On Thursday 19 October, the European Council met in Brussels to discuss migration, digital Europe, security and defence, and external relations. On Friday 20 October, the EU leaders met in an EU27 format to review the Article 50 negotiations.
EU leaders concluded that the approach taken on migration, which aims to re-establish control of external borders and to reduce the number of arrivals and deaths at sea, “is yielding results and must be consolidated”.
The European Council outlined the need for “vigilance on all migration routes” and highlighted areas that require further action, including further support for Member States directly affected; strong cooperation with countries of origin and transit; and greater efforts to increase the return of irregular migrants and prevention of illegal immigration through EU policy tools such as trade and development.
EU leaders reiterated “the importance of working with the Libyan authorities and all neighbours of Libya to enhance border management capacity”. They called for a marked increase in efforts towards establishing a permanent EU presence in Libya, as well as funding for migration-related schemes in this region.
The European Council welcomed progress on the Common European Asylum System and agreed to return to the issue at its next meeting in December.
EU leaders built on the conclusions from the Tallinn Digital Summit in September, stating that “digitalisation offers immense opportunities for innovation, growth and jobs, will contribute to our global competitiveness, and enhance creative and cultural diversity”.
A number of priorities were outlined, including governments and the public sector leading by example in their implementation of new technologies; completing the Digital Single Market Strategy by 2018; and a common approach to combatting cyber security, terrorism and online crime.
The European Council also concluded that an effective and fair taxation system suitable for the digital age should be prioritised. Specifically, it was agreed that: “it is important to ensure that all companies pay their fair share of taxes and to ensure a global level-playing field in line with the work currently underway at the OECD”.
Security and Defence
EU leaders welcomed the progress made in preparing a Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) on defence, with a view to launching it before the end of the year.
They also welcomed the trial of the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD) which should “contribute to spur enhanced defence cooperation among Member States”.
The European Council called on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to “abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner”, stressing that “lasting peace and denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula must be achieved through peaceful means, through credible and meaningful dialogue”.
EU leaders had a debate on relations with Turkey, tasking the European Commission to make proposals on how to cut and reorient pre-accession assistance to Turkey.
EU leaders also reaffirmed its commitment to the Iran nuclear deal.
Special European Council on Article 50 Negotiations
On Friday, the European Council met in an EU27 format to discuss the first five rounds of Article 50 negotiations. They reviewed the progress made on the three issues prioritised in the first phase of negotiations for an “orderly withdrawal”: citizens’ rights, Ireland, and the UK’s financial obligations.
EU27 leaders welcomed progress on the issue of citizens’ rights but called for the “necessary legal certainty and guarantees to all concerned citizens and their family members”.
Regarding Ireland, EU27 leaders acknowledged some progress on convergence regarding the protection of the Good Friday Agreement and the preservation of the Common Travel Area. They noted the “major challenge” the UK’s withdrawal creates, in particular on the avoidance of a hard border, stating that they were “expecting the UK to present and commit to flexible and imaginative solutions called for by the unique situation of Ireland”.
EU27 leaders noted the UK’s stated commitment to honour its financial obligations from its membership, but concluded that “this has not yet been translated into a firm and concrete commitment from the UK to settle all of these obligations”.
The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, commented that “while progress is not sufficient, it doesn’t mean that there is no progress at all”. EU27 leaders called for work to continue “in order to be able to move to the second phase of the negotiations as soon as possible”, including starting the necessary internal preparations.
At the summit, EU leaders endorsed the Leaders’ Agenda, a work programme for the next two years of the European Council which was prepared by President Tusk in consultation with EU leaders.
The European Council is scheduled to meet next on 14-15 December in Brussels, when the progress of the Article 50 negotiations will be reassessed.