This week’s European Council summit began on Thursday, with leaders first reviewing Brexit, before discussing Turkey and EU enlargement. Focus turned on Friday to the next institutional cycle, the EU budget and climate change.
Incoming President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen attended the European Council, in order to outline her priorities for the coming years. Instead of taking office as scheduled on 1 November, the new European Commission will instead assume their duties on 1 December due to three commissioner-designates rejected by the European Parliament at the hearing stage.
The European Council also adopted a decision appointing Christine Lagarde as President of the European Central Bank.
The European Council endorsed the revised draft Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration reached between the EU and UK this week. The European Council restated that the EU is determined to have as close as possible a partnership with the UK in line with the revised Political Declaration and Withdrawal Agreement.
President Donald Tusk stated the key change between this draft Agreement and the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Theresa May’s government, is Prime Minister Johnson’s acceptance to have customs checks at the points of entry into Northern Ireland, which enables the avoidance of border checks between on the island of Ireland, and protects the integrity of the Single Market.
The draft Withdrawal Agreement will go before the House of Commons tomorrow. Provided it gains the support of the House of Commons, both the European Parliament and the Council of the EU will scrutinise and then vote on the agreement. While a simple majority in the European Parliament will be sufficient to pass the agreement, a qualified majority is required in the Council of the EU in order to ratify the agreement. In the case of the Council of the EU, a separate Brexit related ‘Article 50’ General Affairs Council takes place, where both Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade, Simon Coveney and Minister of State for European Affairs, Helen McEntee have participated.
Turkey’s military action in Syria
The European Council reiterated the condemnations of Turkey’s military activities in Syria. The Council also stated its commitment to effectively addressing the serious humanitarian and refugee crisis, including by supporting those member states that are facing the greatest challenges with regards to migratory flows.
EU leaders were unable to reach agreement late on the night of Thursday, 17 October on a decision to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. A number of member states believed that the two countries were not ready to commence accession negotiations.
Although the European Commissioner for Enlargement, Johannes Hahn, and many EU leaders, including European Council President Donald Tusk and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, where in favour of opening negotiations, French President Emmanuel Macron opposed entering discussions with both countries. He proposed reforming the accession process, which he has described as “bizarre”.
The Visegrád Group, which includes Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, issued a joint letter advocating their approval of accession talks to begin. They described the lack of agreement as a “great disappointment” and warned that refusing to begin accession negotiations will “irreversibly affect our credibility in the region”.
The European Council agreed to revert to the issue prior to the EU – Western Balkans summit schedule for May 2020.
Strategic Agenda and the Next Institutional Cycle 2021 – 2027
The Strategic Agenda provides an overall framework to guide the work of the EU and its institutions over the next five years. It consists of four main priorities:
- Protecting citizens and freedoms:
This encompasses a desire to protect fundamental rights and freedoms, strengthening defences against terrorism, cross-border crime and cyber-crime, as well as developing a comprehensive and functioning migration policy.
- Developing a strong and vibrant economic base:
Ensure the European economy is robust to challenges arising from technological advance, emerging security issues and the shift to a more sustainable economic model.
- Building a climate-neutral, green, fair and social Europe:
Transitioning to a green economy in order to achieve climate neutrality in a socially just manner through mobilising significant public and private investment, developing an effective circular economy, while also endeavouring to ensure a more equal and inclusive society through the European Pillar of Social Rights.
- Promoting European interests and values on a global stage:
The EU will remain a driving force behind the global rules-based international order and promote its own unique model of cooperation as an example for others. It will continue to work towards global peace and security and to promote democracy and human rights.
More information can be found here.
Multiannual Financial Framework
The Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) is the EU’s long-term budget for the period 2021-2027. The European Commission adopted its MFF package proposal in May 2018, which proposed €1,135 billion in commitments (as expressed in 2018 prices), which is the maximum amount that can be expended by the EU in this period.
The international aspects of climate change formed part of the discussions of the Summit, following the UN Climate Action Summit in New York last month, and before the Climate Conference in Santiago de Chile in December of this year. The European Council on Friday decided that it will finalise its views on the EU’s long term strategy on climate change at the next summit in December.