European Council Summit Poised to Tackle Trade, Migration, and Brexit Progress

28 June 2018

Leaders of the EU’s 28 member states will meet at a high-stakes European Council Summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday to address migration, security, trade, and economic affairs, including weighing options for Eurozone reform. Leaders will also meet in an EU 27 format to take stock of the Brexit negotiations.

Set for 28-29 June, the summit seeks to identify top-line issues of concern facing the bloc and encourage agreement on conclusions and action-oriented solutions. 

In the weeks leading up to the meeting, European Council President Donald Tusk held a series of bilateral meetings with European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, UK Prime Minister Theresa May, and French President Emmanuel Macron in order to discuss pressing issues and pave the way for talks. 

Brexit update

The European Council “Article 50” meeting, dubbed as such due to the relevant provision in EU law for the exit of a member state, will take place on Friday 29 June. It will bring together the EU27 heads of state for an update on the progress made so far in the Brexit talks, led by Michel Barnier, the Commission’s chief negotiator in this area. 

Leaders will discuss the state of play with regard to withdrawal issues, the issues related to the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and the framework for mapping the future relationship with the UK. 

The draft Article 50 conclusions to be presented at the Summit reportedly call for “stepping up the work on preparedness at all levels and for all outcomes,” urging “intensified efforts” for the swift conclusion of the withdrawal agreement, according to a press background note. 

The draft conclusions also express concern with delayed progress on a backstop solution for the border the UK shares with EU member state Ireland in the way of customs and regulatory alignment. (See Bridges Weekly, 3 May 2018

Furthermore, leaders will issue a call for accelerated work on a political declaration on the framework for the future relationship, reconfirming the guidelines to that effect reached in March. (See Bridges Weekly, 22 March 2018

In this respect, the draft conclusions seek “further clarity” in the UK’s position, showing willingness to compromise if the UK budges on its established red lines. Ministers discussed the draft conclusions in a meeting of the General Affairs Council (Article 50) in Luxembourg on Tuesday 26 June to prepare for the Summit.

“The negotiators commit to making progress as quickly as possible on all aspects necessary to reach” an agreement, EU and UK diplomats affirmed in a separate joint statement issued on 19 June.

The statement aims to recapitulate progress and highlight areas of agreement since the publication of the draft legal text of the withdrawal agreement in March. Data protection arrangements in the transition period, geographical indications, judicial cooperation in criminal matters, and dispute settlement were singled out as being among further outstanding issues under discussion. 

Trade and economic growth

The meeting comes one week after the entry into force of the EU’s “re-balancing measures” on 22 June, which applies tariffs of 25 percent on nearly €3 billion worth of US products, including steel and aluminium products, textiles, and agricultural goods, among others. These initial measures seek to respond to US Section 232 tariffs affecting steel and aluminium imports from Europe, which the White House has justified on national security grounds.

US President Donald Trump has since threatened further duties directed at the EU auto industry, and the Commerce Department is conducting a national security-focused investigation on auto imports globally.

In the proposed draft conclusions for this week’s summit, which were obtained and published by the news agency Politico, the European Council would lend its support to the re-balancing measures and the WTO dispute settlement complaint filed against the Section 232 tariffs.

The draft conclusions underline the importance of preserving and modernising the rules-based multilateral system, working with other WTO members to address “crucial areas” through the promotion of “flexible negotiations,” a novel approach to development, trade facilitation, and new rules in areas where these are lacking, along with the effective enforcement of existing laws. In a separate but related development, the EU and China confirmed a few days ago their plans to set up a working group on WTO reform, along with indicating their interest in bringing others on board. (For more, see related story, this edition)

These same proposed conclusions, which are still under discussion ahead of the summit, would have leaders urge the EU to continue backing a “positive trade agenda,” negotiating mutually beneficial trade agreements with partners globally that have sustainability objectives, reflecting EU “values and standards,” at their core. They also point to the contribution of the new regulation to modernise trade defence instruments to ensuring a level playing field. (See Bridges Weekly, 14 June 2018

On innovation, the draft conclusions say that leaders encourage the implementation of the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the data privacy policy that took effect from 25 May. Doing so, they say, would help “foster trust through high data protection standards”. They also highlighted a series of other key concerns in this field, including support for businesses to enter global markets; research and innovation financial support mechanisms; and using the bloc’s planned seven-year budget from 2021 onward to set up a European Innovation Council, which would be devoted to these objectives and others. (See Bridges Weekly, 31 May 2018

Migration

One of the hot-button topics this week will be migration policy, with leaders giving consideration to both internal and external migration dynamics, from secondary movements between member states to the control of external borders. Discussions are slated to focus on preventing illegal border crossings, ensuring humane reception conditions, and building effective cooperation with countries of origin and transit.

Talks will build on previous work on the reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), comprising seven legislative proposals for migration management emerging in a “trilogue” between the Commission, the Parliament, and the Council.

The Commission has called for the conclusion of all proposals before the end of 2018, citing the Council meeting as an opportunity to build consensus on remaining components, according to a recent European Commission note.

Of the proposals, five are considered ready to be concluded, including the establishment of an EU Asylum Agency, harmonisation of asylum criteria as well as reception conditions, measures to reinforce the Eurodac fingerprint database, and a framework for resettlement. Remaining issues concern the allocation of asylum applications among member states and the provision of procedural guarantees for asylum seekers.

This year, an estimated 1300 EU border guards are being deployed to patrol external borders, with an additional 1500 in reserve to react according to member state demand, according to the same note. A Commission proposal from May 2018 urged the scaling up of investment in border management to counter illegal migration, setting a target of 10,000 border guards by 2027.

On Sunday, 16 EU national leaders met in Brussels to discuss migration and asylum issues, presided over by Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission. The outcomes were summarised in the form of a proposal to amend part of the European Council’s draft conclusions, prepared ahead of the summit this week. Reports suggest, however, that the text has faced resistance as the event gave way to diverging country positions.

Domestic pressures facing Merkel from within her new coalition government joined Italy’s new government in pushing for stricter national curbs on secondary movements of asylum seekers inside the EU bloc.

ICTSD reporting; “Merkel and Juncker's mini-summit risks fiasco,” EU OBSERVER, 22 June 2018; “Commission pushes Council to revise migration plan,” POLITICO, 25 June 2018; “Five things to look out for as European leaders meet to discuss a potential trade war,” THE INDEPENDENT, 25 June 2018; “Mexico election, EU summit, Uber appeal,” FINANCIAL TIMES, 24 June 2018; “Europe will strike back in case of new US tariffs: France,” BUSINESS TIMES, 26 June 2018; “‘Differences’ persist on eurozone budget ahead of key EU summit,” EURACTIV, 26 June 2018; “Eurogroup head to seek EU summit's guidance on easier debt restructuring,” REUTERS, 25 June 2018; “Brexit trade proposals will not be published until after EU summit,” BBC, 9 June 2018; “EU Warns the Global Trade War Is About to Get Worse,” BLOOMBERG, 24 June 2018.

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