Wednesday

27th Jan 2021

Security and defence to top EU summit

  • EU leaders will be meeting in Brussels on 22 and 23 June. (Photo: Council of the European Union)

EU heads of state and government will be focusing on security and defence at a summit in Brussels next week on Thursday and Friday.

Draft summit conclusions seen by EUobserver on Thursday (15 June) demand social media giants to develop "new technology and tools" to automatically remove any content that promotes incitement to violence.

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The proposal follows a joint UK-French campaign launched earlier this week to crack down on any content that promotes hate and terrorism.

French president Emmanuel Macron and UK prime minister Theresa May had also suggested possible legal liabilities for firms that refuse to comply.

Germany had already approved a bill in April that would impose fines of up to €50 million on social networking sites that fail to remove the offending content swiftly enough.

The draft conclusions do not mention fines, but the push for industry to be more proactive will likely be a priority among EU leaders, given that the suggestion to efface the online content is listed as the first of 16 summit conclusions.

Leaders are also asking the European Commission to come up with draft legislation based on the conclusions of a report from the so-called high-level expert group on interoperability.

That report, published in May, suggests creating a European search portal, a shared biometric matching service, and a common identity repository.

The European search portal would help police and customs officers to access several EU information systems simultaneously – receiving combined results on one single screen.

The shared biometric matching service would allow authorities to search fingerprint data held in all information systems with a single search.

The common identity repository means core identity data, such as the name, date of birth, or gender, would not be duplicated across the different databases.

"This is not about creating an enormous database where everything is interconnected," Julian King, the EU commissioner for security, had told MEPs last month.

King had also noted that the EU commission would soon float a bill on greatly increasing the size of a Tallinn-based EU agency, which hosts large-scale IT security systems.

External security and defence

The draft summit conclusions also have leaders demanding a swift agreement on the European Defence Industrial Development Programme.

The programme is part of the recently-launched European Defence Fund that seeks to use EU money to help finance defence research among EU member states.

It also asks EU states to draw up a list of security and defence commitments, within three months, that they could share in the so-called Permanent Structured Cooperation (Pesco).

Pesco gives a core group of participating EU member states the ability to launch joint security projects.

Migration

Leaders are also expected, according to the draft conclusions, to pile on the pressure to get countries in places like Africa to start accepting citizens who have been ordered to leave the EU.

For years, the EU has been trying, with little success, to get foreign governments to accept special EU-drafted travel documents for people without IDs.

They also want to step up the training of the Libyan naval coastguard, as a measure to prevent people from leaving the coast towards Italy.

The Libyan coastguard has already returned an estimated 23,000 people since 2016, whereas in 2015, they only managed 1,000.

Those rescued are then taken to any number of detention centres, where they are likely to face abuse and exploitation.

Austria is pushing to set up reception centres in Egypt and Tunisia to screen asylum hopefuls, but EU officials have rejected such plans.

Efforts are however underway to start sending people, who are stuck in Libya, back to their home countries under an assisted voluntary return scheme that is run by the Geneva-based International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

The aim is to send at least 10,000 back to their home countries from Libya by the end of the year. So far, nearly 5,000 have already been dispatched from Libya this year under the IOM-run programme. Most are sent back to Nigeria, Senegal, and Mali.

No Brexit talk and other items

The draft conclusions make no mention of the brewing debate on the UK to leave the European Union, given that those discussions will take place in a separate meeting over dinner on Thursday (22 June) among the EU27 leaders.

Britain has been pushing to start free trade negotiations in parallel to divorce talks. Trade does figure in the summit conclusions, but only in broad terms and asks, among other things, for the co-legislators to agree on "WTO-compatible trade defence instruments."

The Paris agreement on climate change, the digital single market, and digital Europe also get special mentions.

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Agenda

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Security and defence, along with Brexit and migration, are among the big issues to be discussed as leaders from all 28 EU states converge in Brussels for meetings and a summit.

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