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Europe to take its fate into its own hands

Making Europe fit for the future – the agenda for the future – was the focus of the second day of the meeting of EU heads of state and government in Brussels. There has also been some progress on Brexit negotiations, said the Chancellor, although the British government still has work to do.

Chancellor Angela Merkel at the final press conference on the European Council meeting Chancellor Angela Merkel says the British government must still deliver on the Brexit negotiations Foto: Bundesregierung/Kugler

The salient points discussed at the European Council meeting

Roadmap for Europe’s future

Europe, said Chancellor Angela Merkel at the close of the European Council meeting, intends to take its fate into its own hands. The new agenda of the future was an important issue when the heads of state and government met in Brussels. She reported that Donald Tusk’s reform roadmap had met with a high level of agreement.

His proposal focused on how member states can cooperate better in future and produce results more swiftly. The Chancellor also reported, "The Bratislava and Rome agendas on migration, security and defence, as well as economic and social development, have been reaffirmed."

Angela Merkel said that the EU aims to address the work ahead courageously, committedly and in concert. In the run-up to the meeting, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and French President Emmanuel Macron had both outlined their visions for the future of Europe in major speeches. Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron have already agreed to work together to deepen the European Union and the euro zone.

Germany and France want to work together to make the EU fit to face the challenges of the future. Strengthening monetary union remains on the European agenda. The German government too will continue to do its bit. Angela Merkel did, however, ask her European partners to be patient. In Germany, coalition negotiations are ongoing; the process of forming a government in Berlin must be respected.

Progress on Brexit negotiations

Commenting on the Brexit negotiations, the Chancellor said that the United Kingdom has given "clear signals". "From our point of view sufficient progress has not yet been made, which would allow us to begin stage 2, but there has definitely been more progress than we saw when we last met," she stated. She expressed her hope that the two sides can move on to talk about the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU in December. "But that depends on the UK making progress on a number of topics."

Angela Merkel pointed out that three points are particularly important: the rights of EU citizens in the United Kingdom and of British citizens in the EU, the UK’s financial obligations and the future EU external border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The EU’s negotiating strategy to date has enabled all remaining EU states to remain united and to act in concert, she added.

Continuing dialogue with Turkey

The EU heads of state and government have advocated scaling back pre-accession assistance to Turkey "in a responsible way", reported Chancellor Angela Merkel at the end of the first day of the meeting. This is a consequence of the "entirely unsatisfactory" human rights situation in Turkey and the "way Turkey is moving further and further away from what we see as rule-of-law preconditions".

Any reduction in pre-accession assistance must, however, keep sight of the Turkish citizens who want to see rule-of-law development in their country. We have a responsibility towards all Turkish citizens, she said.

There is no majority in the EU to ending accession negotiations with Turkey at this time, she said. There will be no talks relating to Turkey’s demand for an extended customs union with the EU.

Nevertheless the EU would like to keep open lines of communication with Turkey. Chancellor Angela Merkel also stressed, "We very much respect, recognise and support the fact that Turkey is doing so much for the people fleeing Syria."

Europe stands by the Iran deal

Another foreign-policy item on the agenda was the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the nuclear deal, with Iran. Participants advocated that every effort should be made to preserve the agreement, reported Angela Merkel. They intend to keep communicating with the US Congress.

This will also involve "stating clearly that Iran is developing a large number of initiatives in the region which we believe to be counterproductive". Given the dramatic situation in Yemen, for instance, Iran could do much to improve the humanitarian situation there, stressed the Chancellor.

Other important issues discussed

How can Europe be made fit for digitalisation?

Europe goes digital – with the establishment of the digital single market, Europe intends to promote innovation, growth and job creation. This issue was on the agenda of the Tallin Digital Summit in September.

Now it was a question of identifying the areas in which work is most urgently needed. For instance, how can the public sector be made fit for digitalisation, with e-government, the deployment of new technologies, and one-stop government?

One central matter addressed by the European Council was thus the establishment of uniform legal frameworks for the digital world. From driverless cars to telemedicine, the digitalisation that directly affects European citizens requires very high-speed networks. The European states intend to coordinate work better on expanding their networks, because the new broadband generation (5G) needs compatibility across national borders.

The European Council also looked at cybersecurity. The aim is to work together to address the threat posed by cyber attacks. The Commission is working on holistic proposals on the data sector, cybersecurity and online platforms. As a basis for this, the Council intends to set up an action plan.

How can the EU states cooperate more closely on security?

The heads of state and government discussed security and defence: Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) offers a group of member states the chance to cooperate on missions within the framework of the common security and defence policy. Following the establishment of Permanent Structured Cooperation, participants will develop projects together and implement these jointly. The German government too has decided on the salient issues so that Germany can be part of the Permanent Structured Cooperation.

PESCO is to make the EU’s common security and defence policy more binding. One major feature is that interested EU member states will undertake to implement selected defence projects jointly. For example, if 27 countries order the same fighter jet, the costs will fall and the armed forces can take delivery of the jet more quickly. PESCO covers five areas, which are already laid down in the Protocol to the Treaty on European Union: defence spending, cooperation on the development of capabilities, improving transfer abilities, multilateral brigades, approaches to close capability gaps and the use of the European Defence Agency in major procurement projects. Details are currently being discussed by the member states.

Freitag, 20. Oktober 2017