European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker participated yesterday and today in the European Council where EU leaders made progress on key issues such as EU Industrial Policy, International Procurement Instrument, EU-China relations, Disinformation and Capital Markets Union.
On the first day of the Summit the EU27 leaders discussed the latest developments following the United Kingdom’s notification under Article 50 while day two started with a ceremony to mark the 25th anniversary of the European Economic Area, in the presence of the Prime Ministers of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.
Jobs, growth and competitiveness
Leaders had a broad ranging discussion on strengthening Europe’s economic base and global competitiveness, touching on all aspects of industrial policy, including the Single Market in all its dimensions, innovation and trade.
To that end, the European Council called for action by the EU and its Member States and underlined that the Single Market should be further deepened and strengthened, with particular emphasis on the development of a service economy and on mainstreaming digital services; remaining unjustified barriers must be removed, building on the Commission Communication of November 2018, and no new ones created.
According to the European Council Conclusions, further steps should be taken to deepen the Capital Markets Union and the Energy Union, and to ensure fair and effective taxation. The Commission is invited to develop by March 2020, in close coordination with the Member States, a long-term action plan for better implementation and enforcement of Single Market rules.
EU leaders invited the Commission to present, by the end of 2019, a long-term vision for the EU’s industrial future, with concrete measures to implement it.
Leaders stressed that the EU needs to go further in developing a competitive, secure, inclusive and ethical digital economy with world-class connectivity. Special emphasis should be placed on access to, sharing of and use of data, on data security and on Artificial Intelligence, in an environment of trust. In that respect, it was underlined that the European Council looks forward to the Commission’s recommendation on a concerted approach to the security of 5G networks.
According to the Summit Conclusions, measures should be taken to further support the European Innovation Council and to facilitate the implementation of Important Projects of Common European Interest, while ensuring a level-playing field, as well as a regulatory environment and state-aid framework that are conducive to innovation.
The European Council reaffirmed its commitment to an open rules-based multilateral trading system with a modernised WTO at its core, and to resisting all forms of protectionism and distortions. The European Council called for the necessary steps to be taken towards rapid implementation of all elements of the U.S.-EU Joint Statement of 25 July 2018.
EU-China relations and industrial policy
EU-China relations were discussed on the basis of the Commission’s ten-point action plan published last week to frame the debate ahead of the EU-China Summit on 9 April.
The strategy seeks to deepen the engagement with China on global issues, such as the reform of the World Trade Organisation, and the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the Iran Nuclear deal and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The EU must work towards a more balanced and reciprocal economic partnership. This can be done inter alia by striking bilateral agreements on investment, geographical indications and aviation, as well as working with China to deliver on existing bilateral commitments. Europe should do more to protect itself where needed and strengthen its industrial base across the board.
At the Press conference President Juncker said: “China is competitor, partner and rival. We need more reciprocity in our trade relationship. EU public procurement market is one of the largest and most accessible in the world but Chinese market is not sufficiently open to Europe companies. We must change this.”
To fix the imbalance between open European markets and closed markets elsewhere, the Commission proposed in 2016 the International Procurement Instrument which, if agreed, would help address the issue of a level playing-field in public procurement markets. The European Council called on resuming discussions on the EU’s international procurement instrument.
The European Council recognised that the implementation of the Paris Agreement objective offers significant opportunities and potential for economic growth, new jobs and technological development and for strengthening European competitiveness, which must be reaped while ensuring a just and socially balanced transition for all.
In November 2018, the Commission presented a long-term strategy for the reduction of greenhouse gas and the modernisation of European economy and industry. It presents a vision to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, through a socially fair and just transition encompassing all sectors of the economy pursuing a whole-of-government and not a silo approach.
Five years after the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by Russia the EU remains resolute in its commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The EU reiterated that it does not recognise and continues to condemn this violation of international law which remains a direct challenge to international security.
The European Council deeply regretted the loss of lives and the destruction in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, caused by tropical cyclone Idai. The European Council welcomed the emergency response already provided by the European Union and its Member States, and expressed its readiness to continue supporting the concerned countries in providing urgent humanitarian relief assistance to the affected population.
Securing free and fair elections and fighting disinformation
Welcoming the important work accomplished in this respect in the past months by the European Commission and the External Action Service, the European Council called for further enhanced coordinated efforts to address the internal and external aspects of disinformation and protect the European and national elections across the EU.
The European Council urged private operators such as online platforms and social networks to fully implement the Code of Practice and ensure higher standards of responsibility and transparency. It called for continued and coordinated efforts to safeguard the Union’s democratic systems and to combat the immediate and long term threats posed by disinformation, as an integral part of strengthening the EU’s resilience against hybrid threats.
The EU27 leaders discussed the latest developments following the United Kingdom’s notification under Article 50. Leaders took note of the letter of Prime Minister Theresa May of 20 March 2019, in which she had requested to delay Brexit until 30 June 2019. The European Council (Article 50) agreed in a Decision to extend the UK’s departure date to 22 May 2019, provided the Withdrawal Agreement is approved by the House of Commons by 29 March 2019 at the latest. If the Withdrawal Agreement is not approved by the House of Commons by then, the European Council has agreed to an extension until 12 April 2019. In that scenario, the United Kingdom would be expected to indicate a way forward before this date.
EU27 leaders highlighted that any unilateral commitment, statement or other act should be compatible with the letter and the spirit of the withdrawal agreement. They called for work to be continued on preparedness and contingency at all levels for the consequences of the UK’s withdrawal, taking into account all possible outcomes. The European Council (Art. 50) also approved the Instrument relating to the withdrawal agreement and the joint statement supplementing the political declaration agreed between the European Commission and the government of the United Kingdom in Strasbourg on 11 March 2019.
President Juncker said: “Since that day of the referendum, the position of the 27 Member States and the Commission has been united and unequivocal. We have worked tirelessly to negotiate the Withdrawal Agreement. We have done everything we could to help get it over the finishing line. We were asked for clarifications in December – we gave them. We were asked for assurances in January – we gave them. I was asked for further reassurances, last Monday in Strasbourg, notably with regards to the backstop – I gave them. And so I have to welcome that today the 27 Leaders endorsed the legally binding clarifications and assurances that Prime Minister May and I agreed in Strasbourg. This closes and completes the full package. There is no more that we can give. We are hopeful that the agreement will be adopted by the House of Commons.”
The Commission adopted a series of communications and reports to contribute to the March European Council discussions: