Report by President Donald Tusk to the European Parliament on the European Council of 9 March and the informal meeting of the 27 heads of state and government of 10 March
European Council President Spokesperson
Leaders met last Thursday for the March European Council, and - a day later - at 27 to discuss the future of the European Union before the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. Our discussions were constructive and focused, despite a little drama at the beginning.
I will start with the European Council meeting itself. Following an implementation report from Prime Minister Muscat, we discussed the progress on our migration priorities as set down by leaders in the Malta Declaration of the 3rd of February. Work has begun but now needs to accelerate in order to start delivering results ahead of what we know will be a challenging summer.
Secondly, leaders discussed the prospects for the EU and euro area economies, together with the President of the European Central Bank. Things are getting better, and they are getting better in every Member State of the Union. This proves that our economic strategies are on the right track. Although unemployment is at its lowest level since 2009, leaders were clear on the need to get it down further, particularly in the most affected regions. Job creation will remain our priority. It is the best means to tackle inequality and social injustice.
Leaders confirmed the EU's position as the champion of open, rules-based free and fair trade. Trade is central to European economic success and as I mentioned several weeks ago, Europe needs to intensify trade talks with our partners around the world. Not least due to signs of protectionism emerging elsewhere. We agreed to swiftly advance ongoing negotiations, such as with Japan, which are most advanced, with Mercosur and Mexico. Already next week we will discuss with President Juncker how to progress in our trade deal with Japan when we host Prime Minister Abe in Brussels. Our sincere hope is to finalise these talks this year. Leaders expressed their will to strengthen trade relations with China. At the same time we will not hesitate to defend ourselves against unfair trading practices, wherever necessary. We welcome the European Parliament's strong commitment to making quick progress on the relevant legislation. It will help Europe set the global standard for free and fair trade.
In the evening, we discussed the tense situation in the Western Balkans. It was clear to all that forces inside and outside are working vigorously to destabilise the region. That is why leaders reaffirmed their unequivocal support for the Western Balkans, and its European perspective. We also expressed our full commitment to support EU-oriented reforms and ongoing projects. The European Union remains faithful to the promise of Thessaloniki and fully committed to the region's stability and prosperity. I hope this positive signal from Europe will be heard.
Leaders also reviewed progress made in the area of security and defence cooperation, where the European Council gave a new impetus last December as a strategic priority. Leaders agreed to come back to this again in June.
On Friday, we met informally at 27 ahead of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. There was an honest and constructive discussion about our common future. It focused on what should be the main elements of the Rome Declaration and our agenda going forward.
It was clear from the debate that the unity of the 27 will be our most precious asset. Our last meeting in Malta, subsequent opinions voiced by some Member States as well as the European Commission's White Paper leave us in no doubt that the idea of a multi-speed Europe will be one of the discussions ahead of the Rome anniversary. I understand the reasons for this.
Some expect systemic changes that would loosen intra-EU ties and strengthen the role of nations in relation to the community. Others, quite the opposite, are looking for new, deeper dimensions of integration, even if they would apply only to some Member States. Such a possibility is indeed foreseen in the Treaties currently in force. However, considering the interests of the community of 27 countries in the context of the upcoming Brexit negotiations as well as the long-term strategic interests of the EU, I will be urging everyone to strive towards maintaining political unity among the 27.
This is why, when discussing the various scenarios for Europe, our main objective should be to strengthen mutual trust and unity among 27. After last week's debate, I can openly say that all 27 leaders agree with this objective. It was a relatively optimistic discussion about our common future, with a positive approach from all sides, without any exception. As I said after the meeting itself, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."
It is our collective intention to mark the 60th anniversary with the sense of celebration and sober reflection that it deserves. Me and Jean-Claude continue to work closely with Prime Ministers Gentiloni and Muscat on this. And I want to thank them both for their efforts and dedication.
Finally, on my re-appointment as President of the European Council, I have nothing further to say except to reiterate that I am really grateful for the trust that has been placed in me and absolutely determined to work with all Member States and institutions to make the EU better and more united.
Brexit was not on our agenda last week, but let me share two remarks, given that this is our last meeting before the UK triggers article 50.
I will do everything in my power to make sure that the EU and the UK will be close friends in the future. Britain will be dearly missed as an EU Member State. At the same time, I would like to stress again that the EU's door will always remain open for our British friends.
When it comes to negotiations, we will have no choice but to start the withdrawal talks once the UK notifies. We are carefully preparing for these negotiations, in close consultation with Member States and the European Parliament. It is our wish to make this process constructive, and conducted in an orderly manner. However, the claims, increasingly taking the form of threats, that no agreement will be good for the UK, and bad for the EU, need to be addressed. I want to be clear that a 'no deal scenario' would be bad for everyone, but above all for the UK, because it would leave a number of issues unresolved. We will not be intimidated by threats, and I can assure you they simply will not work. Our goal is to have a smooth divorce and a good framework for the future. And it is good to know that Prime Minister Theresa May shares this view.
There is one final thing I would like to say about the Netherlands, after what happened over the weekend. The Netherlands is Europe, and today I want to say that Europe is the Netherlands. A place of freedom and democracy. And for sure Rotterdam. The city of Erasmus, brutally destroyed by the Nazis, which today has a Mayor born in Morocco. If anyone sees fascism in Rotterdam, they are completely detached from reality. We all show solidarity with the Netherlands.
Out of respect for our friends in the Netherlands, let me repeat this in Dutch.
Nederland is Europa en Europa is Nederland. Plaats van vrijheid en democratie. Zeker Rotterdam. Stad van Erasmus, door de Nazi's kapot geschoten, vandaag met een burgemeester geboren in Marokko. Dat heeft met fascisme NIETS te maken. Wij zijn allen solidair met Nederland.
Yes, we are Europeans and we are proud.