On Thursday 9 March and Friday 10 March 2017, EU leaders met in Brussels. At the formal summit on Thursday, EU leaders re-elected Donald Tusk as President of the European Council and discussed a range of issues. This was followed by an informal meeting on Friday, when the EU27 leaders met to prepare for the upcoming 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.
Election of European Council President
The first order of business of the European Council on Thursday 9 March was to elect a President for the period from June 2017 to November 2019.
EU leaders voted by a majority of 27 to 1 to re-elect current European Council President, Donald Tusk. Presidents of the European Council are usually chosen by consensus; however President Tusk’s native country, Poland, opposed his re-election. The ruling far-right Law and Justice party has been critical of President Tusk, formerly a Prime Minister of Poland when the centre-right Civic Platform was in power.
As a result of President Tusk’s re-election, Polish Prime Minister, Beata Szydlo, said she would not sign the conclusions of the European Council meeting, which formalise the agreements of the EU leaders following the meetings. On this occasion, they were therefore issued as conclusions of the President of the European Council supported by 27 Member States, but not formally adopted as they did not gather consensus from all 28 Member States.
On his re-election, President Tusk declared that he would “continue to work for a better and more united Europe with all Member States, without exception”.
EU leaders discussed the state of the European economy with the President of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, concluding that as economic growth has returned to all Member States, the economic outlook is “encouraging, both for the Euro area and EU overall”.
However, the European Council also acknowledged that it is important to safeguard the “sustainability of the recovery” through an emphasis on job creation. President Tusk remarked that “job creation is and will remain our priority, as the best means to tackle inequality and expose the myths of the populists”.
EU leaders welcomed the European Parliament’s vote to approve the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).
EU leaders reiterated the aim to deliver on the Malta Declaration which was agreed at their informal meeting in Valletta, Malta on 3 February 2017 and aims to stem the flow of irregular migration.
The European Council also called for “further efforts to rapidly deliver on all aspects of the comprehensive migration policy resilient to future crises”, including with the aim of achieving consensus on asylum policy during the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the EU which runs until the end of June 2017.
Security and Defence
The European Council called for its previous conclusions on External Security and Defence to be maintained and reinforced, stating that “in the present international environment, Europe must do more to protect its citizens and contribute to peace and stability”. In this light, the high-level conference on security and defence which is to be held in Prague, Czech Republic on 9 June 2017 was welcomed.
On the issue of internal security and the threat of terrorism in Member States, the European Council called for agreement on the proposal for an Entry and Exit System, which would modernise the management of the EU’s external borders, by June 2017. EU leaders also called for progress on the proposal for the European Travel Information and Authorisation System, which would create an automated IT system to identify any risks associated with visa-exempt visitors travelling to the Schengen Area.
EU leaders held a discussion on instability in the Western Balkans region, reaffirming their “unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans” and stressing the importance of “inclusive regional cooperation initiatives”.
60th Anniversary of the Treaty of Rome Anniversary and Future of Europe
On Friday 10 March, the EU27 leaders, without the UK Prime Minister Theresa May, met to prepare for the upcoming 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome on 25 March 2017.
On this occasion, the EU27 leaders will meet informally and adopt a ‘Rome Declaration’ on the future of Europe. President Tusk said that “opinions voiced by some Member States as well as the European Commission’s White Paper leave us in no doubt that the idea of a multi-speed Europe will be one of the discussions ahead of the Rome anniversary.” However, he stressed that strengthening “mutual trust and unity” among the remaining 27 Member States should be the objective of the upcoming Brexit negotiations and discussions on the future of Europe.