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FEPS post summit briefing: European Council, 22-23 June 2017

Vassilis Ntousas
FEPS International Relations Senior Policy Advisor
David Rinaldi
Director of Studies and Policy

When European leaders met in Brussels last week (22-23 June), security and defence was high up on the agenda against the backdrop of recent London attacks. But heads of state and government also debated climate change, trade and the single market. The EU Council also had a special meeting to report on Brexit and define the guidelines for the upcoming negotiations under Article 50 TEU. We will provide more information in our special coverage of Brexit. In order not to run the risk of overpromising and under delivering, it is crucial that member states now deliver on the decisions taken.

 

Security and Defence

The first section of the Summit conclusions on security and defence focused on the internal dimension of security and fight against terrorism, whereas the second section on external security and defence.

 The Summit provided the opportunity for the EU Council to continue the important, if modest, steps forward in the area of security and defence at EU level.

Internal security and the fight against terrorism

 After the recent attacks in London and the failed attempt on Brussels Gare Centrale, the topic of terrorism was revisited by the EU Council. Beyond the reiteration of the unity and commitment among EU Member States to the fight against terrorism, European Heads of State underlined the importance of industry in carrying out ‘its own responsibility to help combat terrorism and crime online’. According to the conclusions, and with the European Commission already preparing legislative proposals on the issue of access to electronic evidence, industry is expected to build on the work of the EU Internet Forum, ‘establish an Industry Forum and to develop new technology and tools to improve the automatic detection and removal of content that incites to terrorist acts.’

What is more, EU leaders agreed upon an Entry/Exit System to be expected “shortly,” in addition to the finalisation of a “European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) before the end of the year. This is expected to ‘enhance external border control and internal security’.

External security and defence

 The Summit provided the opportunity for the EU Council to continue the important, if modest, steps forward in the area of security and defence at EU level. Aided by the momentum that has acted as a springboard of action in this policy area over he past year or so, and building on the level of ambition set out in the December 2017 EU Council, the conclusions make clear reference to the progress achieved since the release of the EU Global Strategy last June.

Moving forward, the Council:

  • Welcomes the Commission’s communication on a European Defence Fund, which consists of a research arm and a military capability arm. It also calls for ‘rapid agreement on the proposal for a European Defence Industrial Development Programme with a view to its swift implementation’, amongst other measures.
  • Agrees ‘on the need to launch an inclusive and ambitious Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO)’. In this context, a timeline of three months is clearly mentioned in the conclusions, within which ‘a common list of criteria and binding commitments, fully in line with Articles 42(6) and 46 TEU and Protocol 10 to the Treaty – including with a view to the most demanding missions – will be drawn up by Member States […]with a precise timetable and specific assessment mechanisms, in order to enable Member States which are in a position to do so to notify their intentions to participate without delay.’

The timetable agreed upon in the Summit conclusions sets out a clear process as to how this can be done.

Of these two developments, this unanimous decision to launch PESCO in defence is the more significant and impactful. The so-called ‘sleeping beauty’ of the Lisbon Treaty (an important idea included in the Treaty but so far not utilised), PESCO does open the potential for greater EU integration in the defence field. The timetable agreed upon in the Summit conclusions sets out a clear process as to how this can be done, setting an ambitious schedule of agreeing to define a common list of membership criteria, binding commitments, and a list of projects so as to enable interested Member States to swiftly notify their intention to participate. Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, clarified that ‘all Member States will be invited to join’, making reference to the fact that PESCO should be an initiative as inclusive as possible.

Climate change

 EU leaders have also given a firm response to the Trump administration, which opted for withdrawing from the global climate deal. In line with the joint statement by Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Paolo Gentiloni issued in early June, the European Council also confirmed that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated. In its conclusions, the European Council invites the Commission and the Council to identify how to attain COP21 targets and opens to collaboration with non-State actors. NGOs and CSOs are crucial partners to maintain climate high in the agenda and promote inclusive strategies that also contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Bringing businesses aboard is also essential, as without a close collaboration with the private sector, targets are not likely to be achieved.

Single Market, Trade, Investment and Industrial Policy

The Conclusions stress that EU leaders approached the discussion on trade and the single market with the idea of “ensuring that developments benefit all parts of society”, but actions and recommendations in that directions are missing. The EU Council acknowledge the steps towards deepening economic integration through the Digital Single Market and the Capital Market Union and reinforce the commitment towards the targets agreed on the Council meeting of exactly one year ago. 30 years ago, when the Delors Commission put forward the European Single Act, the deepening of the single market was framed into a larger package including enhanced political cooperation and funds to offset the potential negative impact of economic integration. Nowadays, the strategy to complete the single market is supported by the Investment Plan for Europe; the EU leaders simply acknowledged the progress made on the European Fund for Strategic Investments and calls for a rapid agreement on its extension, but: i) they put forward no vision on how make it more apt to address the challenges of convergence and cohesion, ii) they do not put emphasis on the two other pillars of the Investment Plan, iii) they do not acknowledge that more must be done to design a proper investment strategy for investment in human capital. All in all, the efforts on promoting investment appear rather limited to truly support an investment-led recovery.

Also regarding trade, the Conclusions seem to have forgotten a reflection about the difficulties encountered by the CETA and TTIP negotiations. Why was civil society so sensitive about it? It is not only a matter of designing trade deals that are fair and mutually beneficial for the countries involved. It is rather a matter of perceived priorities: European citizens find it hard to accept that “an ambitious free trade agenda” is higher in the agenda than the fight against impoverishment and inequalities within EU borders. The European model has always been based on solid welfare state systems ensuring decent standards of living and free trade among countries to seize economic opportunities. Whilst the Council’s commitment towards a robust and far-reaching trade policy is a step into the right direction, we do have to stress that it cannot be an initiative supported by people until there are other concrete strategies to improve their well-being and address socio-economic malaise.

Perhaps the most positive note is the renewed focus on industrial policy, which is correctly seen as a crucial driver for growth, employment and innovation. Still, besides general commitments, there is no vision on how this should interact with EU competition and investment policy.

 

Photo copyright – European Union

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