The heads of state and government met for two days in Brussels to consult and discuss. Thursday’s agenda focused on the USA’s punitive tariffs, the nerve agent attack in Salisbury and Turkey’s actions in the Eastern Mediterranean. Their deliberations on Friday concentrated on negotiations with the UK on a future relationship, as well as the future of Economic and Monetary Union.
Guidelines on the framework for a future relationship with the UK
At a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron at the end of the summit, the Chancellor thanked the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier for the major progress made. The EU27 was able to adopt guidelines for a withdrawal agreement with the United Kingdom. “In view of the fact that the United Kingdom does not wish to remain in the Single Market or the Customs Union, a very intensive free trade agreement will have to be negotiated,” she said. “We will not let ourselves be divided.”
At the start of the week, the EU’s Brexit negotiator and his British counterpart announced that agreement had been reached on most of the withdrawal agreement and on the length of the transitional period, which is to end on 31 December 2020.
Lending discussions new impetus
The Chancellor agreed with the Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker that the creation of a Digital Single Market is extremely important for competitiveness. The heads of state and government, said Angela Merkel with conviction, could lend the debates in the councils of ministers “a bit more impetus” and push ahead with decisions. With regard to taxing the digital economy, the leaders agreed that the existing basis for taxation is no longer appropriate for the digitalised world.
The eurozone summit, i.e. the leaders of the 19 states sharing the euro as their currency, discussed the future architecture of the eurozone. Now that the economies of all eurozone member states are growing again, and unemployment is falling, the eurozone must be put on a secure footing and stability ensured for the long term. Swift progress is needed on the Banking Union and the Capital Market Union, said the Chancellor. In April and May Germany and France intend to work on a joint roadmap. In June, the Chancellor “aims to resume the debate with shared positions”. Some structural ideas have already been developed; the European Stability Mechanism, for instance, is to become a new Institution.
In Brussels the heads of state and government met in three different constellations: all 28 member states, the EU27 without the United Kingdom, and the 19 eurozone states. The European Council brings together all heads of state and government of the EU, including the Chancellor. It is the responsibility of the European Council to provide the impetus needed to develop the EU and to lay down the general political goals and priorities.
Results of the first day of the summit
The salient points at a glance
The most urgent matter dealt with on the first day of the summit was the USA’s threat to impose punitive tariffs on imports of steel and aluminium. There was a new development overnight. The American President announced that the import tariffs would not apply to the 28 EU member states temporarily – until 1 May. The matter is nevertheless an “extremely urgent” concern said the Chancellor at the close of the EU summit in Brussels. We do not want to get into an upward spiral where at the end everybody loses. “We are interested in fair, international, multilateral trade,” said Angela Merkel.
The EU gave a united response to the attack in Salisbury and declared its “unqualified solidarity” with the United Kingdom. “It is a grave challenge to our shared security,” declared the Chancellor. The heads of state and government agreed with the UK’s assessment that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attack and that there is no other plausible explanation. The EU’s ambassador to Moscow was recalled to Brussels for consultations. Over the next few days Germany and France also intend to decide together whether they will be taking any further action against Russia in the wake of the nerve agent attack in the UK, and if so in what form.
The European Council also condemned the actions of Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean as illegal. It reasserted its solidarity with Cyprus and Greece. On 26 March a meeting is planned between top-level EU representatives and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. On the agenda are the events in the Mediterranean and the detention of two Greek soldiers. The EU would like to have good relations with Turkey, but currently has serious concerns. “Nevertheless we stand by the EU-Turkey Agreement on refugees,” said the Chancellor. The heads of state and government thus also approved payment of the next instalment of three million euros.
Where do we go from here?
At June’s meeting of the European Council agreement is to be reached on a common European asylum system and progress made on the Banking Union. “We have a lot of work to do, but we are confident that we will manage,” said the Chancellor at the close of the Meeting.
Conclusions of the European Council
Conclusions are adopted at every meeting of the European Council. They look at concrete questions and lay out which measures are to be taken and which goals achieved. In the Conclusions, the European Council can also set deadlines for agreement on certain matters or for the submission of proposed legislation. In this way it can influence and steer the political agenda of the EU. The Conclusions of the European Council are freely available online.