The European heads of state and government are meeting in Brussels for three days this week. France is hoping to avoid reopening the eternal political debate surrounding migration and make progress on specific aspects, including Brexit, even though the final agreement is not ready. EURACTIV France reports.
The European Council in Brussels on 17-18 October, focusing on the issue of Brexit, is an unusual one. The European leaders, who largely bickered at their most recent meetings in Brussels in June and in Salzburg in September, should attempt to put aside their differences this time.
The planned Brexit agreement is not ready, which limits the scope of the meeting that is supposed to finalise the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU.
No dinner for Theresa May
The meeting’s unusual format illustrates the clear-cut position of its organiser, the European Council President Donald Tusk, towards the British.
The UK Prime Minister Theresa May is due to start uneasy proceedings at 7 pm on Wednesday with a statement to her partners, who will then go for dinner in the room next door without her. This is a somewhat unfriendly arrangement, expressing the Europeans’ fatigue towards British delays.
Indeed, the latest negotiations failed because of the position taken by the British conservative party’s right wing, who refused to extend staying in the customs union for several years after Brexit.
The provision proposed by Europeans aimed to avoid a border separating Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland once again.
“And this isn’t the only problem on which discussions have not concluded,” acknowledged a source at the Élysée, where there is still a desire for the discussions to conclude “in the coming weeks”.
The Brexit agreement will therefore not be finalised on 17 October and could require another summit by mid-November, “as soon as possible”, advocates France.
The 29 March 2019 deadline to conclude the agreement, exactly two years after the official Brexit notification to the EU, could be postponed if the UK so requests and the 27 EU member countries agree.
However, such a delay would not be desirable because of the May 2019 European elections and the poor image of the EU this would project to voters who already have little motivation for the vote.
Technical discussion on migration and the climate
On 18 October, all 28 leaders will meet in the morning to address geopolitical issues. These will include security, migration and the international situation.
France is hoping to avoid reopening political conflict on these issues and is anxious about these discussions on the technical side. “It’s about accelerating the adoption of legislation and the modification of the directive on the return of illegal immigrants for migration management, and carrying out the reinforcement of Frontex with 10,000 men in 2020,” the Élysée explained.
Leading the EU’s rotating presidency, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz will also present the state of his discussions with non-EU states which could host platforms to manage migrants.
“But only following the example of what is already being done with the office of international migration and the High Commission for refugees, which manage the centres. They won’t be closed centres,” warned a source at the Élysée.
The climate issue will also be addressed. The environment ministers have opened the way for the EU’s commitment for 2040 to be revised upwards, which will test the leaders’ ambition on the matter and could be announced between now and the COP24 in December.
Eurozone and multilateralism
The 18 eurozone countries will then meet to raise economic issues and the reform agenda for the eurozone, a subject that will be a priority at the European summit in December.
The three topics under discussion will remain completing the banking union, reforming the European stability mechanism and establishing a minimum common budget for the eurozone – on which an agreement in principle emerged in the spring.
The discussions should not continue indefinitely, especially as the summit will be extended by an Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), involving the prime ministers of all the Asian countries, including Russia, Japan and China.
Defending multilateralism, which is under attack from all sides, as well as addressing issues concerning climate, trade and crisis management at the UN, will be a priority for the European and Asian partners faced with the gradual disengagement of America.