BRUSSELS (Sputnik) – The two-day European Council meeting, during which the leaders recognized that many Brexit issues remained unresolved, pledged to step up fight against undocumented migration, as well as counter cyberattacks, disinformation campaigns and chemical threats, came to a close on October 18.
The two-day summit started with talks on Brexit, which was the main topic discussed at Wednesday dinner.
Talking to reporters on Wednesday evening, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said that UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s address to EU leaders lacked any new Brexit proposals in terms of substance.
“I want to be optimistic. The political message of Mrs. May is a positive one, [saying that they] want to achieve an agreement. On the content – no news. But the body language was more positive than in the past,” Tajani said.
Next day, May said on the sidelines of the summit that the sides had made “good progress” both on the withdrawal agreement and on the post-Brexit relations, noting though that some issues, including those related to the Irish border, remained unresolved.
Commenting on the EU reported proposal to extend the transition period beyond December 2020 over insufficient progress in talks on post-Brexit UK-EU relations, the prime minister told Sky News that she did not rule out such an option. May, however, stressed that she expected the Brexit transition period to come to a close as it had been scheduled.
Later at a press conference, she said that there was still “a lot of hard work ahead” in terms of Brexit talks.
On Thursday evening, important news finally came from Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez who announced that Spain and the United Kingdom had successfully negotiated the issue of Gibraltar’s future post-Brexit and agreed upon the text of a protocol to be included in the Withdrawal Agreement. According to the prime minister, the two sides still have to agree on the four memorandums that are related to bilateral relations between Spain and the United Kingdom. The memorandums will envision cooperation on taxation, environment and security.
The summit noted that European Union wanted a comprehensive approach to migration, and was glad that the illegal border crossings had been brought down by 95 percent from the peak of October 2015.
The summit statement, however, admitted that “recent external flows warrant sustained attention.” It was an apparent reference to the rapidly increasing undocumented arrivals from the sub-Saharan region to southern Spain and the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in Africa.
The European leaders “highlight the importance of preventing illegal migration and strengthening cooperation with countries of origin and transit, particularly in North Africa,” the statement reiterated.
To this end, they proposed that “a joint task force should be established at Europol’s European Migrant Smuggling Centre,” with the offer of the relevant set of measures expected from the European Commission by December.
European Council President Donald Tusk specified that the Union would pay particular attention to the Western Mediterranean, and would discuss better cooperation with Morocco, promoted by Sanchez.
Another priority defined by the council is to examine the commission’s recent proposals on the Return Directive, the strengthening of the European Border and Coast Guard (Frontex) and the creation of the Asylum Agency.
Meanwhile, the proposals did not meet unanimous support from all nations.
Minister of the Hungarian Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office Antal Rogan, for instance, said in a statement that Budapest would not transfer border protection duties to Frontex, nor would it outsource its right to decide who can and cannot receive refugee status to the proposed Asylum Agency.
The summit also suggested that “member states could apply the necessary leverage by using all relevant EU policies, instruments and tools, including development, trade and visa, to promote re-admission to the states of origin.” In other words, it means that the council implies instrumentalizing development aid and visa policies to encourage countries of migrants’ transit and origin to cooperate on the issue.
Another main topic of the day was combating cyberwarfare, chemical and bacteriological and even nuclear attacks.
The agenda was a clear reference to the allegations of Russia’s complicity in the Salisbury case and purported cyberattacks on The Hague-based international organizations, both vehemently denied by Moscow as unsubstantiated.
“The EU will further strengthen its deterrence and resilience against hybrid, cyber, as well as chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats. Recalling its previous conclusions concerning the Salisbury attack, the European Council condemns the hostile cyber-attack carried out against the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW),” the summit statement stressed.
The summit also welcomed “the adoption of the new regime of restrictive measures to address the [alleged chemical] threat” and stressed the need to adopt “all cybersecurity proposals “before the end of the legislature” in May 2019.
The European Council also expressed determination to “combat disinformation in the context of the upcoming European elections, in full respect of fundamental rights.”
The statement also mentioned such issues as online transparency, protection against cybersecurity incidents and “fighting disinformation campaigns and tightening the rules on European political party funding.”
It is noteworthy that until now, the European Parliament bureau has launched procedures on party funding only against the UK Independence Party and France’s National Rally (RN) party, who considered being “populist” by the European Union. Moreover, those two groupings in parliament were not invited to become members of the executive bureau of the European Parliament.
For the members of the European Parliament’s Europe of Freedom & Direct Democracy Group (EFD) and those of the Europe of Nations & Freedom Group (ENF) this may be a political signal.
At the end of their discussions, EU leaders found some time to discuss the process of completing the European Capital Markets Union and progress of the banking union. An important point on the agenda is the adoption of a guarantee for bank deposits.
The summit also discussed budget issues and obviously the new Italian budget for 2019, which stipulates an increased budget deficit target and is believed to contradict the EU key rules on debt reduction. Following the summit, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker pledged that the commission would analyze it “like all other eurozone member states budgets with the same rigor and flexibility.”
“We have heard a passionate presentation by the Italian Prime Minister [Giuseppe Conte] of the draft Italian budget but have not reacted to this budget. I can assure you that it will be analyzed like all other eurozone member states budgets, with the same rigor and flexibility,” Juncker said.
Pressed for more comments, as the European Commission is known for being critical of the new Italian government, Juncker said that the commission had been regularly accused in the past of being too flexible with Rome. Then he added with a smile: “Italy is Italy.”