Leak: Capitals seek to reform EU summits to cope with Trump era

A general view of the meeting room on the second day of a European Council Summit in Brussels, Belgium, 21 June 2019. The leaders adopted the EU's strategic agenda for 2019-2024. [EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ]

EU countries are working on a review of their leaders’ summits to improve their efficiency amid the challenges posed by Donald Trump, China and other foreign actors, according to official notes seen by EURACTIV.com.

The review is part of the debate launched under the EU’s rotating presidency, currently held by Finland, to increase the efficiency in delivering EU objectives, particularly those in the Strategic Agenda endorsed by leaders in June.

EXCLUSIVE: What countries really think of the EU's strategic agenda

EU member states broadly supported priorities highlighted for the next five years, although they called for a more “positive” vision. Despite the demands made by the capitals, the latest version only included few changes, according to the latest draft and the minutes seen by EURACTIV.

Finland circulated a paper on how to improve the functioning of the Council, which brings together the member states.

But Germany, France, The Netherlands and Ireland said that this review should also cover the European Council, according to the minutes of the EU ambassadors’ meeting held on 10 July.

These national efforts to reshape EU summits could lead to frictions with the president of the European Council, who is responsible for organising the EU leaders’ gatherings.

The incoming president of the European Council, Charles Michel, is expected to make his own recommendations after consulting with national capitals.

But some member states, including Germany and Italy, also highlighted the importance of improving the coordination of the work on foreign policy done by ministers and leaders. 

There is “a need for consistency between European Council and Foreign Affairs Council” in the EU’s external relations, Italy said, according to the minutes.

The EU’s tense relations with the US since Donald Trump’s election, the rise of China and the constant threat of Russia have put external relations high on the leaders’ agenda in recent years.

'Don’t be naive with China', EU leaders tell Italy

EU leaders displayed a united front toward China on Friday (22 March) and warned the Italian government of the consequences of signing a bilateral deal with Beijing to become part of the new ‘Silk Road’.

But some voices are wary of national efforts to influence the European Council. 

According to the notes, the Council’s secretary general warned that it is up to the presidency of each institution to reflect on its own working methods.

The links in some areas between the Council and the European Council, including foreign affairs, could be addressed under the review of the Council’s working methods, the secretary general argued.

But some member states, particularly France, still insisted on having a say how the summits work. When the issue was discussed again by EU ambassadors on 15 July, Paris stressed that the European Council should be included as part of the reassessment of the Council’s working methods, according to the notes seen by EURACTIV.

Paris also proposed that the next European Council, scheduled for October, should serve to take stock of the progress made in the discussions.

A spokesperson for the French government was not available to comment when contacted by EURACTIV.

Better delivery

The Strategic Agenda 2019-2024 included a chapter on how to better deliver the goals included in the five-year master plan. 

Finland circulated a paper to sound out the opinion of member states on how to implement the strategic agenda, and how the Council could “mainstream” the cross-cutting elements of the agenda, in particular on issues related to bringing the EU closer to its citizens.

This priority will be important during the first half of the next mandate, as the incoming Commission president Ursula von der Leyen is intending to launch a conference on the future of Europe, with citizens and EU institutions on an equal footing to review the functioning of the bloc.

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The political mandate that will follow next May’s European elections should be an opportunity to continue opening up the political space for citizens’ engagement, so that democracy is not limited to voting and politics can spread well beyond the parties’ …

Citizens

During the EU ambassadors meeting held on 15 July, France, Spain, Sweden, Slovakia, Portugal, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Malta stressed the need to bring the EU closer to its citizens.

Finland is hopeful that, given that there will be fewer legislative priorities during the opening months of the new term, there will be more time to hold these political discussions. 

As part of the review of the Council’s competences, member states including France, Belgium, Czech Republic, Sweden, Latvia, Greece, Croatia and Slovakia also want the institution to follow-up on decisions taken by ministers and EU leaders.

Meanwhile, Germany highlighted the importance of sending “positive” messages to EU citizens after every Council meeting. 

(Edited by Benjamin Fox)

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