The European Council on 13-14 December 2018 focused on the EU’s long-term budget, external relations, migration and the single market. EU27 leaders also discussed Brexit on Thursday and the euro area on Friday.
At the start of the meeting, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, representing the Austrian presidency, provided an overview of progress on the implementation of earlier European Council conclusions.
EU budget for 2021-2027
The European Council had a first substantial exchange of views on the 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework on the basis of a progress report by the presidency of the Council. It called on the incoming presidency to continue the intensive work carried out over the past year on the future MFF, the EU’s long-term budget. Leaders aim to reach an agreement in the European Council in autumn 2019.
EU leaders discussed preparations for the upcoming summit with the League of Arab States on 24 and 25 February 2019.
Chancellor Merkel and President Macron briefed the leaders on the implementation of the Minsk agreements. Given that no progress has been made, the European Council took the political decision to roll-over the economic sanctions against Russia.
It expressed its utmost concern regarding the escalation in the Kerch Straits and the Azov Sea. It called for the immediate release of all detained Ukrainian seamen as well as the return of the seized vessels and free passage of all ships through the Kerch Straits.
The European Council welcomed the positive vote in the European Parliament on the EU-Japan trade deal and looked forward to its imminent entry into force.
The EU27 leaders held a special meeting of the European Council in Article 50 format to discuss Brexit. They reconfirmed the conclusions of 25 November 2018, in which they endorsed the withdrawal agreement and approved the political declaration.
“The Union stands by this agreement and intends to proceed with its ratification. It is not open for renegotiation.”
European Council (Art. 50) conclusions, 13 December 2018
The European Council underlined that the backstop was intended as an insurance policy to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland and ensure the integrity of the single market. “If the backstop were nevertheless to be triggered, it would apply temporarily, unless and until it is superseded by a subsequent agreement that ensures that a hard border is avoided,” said the EU27 leaders in the conclusions.
Leaders also discussed their preparedness for a no-deal scenario.
The European Council called for the continuation of the single market agenda which has delivered welfare, growth and jobs in the EU over the past 25 years. Leaders want to see progress in the following areas:
- ongoing legislative work
- coordination with related policy areas
- implementation at the national level
- global competitiveness
- digital transformation
The European Council agreed to hold an in-depth discussion in spring 2019, in preparation for the next Strategic Agenda.
Irregular arrivals have been brought down to pre-crisis levels thanks to external border controls, the fight against smugglers and enhanced cooperation with countries of origin and transit. Leaders called for the EU’s external migration policy to be further developed and implemented.
Regarding the Union’s internal policies, the heads invited the co-legislators to rapidly conclude negotiations on the European Border and Coast Guard (EBCG).
They also called for further efforts to conclude negotiations on the Asylum Agency, the return directive and reform of the EU asylum system.
In light of the presentation of the Commission communication ‘A Clean Planet for all’, and taking into account the outcome of COP24 in Katowice, the EU leaders invited the Council to work on the elements outlined in the communication. The European Council will provide guidance on the overall direction and political priorities in the first semester of 2019. This will enable the EU to submit a long-term strategy by 2020, in line with the Paris Agreement.
Security and defence
The heads welcomed the progress achieved in the area of security and defence, such as the implementation of the permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) and efforts to improve military mobility. Leaders endorsed the civilian CSDP compact.
These initiatives help to enhance the EU’s strategic autonomy and its capacity to act as a security provider, while strengthening EU-NATO cooperation.
Our democratic systems are threatened by the spread of disinformation. EU leaders stressed the need for an urgent response to disinformation in full respect of fundamental rights. They called for:
- rapid implementation of the joint action plan on disinformation presented by the Commission and the High Representative
- swift and decisive action at both EU and national level to secure free and fair European and national elections
The Council is invited to continue work on this issue and to report back to the European Council in March 2019.
Fight against racism and xenophobia
EU leaders condemned all forms of antisemitism, racism and xenophobia, and underlined the importance of combating intolerance. They welcomed the adoption on 6 December 2018 of the Council Declaration on the fight against antisemitism.
EU leaders assessed the outcome of Citizens’ Dialogues and Citizens’ Consultations held in the EU member states. The exercise helped identify a number of concerns and expectations on the part of citizens in terms of concrete results from the EU. At their informal meeting in Sibiu on 9 May 2019, heads of state or government will discuss priorities for the next institutional cycle, with a view to agreeing on the next Strategic Agenda in June 2019.
EU leaders adopted a statement endorsing all elements of the Eurogroup report on EMU deepening, including a term sheet on the ESM reform, the terms of reference of the common backstop to the SRF and a way forward on the banking union.
Leaders also gave a mandate to the Eurogroup for further work on a budgetary instrument for convergence and competitiveness for the euro area, in the context of the MFF.