On Thursday 22 June and Friday 23 June 2017, EU leaders met in Brussels. The European Council scheduled one working session on each day of the summit to discuss a range of issues. UK Prime Minister Theresa May did not attend the talks, but briefed EU leaders on Brexit negotiations at dinner on Thursday. There was a special working session in the EU27 format after the dinner to discuss the briefing and Brexit proceedings. This was Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s first summit.
Security and defence
The first round of discussion on Thursday 22 June focused on internal and external security in the EU.
On internal security and the fight against terrorism, the Council condemned recent terror attacks and declared they stood “united and firm in the fight against terrorism, hatred and violent extremism,” resolving to further cooperation at the EU level to strengthen internal security. This cooperation includes “efforts to share knowledge on foreign terrorist fighters as well as home-grown radicalised individuals” and “providing support to the victims of terror acts”. The Council also called on online industry, such as Internet providers and social media sites, to “develop new technology and tools to improve the automatic detection and removal of content that incites to terrorist acts”.
On external security, the Council reiterated its “commitment to strengthening EU cooperation on external security and defence so as to protect the Union and its citizens and contribute to peace and stability in its neighbourhood and beyond,” citing its commitment to the important EU-NATO relationship and the need to “strengthen our defence related research, capabilities and operations”. The Council welcomed reports on a European Defence Fund which would support the “joint development of capability projects” and “contribute to greater European defence cooperation”. The Council also agreed on the need for a Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) to “strengthen Europe’s security and defence in today’s challenging geopolitical environment”.
President Tusk stated that the Council agreed to extend sanctions on Russia by another six months.
The Paris Agreement on climate change
The Council reaffirmed the commitment of the EU and its Member States to the Paris Agreement, stating: “The Agreement remains a cornerstone of global efforts to effectively tackle climate change, and cannot be renegotiated”. The Council maintained that the Agreement was a key factor in modernising the European economy and would be vital to implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The Council further stated its intent to “enhance cooperation with international partners” as well as “work closely with all non-State actors” to meet the goals agreed upon in the Agreement.
The relocation of the European Medicines Agency and the European Banking Authority
In the special working session on Article 50, the EU27 leaders reviewed recent developments in Brexit negotiations and endorsed a procedure to decide the future location of the EMA and the EBA. Both Agencies are currently located in London and must move to different areas in the Union before Brexit negotiations are finalised. EU leaders stated a decision should be reached by the autumn of 2017.
President Tusk explained that “Brexit took up very little time at this European Council”. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker added “we were not in a negotiation… the negotiation will take place between the commission, that means Michel Barnier, and that’s the point”.
Jobs, Growth and Competitiveness
On Friday 23 June, the Council reached a number of conclusions meant to deepen the Single Market, including “timely implementation and better enforcement of existing legislation”; extension and reinforcement of the European Fund for Strategic Investments; and “concrete action to ensure a strong and competitive industrial base of the Single Market”.
Outside of the Single Market, the Council committed to pursuing “a robust trade policy upholding an open and rules-based multilateral trading system” while advancing “social, environmental, health and consumer standards”. The Council also encouraged negotiations “for ambitious and balanced free trade agreements, with reciprocity and mutual benefits as guiding principles”. Reciprocity was emphasised due to the Council’s belief that “trade and investment can only be free if it is also fair and mutually beneficial”.
President Tusk discussed migration along the Central Mediterranean route, stating that although “we are taking many of the right steps, the only result that really matters to us is to put a definitive end to this tragic situation”. The Council pledged “to strengthen and make full use of the operational capacities of the European Border and Coast Guard and other agencies” along with “training and equipping the Libyan Coast Guard” to ease the crisis.
The Council also expressed its intent to reform the Common European Asylum System and the Renewed Action Plan on Return to “strike the right balance between responsibility and solidarity” and “achieve real progress in return and readmission policy”. Reforms to both would include increased cooperation with third countries.
The Council highlighted “the overarching importance of an ambitious digital vision for Europe” including a “holistic approach to digital”; this requires considering the Digital Single Market alongside “markets, infrastructure, connectivity, societal and cultural aspects”.