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EU has taken a "good step" forward

The launch of a genuinely European defence policy and the go-ahead for the second stage of Brexit negotiations – two key outcomes of the European Council meeting in Brussels. With a view to economic and monetary union, the Chancellor declared her conviction that common solutions can be identified by summer 2018.

PESCO group photo The European Council officially launched a new European defence policy Foto: © European Council

At the final press conference on Friday, with Emmanuel Macron, the Chancellor thanked the French President for the "intensive, cordial and steadfast cooperation".

France and Germany are pivotal in finding solutions within Europe. Europe can only move forward if France and Germany adopt a common position, stressed Angela Merkel.

Further developing economic and monetary union

At the two-day meeting of the European Council (14/15 December) in Brussels, the heads of state and government discussed the future of the economic and monetary union and the banking union, as well as common defence and migration policy. The European Union is currently in an excellent economic situation. After years of crisis, growth is once again being recorded.

It is the right time for structural reforms and for further developing economic and monetary union, said the Chancellor. There is agreement within the euro zone that reforms are needed. By March, Germany and France intend to harmonise their standpoints. "The will is there – and that is what matters," stressed Angela Merkel.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron at the clsoing press conference following the European Council meeting Bild vergrößern Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron at the press conference on Friday Foto: Bundesregierung/Bergmann

Brexit negotiations can proceed to the next stage

On Friday, the second day of the European Council meeting, the 27 remaining member states officially noted that sufficient progress has been made in the Brexit negotiations. "We have taken a good step forward," said Angela Merkel. "Phase two can now begin." The second phase will focus on the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom.

The Chancellor praised the 27 member states, who "have worked and held together wonderfully well". She declared herself very optimistic that they can keep this up for the rest of the negotiating process.

Official step toward defence union

On Thursday the European Council marked the launch of a robust European defence policy, with an official ceremony – a "huge step forward" as Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed. 25 member states intend to cooperate, and thus strengthen Europe’s security. A "historical gap" has thus been swiftly overcome, said the Chancellor.

The European Council also discussed the relations between the EU and NATO with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

PESCO stands for "permanent structured cooperation" which will allow EU member states to cooperate more closely in the fields of security and defence. Apart from Denmark, the United Kingdom and Malta, all member states are part of the new system. PESCO member states intend to realise selected defence projects together in future – 17 initial projects are currently planned. They include a European medical command unit. Other projects include networking logistics hubs and improving European crisis management. There are no plans to establish a European army though.

Migration policy needs solidarity

On Thursday evening participants also looked at foreign-policy and migration-policy issues. Informally, as part of the Leaders’ Agenda, the heads of state and government discussed in great detail migration outside the EU’s external borders and a reform of the common European asylum system.

Great achievements have been made on action on the external dimension – protecting the external border, agreements with Turkey and Libya, compacts with African states, reported Chancellor Angela Merkel. When it comes to the internal discussion and solidarity among member states "a great deal of work still lies ahead". On her arrival in Brussels the Chancellor stressed, "We need not just solidarity on management and steering migration at the external borders – we also need solidarity within the EU".

Countries with an external border bear a huge responsibility. These are the countries through which most refugees have arrived in the EU in recent years. That is why the heads of government also discussed in the evening how to ease the burden on those countries that have seen particularly high numbers of refugees arriving. Decisions are to be made in summer 2018.

At the end of the first day of the summit meeting, Angela Merkel commented on another foreign-policy issue: in spite of progress, said the Chancellor, the sanctions on Russia must be extended.

Angela Merkel honoured as role model for women and girls

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä Bild vergrößern Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä presents the award to Angela Merkel Foto: Bundesregierung/Bergmann

On the sidelines of the summit meeting, on Thursday Finland’s Prime Minister Juha Sipilä presented the Chancellor with the International Gender Equality Prize in recognition of her "engagement for women and girls around the world". The award hours her work as an advocate of human rights and human dignity, said Juha Sipilä.

Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that she saw the award as an incentive to do even more towards achieving gender equality, because, as she said, "there is still a lot to be done". Finland is awarding the prize this year for the first time to recognise individuals and organisations particularly committed to realising gender equality.

What else was on the agenda?

The debate about social affairs, education and culture on Thursday carried on where the Gothenburg Social Summit left off. "Everyone who like me is a proponent of the social market economy, knows that we need an economically robust Europe, but also a socially just Europe," stressed Angela Merkel.

For young people in particular education is crucially important. The heads of state and government are to adopt conclusions in this direction shortly, on the basis of the EU Leaders’ Agenda on culture and education, and the outcomes of the Gothenburg Social Summit.

Freitag, 15. Dezember 2017