the aim of maintaining the good functioning of the Internal Market in the field of civil aviation. In that context, the EEA Council noted the common interest of the EU and the EEA - EFTA States to develop further the close ties in this field, in particular the incorporation of common rules and principles governing the organisation of the European airspace (Single European Sky) into the EEA Agreement. The EEA Council also noted that the EU and the EEA - EFTA States continue to pursue close informal contacts with respect to the Open Skies Policy of the European Union. Furthermore, the EEA Council encouraged all Contracting Parties to prevent any possible restrictions to the freedom to provide air services within the European Economic Area, such as discriminatory charges or tax measures.

• Welcomed the progress made towards better regulation within the Internal Market.

• Welcomed the continued constructive dialogue in order to find a practical solution with regard to the new safety and security system (pre-arrival / pre-departure declarations) and thereby avoiding obstacles to the free movement of goods within the European Economic Area.

• Acknowledged the EEA - EFTA stake in the efforts to establish a general framework for services in the Internal Market.

• Welcomed the continued EEA - EFTA contributions in the decision-shaping process of EEA-relevant legislation and programmes of the European Community through i.a. participation in appropriate committees and working groups of the European Community, and through EEA - EFTA Comments.

• Reaffirmed the importance of EEA - EFTA participation in EEA-relevant programmes of the European Union. This participation is co-financed by the EEA - EFTA States and contributes to the strengthening of the EEA co-operation outside the four freedoms of the Internal Market, thereby promoting the common political and economic goals attached to the EEA Agreement.

9. The EEA Council reaffirmed the shared aim of creating stable, peaceful and prosperous relations with the neighbouring countries. The EEA Council acknowledged that giving neighbourhood countries or third countries a stake in the Internal Market would be mutually beneficial to all parties involved and of relevance to the European Economic Area. The EEA Council welcomed the continued exchange of information on further developments of the European Neighbourhood Policy.

10. The EEA Council held an orientation debate on the status of the negotiations leading up to the WTO Ministerial Conference which will take place in Hong Kong on 13 - 18 December 2005.

11. The EEA Council underlined the need to finalise the outstanding issues to ensure rapid implementation of the shrimp quota and transit of fish, which are included in the EEA Enlargement Agreement.

12. The EEA Council recognised the desirability of inviting EEA - EFTA Ministers to attend relevant informal EU Ministerial Meetings as well as Ministerial Conferences on the basis of EEA - EFTA participation in the Internal Market. The EEA Council also recalled the practice of inviting the EEA - EFTA States - at the level of officials - to political dialogue meetings with relevant Working Groups of the Council of the European Union in the troika format and expressed its appreciation to the incoming Austrian Presidency for the continuation of this practice.

Ref: 14739/05(Presse 309)