European Council: what was said in a nutshell on 19th and 20th October

, by Translated by Giulia Biagi, Lucie Pagnat, Translated by Lorène Weber

European Council: what was said in a nutshell on 19th and 20th October
Donald Tusk, President of the European Council

As he wrote in his invitation letter to the European leaders, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, wanted European leaders to follow three principles: looking for practical solutions to the real problems of the EU citizens, moving ahead step by step, and preserving unity.

“Unity cannot become an excuse for stagnation, but ambition cannot be a cause of division at the same time”, Donald Tusk declared the day before the opening of the European Council. Did European leaders reach such a conciliation between unity and dynamism after their last meeting on Friday 20 October?

It’s time to move to a digital Europe

Less than a month after the digital summit in Tallinn on 29th September, leaders are determined to put in place the idea of a “stronger and more coherent” digital Europe lying upon the conclusions made by the Prime Minister Ratas. [1] In addition to contributing to the global competitiveness of the European Union, moving towards a digital Europe is a collective challenge aiming to strengthen our “creative and cultural diversity”.

To enter this new digital era, the European Council recommends to set up the Tallinn declaration on online administration [2] in order to help administrations and public sectors to comply with this will which enters into the strategy for a single digital market. Moreover, the 28 EU member states agreed that it was fundamental to get equipped with an infrastructure and a first-class communication network to set up broadband fixed and mobile networks (5G).

Concerning cybersecurity, the European Council decided to take a stance to ensure a more proactive security from the conception stage in all digital politicies to adopt a common and efficient approach.

An operational consideration concerning all migration routes

The thorny issue of migratory routes did not prevent European leaders from agreeing that their “global, pragmatic and determined” strategy, which aims to re-establish external borders controls and to reduce the number of newcomers and deaths in the sea, bears fruit and must be consolidated. [3]

The debates highlighted the necessity of being vigilant concerning all migratory routes and the will of intensifying the returns and the efficiency of readmission agreements. In this respect, the European Council recommends to strengthen the actions of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency.

Concerning the oriental Mediterranean, a full cooperation with Turkey and occidental Balkans is essential nowadays to improve volunteering programmes of relocation, CSDP operations [4] and information exchanges in the JHA area. [5] Concerning central Mediterranean, the contribution of Italy is recognised and the 28 member states are determined to deploy further efforts in the cooperation with Libya and with partners of the G5 Sahel to support local communities situated on the migration routes.

By concluding on the migratory part, the European Council does not hesitate to highlight “its attachment to the Schengen system and intends to “come back to the Schengen spirit” as soon as possible”. Considering the progress regarding the reform of the Dublin system on the common European asylum regime, the 28 member states support the idea of a better convergence to reach a long-term balance between responsibility and solidarity via a consensus in the first semester 2018.

Defence & foreign relations

Concerning Defense, the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) was taken into consideration during the discussions to encourage the member states to elaborate a common list of commitments, the aim being to launch PESCO before the end of the year. The European Defense Fund and the coordinated annual review on defense (CARD) have to boost this strengthened transnational cooperation as the participation of SMEs to supply capacities and to provide the European defense industry with a competitive, innovative and balanced base at the Union level.

Concerning foreign relations, the European leaders encourage the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to abandon its nuclear programmes with the objective of a sustainable peace for the Korean peninsula and beyond. This view perpetuates the adoption on 16 Octoberof of new independent measures of the EU, like the complete interdiction of EU investments in North Korea in all areas, aiming to increase pressure on this country for it to respect its international obligations as denuclearization. [6] In addition to this, the Council reaffirms to be “fully committed to the agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme”.

A certain “satisfaction” on Brexit negotiations

On Friday morning, the European Council assembled at 27 members studied the evaluation presented by the negotiator of the Union after the first five cycles of negotiations which have taken place since the rtriggering of article 50 TEU on 29 March .

The 27 “are satisfied to welcome” the progress reached in the matter of citizens rights. Concerning Ireland, after having observed the convergence on the principles and objectives related to the protection of the Good Friday Agreement [7] and the preservation of the common travel area, the EU is expecting the UK to present “flexible and imaginative” solutions to avoid the setting up of a physical border.

The Council also notices thatthe UK has declared it would honour the financial obligations it contracted when it was a member of the Union. To conclude, the Council demands that the negotiations continue to allow the moving on to the second negotiation stage. The 27 therefore accepted to start “preparatory intern discussions”, – that London seemed to wait for impatiently – which impact directly the post-Brexit relationships, if enough progress are observed during the next December meeting of the European Council.

The untold Catalan crisis

If Mariano Rajoy remained particularly discreet, president Tusk was clear on this subject : “The European Union cannot resolve this crisis. We all have our own emotions, opinions, evaluations, but from a formal point of view, there is no space for a EU intervention”. If the UE protects itself against any non-interventionist criticism, Paris and Berlin both articulate their support to Madrid.

Towards a new working method of the European Council

Donald Tusk had already evoked it to the European leaders, saying that “in some cases, institutional innovation can be an effective means of restoring trust in the future, but we have to prevent ourselves from sinking into vain theoretical or institutional debates”. It is about setting up the system of decision-making notes which clearly set the problems to resolve and aim to report the points of disagreement among leaders to allow a serious political discussion.

Given that the leaders’ programme is an “evolutive document”, the next appointment will be on 17th November to discuss the divergences among European states during the social summit in Göteborg !

Footnotes

[1Tallinn Declaration on eGovernment, 6 October 2017, https://www.eu2017.ee/political-meetings/tallinn-digital-summit

[4The Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) is part of the EU foreign policy and aims to give the possibility to use military or civil means to prevent conflicts and crisis management.

[5The Justice and Home Affairs Council (JHA) consists in regular meetings of concerned ministers to develop European cooperation in this matter. Currently, the JHA Council is discussing the European public prosecutor’s office, the project of regulation concerning the recognition of the decisions of freeze and confiscation between EU countries, and the improvement on data sharing concerning the police record of thirs countries’ nationals.

[6EU restrictive measures against North Korea, http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/sanctions/history-north-korea/

[7The Good Friday Agreement is the peace agreement between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, signed on 10 April 1988 by the Prime Minister of the UK, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, the unionists and the nationalists. This political solution put and end to 30 years of bloody conflicts between the two parts of Ireland.

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