Thursday

18th Jan 2018

Agenda

Borders, Brexit, and Spain on EU agenda This WEEK

  • Spain's Mariano Rajoy will attend the EU summit Thursday and Friday before facing election on Sunday. (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Borders, Brexit and Spain on the agenda This WEEK

The last full week before Europe prepares for the Christmas celebrations will lay the groundwork for next year's challenges for the EU.

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The highlight of the week will be an EU summit on Thursday and Friday (17-18 December) where EU leaders will have the migration crisis, UK membership, terrorism and energy union on the table.

Draft conclusions seen by EUobserver indicate that EU leaders will ask that the work of setting up hotspots in Italy and Greece to register and check migrants is speeded up, that control of EU external borders is tightened and that the migrants relocation and resettlement schemes are implemented.

For the first summit since the attacks in Paris on 13 November, they will also call for a stepping up of the cooperation between police and intelligence services and the use of EU databases, in particular for foreign fighters.

On both the migration and terrorism issues, EU leaders will say they expect a concrete follow-up on the recent summit on Western Balkans, and summits with Turkey and Africa.

Border guard

The discussion on EU borders will be fueled by a proposal to create an EU border and coast guard that the EU Commission will publish on Tuesday (15 December).

The new corps will satisfy member states who have been calling for a strengthening of EU borders, like Germany and France, but it will certainly be opposed by member states who are reluctant to cede a new tranche of their sovereignty to the EU.



According to leaks of the commission proposal, the EU border guard would have its own staff and equipment, and would not need to rely on member states’ contributions. It would also have the right to intervene without the consent of the member state where it would operate.

UK talks

Also on the EU leaders' table will be the list of demands for EU reforms that the British prime minister David Cameron sent to them in November.

Leaders will discuss the list together for the first time and European Council president Donald Tusk said he expected "a substantive political discussion to prepare a concrete proposal to be finally adopted in February".

After preparatory talks between diplomats and also directly between Cameron and some leaders, it appears that agreement could be found on issues such as competitiveness, the role of national parliaments or the relations between the eurozone and non-euro countries.

But Cameron's demand to cut benefits for EU citizens working in the UK is a blocking point. It is considered as discriminatory and against EU law, and is opposed by many countries.

A compromise could be found with Cameron dropping his demand and getting satisfaction on migration control with the promise of an "emergency brake" on EU migration to the UK.

Whether or not a deal is reached in February, this week's discussion will be launching a long process that will lead to a referendum on Britain's EU membership that is expected in June or September of next year.

Gas and Russia

A smaller item on the EU summit agenda will be energy union, on which progress will be assessed. 

But the discussion will likely also be about the Nord Stream gas pipeline project which is opposed by ten EU countries. According the the draft conclusions, EU leaders could re-affirm that future projects have to serve the EU “common interest”.

The EU's energy dependence on Russia will loom large over the Nord Stream debate.

These relations could also be discussed if Italy's prime minister Matteo Renzi brings up the topic of EU sanctions on Russia.

At an ambassadors meeting, Italy said it wanted a "political discussion" on whether or not to renew the sanctions for six months. If the discussion is not settled at a foreign affairs ministers meeting on Monday (14 November), it will go to the EU leaders on Thursday or Friday.

Enlargement

Another long-term process will be launched Monday, when Serbia accession talks will officially start at an intergovernmental conference in Brussels.

The decision to open two chapters, on financial issues, was announced in early December after Serbia started to implement an EU-brokered agreement with its former province, Kosovo.

Also on Monday, the negotiations for Turkey's accession to the EU will be given a new start at a separate intergovermental conference.

One chapter, on economic policy, will be opened as an incentive for Turkey to implement the deal agreed last month to stem the flow of migrants to Europe.

Turkey's accession process started in 2006 but no new chapter has been opened since 2013.

Spain

The week will end with all eyes on Spain on Sunday (20 December), where a general election will take place.

Outgoing centre-right prime minister Mariano Rajoy hopes to win another four-year mandate, but it will be difficult for him to reach an absolute majority.

Rajoy's Popular Party leads in opinion polls with around 28 percent of voting intentions, against around 23 percent for opposition Socialist Party led by Pedro Sánchez.

But the election king makers will be the two upstart parties, center-right Ciudadanos led by Albert Rivera, and radical left Podemos of Pablo Iglesias.

Polls put Ciudadanos at 18 percent, and 11 percent for Podemos.

The election is seen as a kind of plebiscite on the reforms and austerity policies implemented by Rajoy, a few weeks after an election in neighbouring Portugal gave the lead to his centre-right counterpart Passos Coelho before anti-austerity parties from the left formed a coalition to govern.

The other big issue of the vote is the future of Spain and Catalonia, after the region launched a process to declare independence within 18 months.

The Spanish justice department blocked the move, but the new government will have to deal with a regional parliament that wants to go on with the process.

While Rajoy and Sanchez pledged to defend Spain's constitution, Ciudadanos is also strongly opposed to the process and Podemos has not taken a clear position.

EU plans fully-fledged external border force

The EU Commission will propose a reinforced border and coast guard next week to strengthen the bloc's external border controls. It could be deployed to a member state without invitation.

Tusk: UK reform talks are 'difficult'

The European Council president said there is "no consensus" on British demands to cut benefits for EU citizens and urged EU leaders to find a compromise before February.

Bulgaria takes over, Germany's SPD votes This WEEK

While Bulgaria and Ireland present themselves at next week's plenary at the European Parliament, Germany's Social Democrats will decide if the preliminary coalition deal with Merkel is good enough.

Netanyahu, Panama Papers, and Brexit This WEEK

The run-up to the Christmas break sees a packed schedule, including the EU summit on Brexit, migration and other issues, a rare visit by Israeli PM Netanyahu, and issues such as fishing quotas and the Panama Papers.

EU 'hypocrisy' condemns people to Libya, says NGO

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, says the EU's key policy on returning migrants to Libya is condemning them to "nightmarish conditions", and is a hypocritical use of the Libyan coastguard to avoid direct responsibility.

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