European Council, 15/12/2016
The December European Council discussed the most pressing issues, including migration, security, economy and youth, and external relations.
Central Mediterranean Route
EU leaders discussed progress on the implementation of the agreements, the so-called 'compacts', with five African countries of transit and origin.
They said that "in the light of experience" offered by the implementation of the compacts with Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal, additional agreements or other forms of cooperation "could be envisaged".
The compacts are part of the EU's comprehensive approach to reducing the illegal migration along the Central Mediterranean route. To achieve this, the EU helps African countries tackle the root causes of migration. It also works closely with them to improve return rates.
Eastern Mediterranean Route
Leaders reiterated their commitment to a full implementation of EU-Turkey Statement on migration. They also supported the implementation plan, which was drawn up by Greece and the Commission and called for EU countries to execute it swiftly.
They recalled their position on the Eastern Mediterranean migratory route, which they had agreed at their previous meeting in October. In order to maintain and tighten control of the route, they had called for:
- faster returns from the Greek islands to Turkey
- assistance by EU countries to Greece, if deemed necessary by EU agencies
- further progress on the commitments included in the EU-Turkey statement, including visa liberalisation
Agreed in March 2016, the EU-Turkey statement contributed to stopping the flow of irregular migration via Turkey to Europe and breaking the business model.
They also pledged to continue support countries along the Western Balkans route.
Leaders said it was necessary to boost support for the Libyan coastguard in its fight against people smugglers. At the same time, action was needed to offer assisted voluntary return possibilities to migrants who are stranded in Libya. Taken together, these two measures would help to prevent the loss of life at sea, they said.
Leaders have also highlighted the need for the European Border and Coast Guard and the European Asylum Support Office to get adequate resources.
Launched in the autumn 2016, the guard's main role is to help EU countries to police EU border and to ensure the effective management of migration flows. It consists of an EU agency and national authorities in charge of border management. Since 7 December, the agency also had a rapid reaction pool. Made of 1 500 officers committed by EU member states and Schengen associated countries, it can be deployed within five days in a crisis situation.
The European Asylum Support Office is an EU agency that helps member states to deal with the influx of asylum seekers.
The European Council reaffirmed its commitment to the European Union Internal Security Strategy 2015-2020. It also addressed the strengthening of EU cooperation on external security and defence. In particular, the heads of state or government focused on the three priorities:
- the EU Global Strategy in the area of security and defence
- the European Defence Action Plan
- implementation of the common set of proposals which follow up on the EU-NATO Joint Declaration signed in Warsaw in July 2016
In their joint op-ed issued ahead of the European Council, Presidents Donald Tusk, Jean Claude-Juncker and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg highlighted the importance of the cooperation of the two organisations.
"More than ever in a changing world, soft power alone is not enough. Security begins at home and that is why the EU is committed to doing more to protect and defend its citizens, and to help those member states who are Allies to play their full part in NATO," they wrote.
Economy, social development, youth
EFSI (European Fund for Strategic Investment)
Leaders welcomed the agreement reached in the Council to extend the European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI), the EU's flagship initiative under its 'investment plan for Europe'. The extension - both in terms of duration and financial capacity - will mobilise at least half a trillion euros of investment by 2020 including a number of operational improvements to take account of lessons learned from the first year of implementation.
Single market strategies and the Energy Union
The European Council reiterated the importance of the various single market strategies and the Energy Union, which should be completed and implemented by 2018. By then, certain key issues need to be resolved.
Leaders welcomed the progress achieved so far and urged all institutions to build on this momentum and further increase the level of ambition while calling for removing remaining barriers within the single market, including those hampering the free flow of data.
Trade defence instruments
The European Council noted that the Council is now ready to engage in negotiations with the European Parliament on the modernisation of trade defence instruments.
Leaders took stock of progress of the implementation of the Youth Guarantee and the Youth Employment Initiative, taking into account a Commission's report on the progress so far. The report shows that young people's labour market performance in the EU has overall surpassed expectations with 1.4 million less young people unemployed in the EU than in 2013.
The European Council welcomed the increased support for the Youth Employment Initiative. It also called for the continuation of the Youth Guarantee and work to be advanced on recent Commission initiatives dedicated to youth, including on mobility and skills development.
Following a presentation by the President of the Republic of Cyprus on the negotiations on a Cyprus settlement, the European Council reiterated its support to the ongoing process for the reunification of Cyprus. The leaders stressed that the EU stands ready to participate at the Geneva Conference on Cyprus on 12 January 2017.
Leaders exchanged views on situation in the Netherlands in the context of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. The European Council reconfirmed its commitment to international law and the territorial integrity of Ukraine as well as the conclusion of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, including the establishment of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area.
"Now the responsibility lies with the Netherlands. The ratification is important not only for Ukraine, but also for Europe's geopolitical standing and credibility. We are counting on our Dutch colleagues," said President Donald Tusk at the press conference after the meeting.
The European Council strongly condemned the continued assault on Aleppo by the Syrian regime and its allies, notably Russia and Iran, including the deliberate targeting of civilians and hospitals. The European Council called on the regime and Russia, as well as all parties in the Syrian conflict to implement immediately the following four emergency measures:
- the evacuation of the inhabitants of the eastern part of Aleppo
- immediate aid and protection for all inhabitants of the eastern part of Aleppo
- protection for all medical personnel and installations throughout the country
- international humanitarian law needs to be applied
The leaders stressed that those responsible for breaches of international law must be held accountable and that the EU is considering all available options.
Ahead of the summit, President Donald Tusk met with Brita Hagi Hasan, President of the local Council of Eastern Aleppo.
"No-one is indifferent in the EU. I am talking about people, institutions, politicians. There are some global limitations and problems, but this is what we want to do, to be more effective when it comes to protection and assistance. We should and we will try to do everything we can to help you and the civilians in Aleppo," said President Tusk during the meeting.
He also invited Brita Hagi Hasan to address the European Council.
Prime Minister Robert Fico informed the European Council on the state of play of the implementation of the measures agreed in September and October 2016. After the meeting, President Tusk thanked Prime Minister Fico and his team for their work during the Slovak presidency.
"Not only did you host the historic EU27 summit in Bratislava, but thanks to your professionalism you have also succeeded in making a number of promises from Bratislava a reality," he said.
Informal meeting of the 27 leaders
A short informal meeting of the 27 leaders was held in the margins of the December European Council. After the meeting the 27 leaders and Presidents of the European Council and Commission issued the statement, in which they declared to start negotiations with the UK as soon as the UK has notified under article 50.
"We welcome the intention of the UK to do so before the end of March 2017, so that we can begin to tackle the uncertainties arising from the prospect of the UK's withdrawal," they said in the statement.