Tuesday

17th Jul 2018

The other EU summit: leaders agree on defence and trade

  • Russian special forces in Crimea: EU leaders to agree on defence integration (Photo: Elizabeth Arrott/VOA)

Disagreement on migration will dominate Thursday's (28 June) summit, but leaders do see eye-to-eye on other issues, ranging from defence to trade and single market reform.

The draft summit conclusions, seen by EUobserver, give full-throated support to defence integration in the face of ever-bolder Russian aggression in Europe and increasing doubts on US solidarity.

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  • EU united on retaliatory US tariffs (Photo: Jasperdo)

The list of defence initiatives to be approved include: creation of new joint military capabilities; a plan to improve "military mobility"; the creation of EU-level command structures; and plans to counter Russian propaganda.

"The Union is … taking steps to bolster European defence, by enhancing defence investment, capability development and operational readiness. These initiatives enhance its strategic autonomy," the draft text said.

It said EU states should agree, by November 2018, on a new list of projects to jointly develop expensive capabilities, such as drones or air-lift equipment, under the so-called "permanent structured cooperation" or "Pesco" model, in which small groups of countries band together on specific issues.

It said new rules allowing military hardware to move freely across EU borders should be in place by 2024.

It backed the creation of an EU command centre for civilian crisis management missions and a new European Defence Fund to help pay for military R&D.

It also spoke, in what amounts to a breakthrough for Russia-wary EU states in eastern Europe, of "an action plan by December 2018 with specific proposals for a coordinated EU response to the challenge of disinformation, including appropriate mandates and sufficient resources for the relevant EEAS [EU foreign service] strategic communication teams".

It added, in the context of Russia's attempted murder of a former spy in the UK in March, that there ought to be "further co-ordination between member states and, as appropriate, at EU level and in consultation with Nato, to reduce the threat from hostile intelligence activities".

It also called on Russia to "accept its responsibility and to fully cooperate with all efforts to establish truth, justice and accountability" on the shooting down, by a Russian missile, of flight MH17 over Ukraine four years ago.

The defence accords come ahead of a Nato summit in July that could see US leader Donald Trump cast further doubt on transatlantic solidarity.

They also come amid a transatlantic rift on trade after Trump imposed tariffs on EU exports, triggering retaliatory EU tariffs on US goods.

The draft conclusions backed the EU response, saying US tariffs "cannot be justified on the grounds of national security" and that "the European Council fully supports the rebalancing measures, potential safeguard measures to protect our own markets".

The draft text said the EU would continue to pursue free-trade deals with other countries despite Trump's "America-first" antics.

"The EU will continue to negotiate ambitious, balanced and mutually beneficial trade agreements with key partners across the world, promoting its values and standards," the EU leaders plan to say.

They aim to add that "the current good economic situation should be used for strengthening the reform momentum" on the single market and on eurozone integration.

The draft conclusions agreed to fight tax avoidance, put forward new plans on taxation of the digital sector, and to pursue more effective VAT collection.

They also spoke of EU support for the digital signal market, for instance, by European Commission funding for the artificial intelligence sector.

The points of agreement might sink out of view amid the summit scrap on migration, but indicate that the European Union continues to function despite the immigration crisis.

Diplomats from several EU states told press on the eve of the leaders' meeting that the summit statement will "reassure" the Union on trade solidarity in the face of Trump, while also "calming" the atmosphere on US relations.

They said the accord on a counter-propaganda plan was "important" even if it was to be overshadowed on Thursday.

They held out little hope that there would be a swift agreement on the EU's next long-term budget.

The summit will also tackle Brexit, amid concern that talks are moving too slowly, but the UK's recent passage of an EU "withdrawal bill" has soothed worries that the British government could collapse due to divisions on how to handle Britain's EU departure, making an exit deal unlikely in time for next March.

The draft conclusions did not yet include language on Brexit, which remains to be agreed.

They also did not yet include a statement on Macedonia, which recently agreed a solution to a decades-long dispute over its name with Greece, opening the door to starting accession talks with Skopje next year.

But the breakthrough will give leaders another opportunity to add some good news on enlargement and foreign policy into the mix of bad news on migration.

Mr Juncker goes to Washington

European Commission president will meet US president Donald Trump before the end of July to try to "de-dramatise" the tense trade relations.

UK's May moves towards 'soft' Brexit

In the wake of two cabinet resignations on the issue, UK government publishes its long-awaited vision for the future relationship with the EU, which would revolve around a free trade agreement on goods, but would end free movement.

EU stays calm as two top UK ministers quit

EU officials said Brexit negotiations will not be affected by the resignations of the foreign secretary and Brexit secretary. European Council president Tusk noted that "unfortunately the idea of Brexit hasn't left" with David Davis or Boris Johnson.

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