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EU leaders conclude European Council meeting with agenda for future of EU

Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar attended the October two-day meeting of the European Council in Brussels. The first day of the meeting was dedicated to migration issues, where in order to stem illegal migration the leaders agreed among other things to provide sufficient funding to the EU Trust Fund for Africa. After Slovenia’s long-lasting efforts, to Slovenia’s satisfaction, in their conclusions at the summit the leaders restated their commitment to the Schengen system and expressed their intention to get “Back to Schengen” as soon as possible, while taking the proportionate security interests of Member States fully into account. The remainder of the meeting was given to a debate on Digital Europe, relations with Turkey, the Brexit negotiations and the leaders’ agenda for the future of the EU in the next two years.


Despite Slovenia’s satisfaction that the leaders included a call to return to the Schengen system in their conclusions, the Slovenian prime minister noted that we cannot be completely satisfied as long as Austria continues to conduct internal controls at the Slovenian border, for which there is absolutely no reason.


After the meeting he also stated that when it becomes possible he will establish direct contact with the likely future chancellor of Austria Sebastian Kurz, with whom he will speak about the need to remove the internal controls at the Slovenian-Austrian border. There are no grounds for imposing those controls, he explained.


In the debate on migration, the EU leaders agreed to provide assistance to Italy in order to deal with migrations on the Central Mediterranean route, particularly in cooperation with Libyan authorities. With regard to negotiations on asylum reform, where the biggest dilemmas relate to the issue of the EU’s permanent relocation mechanism for refugees in the event of exceptional circumstances, the leaders decided to return to the matter in December in order to reach a consensus during the first half of 2018.


After its much-heralded launch at the recent digital summit in Tallinn, the EU leaders also adopted measures on the importance of the development of Digital Europe, and committed to measures to speed up and prioritise the work on the Digital Single Market.


They also confirmed their intention to establish a permanent form of defence cooperation, i.e. PESCO, by the end of the year. As has already been reported, Slovenia will participate in future European integration in the area of defence.


A debate was also held on the topic of the EU’s relations with Turkey. The debate centred around the reduction and reorientation of pre-accession funds for Turkey due to its failure to respect human rights. The leaders therefore proposed that the European Commission draft a suitable proposal regarding the pre-accession funds. This is intended to move closer to EU standards.


A significant part of the debate was given to the Iran nuclear deal. The EU leaders decisively supported the deal and committed to preserving it and to continuing cooperation with Iran.


With regard to the Brexit negotiations, the EU27 leaders unanimously stated that insufficient progress has been made with regard to the three priority withdrawal issues, i.e. citizens’ rights, settlement of financial obligations and the Irish borders. Progress on these issues is a condition for the commencement of negotiations on future relations between the EU and the United Kingdom.


“By all means at this moment there has not been enough progress for a transition to the second phase, but it is encouraging that there is good will on both sides,” said Slovenian Prime Minister Cerar, who assessed the decision of the 27 Member States to initiate internal preparatory discussions on future relations and the transition period as a positive step. With this political gesture, the EU27 leaders are reaching out to the United Kingdom, as it allows negotiations to move forward and paves the way for a possible breakthrough in December, when the EU leaders will reassess the progress.


The EU27 leaders also reviewed progress on the decision on moving the European Medicines Agency and European Banking Authority out of London. A decision by the EU27 is expected in November.


On the second day, the leaders of the EU Member States focused on plans for the future of the EU. The debate was held on the basis of a proposal drafted before the meeting by European Council President Donald Tusk after consulting with all of the EU27 leaders. It includes a timeline and proposals for more effective decision-making by the leaders while preserving the unity of the EU. “Unity cannot become an excuse for stagnation, but at the same time ambition cannot lead to divisions,” said Tusk in his letter.


This is also in the spirit of the main guiding principle expressed by Prime Minister Cerar in the consultations, namely that in strengthening the Union we should continue to strive for the unity of the EU, and its flexibility, but prudently and not at the expense of further divisions among the Member States or the repudiation of the fundamental achievements of the EU.