First summit THIS WEEK for Italy's new PM
By Peter Teffer
This week, Italy's new prime minister will attend his first EU summit.
However, Paolo Gentiloni is no stranger to Brussels or the topics that EU leaders will discuss on Thursday (15 December).
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Before he was asked on Sunday (11 December) by the Italian president to form a new government to succeed outgoing PM Matteo Renzi, Gentiloni had been Renzi's foreign minister since October 2014, during Italy's rotating presidency of the Council of the EU.
An important topic at the summit agenda to Gentiloni will be the debate about migration. Leaders will take stock of the EU-Turkey deal, and the progress of similar such agreements with African countries.
The summit will also feature plans for more European coordination on external security and defence. They will discuss counter-terrorism and how to screen visitors to the EU.
Leaders are expected, according to a draft version of the summit conclusions that is circulating online, to welcome the proposed European Defence Action Plan.
They will also discuss Russia and the situation in Syria, and will negotiate on a text to be added to an EU-Ukraine association agreement.
The addendum was requested by Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, who is hoping a legally binding text will quell unrest in his country over the deal.
In April, the EU-Ukraine treaty was rejected in a referendum, which was non-binding, but politically sensitive. In particular, now that elections are coming up in the Netherlands in three months time, Rutte wants to come home from Brussels with a solution.
Short summit, in particular for May
The summit is scheduled to be shorter than usual.
Instead of the usual two days, now only one day is scheduled, with leaders beginning earlier.
In particular the UK's leader, Theresa May, might make it home before midnight.
She will leave her colleagues when they hold a dinner debate over the future of the EU post-Brexit.
While negotiations with the UK over leaving the bloc have formally not begun, the EU-27 are in a process of soul-searching: how to convince the citizens that the EU is still relevant?
Meanwhile, the week already starts with other meetings in the Council building.
Foreign affairs ministers are taking a lead on the summit by discussing migration and Syria on Monday (12 December). They will also meet with the president of Colombia and sign the first-ever EU-Cuba association treaty.
On Monday and Tuesday, their colleagues from the agriculture and fisheries ministries are meeting.
Fisheries ministers will debate and haggle over next year's fish quota, in what is something of an annual ritual.
The ritual can be summed up as such: the European Commission has proposed the volume of fish that can be caught sustainably, based on a scientific advice. Member states propose higher catches, out of national economic interests. Environmentalist groups express their disappointment with the outcome.
A source close to the presidency of the Council said it will be the same ritual this year, with ministers having to need “quite a lot of time” to come to a conclusion.
“The scenario will be more or less the same as last year,” the contact said.
Another EU ritual is that of MEPs meeting in Strasbourg every four weeks or so.
This week's Strasbourg session will feature new rules on railway contracts, a debate about fundamental rights in the EU and new rules on visa suspensions.
The biggest group in the EU parliament, the European People's Party, will elect its nominee for the post of president of the parliament.
While initially the EPP thought it had a deal with Schulz' group, the Socialists and Democrats, that it was their turn to get the top job, it has now become a competitive race with contenders from several political groups.
German centre-left president Martin Schulz is having his last Strasbourg week. Schulz is leaving the EU realm to contend in the German national elections next week, although it is not yet clear whether he will be his party's candidate for chancellor, or for foreign minister.
Even if it is the latter, the case of Paolo Gentiloni has shown that you can go from being FM to PM in just over two years.