On Thursday 14 December, the European Council met in Brussels to discuss security and defence, social issues, education and culture, along with climate change and Jerusalem. On Friday 15 December, leaders met in an EU27 format to review the Article 50 negotiations, as well as to hold a Euro Summit.
Security and Defence
The European Council Summit was opened with the launching of the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) by the 25 participating EU leaders. The main aim of PESCO is that participating “EU Member States work more closely together in the area of security and defence”. A list of projects to be developed under PESCO, adopted by unanimity, is expected in early 2018.
EU leaders also discussed EU-NATO cooperation and called for the full implementation of the joint actions.
The European Council will return to these matters in June 2018.
Social Issues, Education and Culture
Following on from the Social Summit held in Gothenburg, Sweden on 17 November, EU leaders called for the European Pillar of Social Rights to be implemented at EU and Member State level. They also called for a “new start for social dialogue at EU level” and committed to following up on the EU Action Plan to tackle the gender pay gap.
EU leaders recalled their agreement to do more on education and culture. They called for an increase in mobility and exchanges, including through a “strengthened, inclusive and extended” Erasmus+ programme. EU leaders agreed to step up strategic partnerships across EU higher education and called for twenty “European Universities” by 2024 which would enable students to obtain a degree “by combining studies in several EU countries”. They also set out a vision that more young people will speak “at least two European languages in addition to their mother tongue”.
The European Council concluded that the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018 will be a prime opportunity to increase awareness of the “social and economic importance of culture and cultural heritage”.
EU leaders welcomed the conclusions of the One Planet Summit in Paris on 12 December which “aimed at scaling up public and private finance in support of climate action”. They also reaffirmed their commitment to implement the Paris Agreement in full to “lead in the fight against climate change, including through the adoption of pending legislative proposals at EU level”.
The European Council reaffirmed its “firm commitment” to the “two-state solution”, concluding that the EU position on Jerusalem remains unchanged.
Article 50 Negotiations
The EU27 leaders decided unanimously that ‘sufficient progress’ had been made during the first phase of Brexit negotiations, including on the issue of Ireland, and adopted guidelines for the second phase of the negotiations.
The European Council noted the proposed transitional period put forward by the UK. Such arrangements will be included in the Withdrawal Agreement and must be “in the interest of the Union, clearly defined and precisely limited in time”. In this time period, rules regarding the Single Market and any changes to EU legislation “will have to apply both in the United Kingdom and the EU”. Other areas such as “Union regulatory, budgetary, supervisory, judiciary and the enforcement instruments and structures will also apply, including the competence of the Court of Justice of the European Union”. The European Commission will put forward recommendations in order for the Council to adopt additional negotiating directives on transitional arrangements in January 2018.
The European Council reconfirmed its desire “to establish a close partnership between the Union and the United Kingdom”, and stated that the EU will be ready to begin preliminary and preparatory discussions on the framework of the future EU-UK relationship once additional guidelines have been adopted in March 2018. It was recalled that “an agreement on a future relationship can only be finalised and concluded once the United Kingdom has become a third country”, i.e. is no longer a Member State of the EU. European Council President, Donald Tusk, remarked: “As for the framework for the future relations, it is now time for internal EU27 preparations and exploratory contacts with the UK, to get more clarity on their vision”.
Other Issues and Next Steps
EU leaders discussed migration and the Economic and Monetary Union under the new Leaders’ Agenda working method which aims to allow for “more honest, direct and political debates on the most contentious issues” without official conclusions.
Migration was discussed at length; however, no solution was achieved in relation to mandatory quotas. All Member States agreed to seek consensus and to return to this issue at the next European Council Summit with a view to making decisions in June 2018. It was agreed to establish a permanent financing mechanism to stem the flows of illegal migration.
There will be an informal meeting of the European Council on 23 February 2018 followed by a European Council Summit on 22-23 March 2018.