Written by Ralf Drachenberg.
A series of sensitive topics feature on the agenda of the last regular European Council meeting before the summer break, taking place on 23-24 June. Considering the magnitude of the issues at stake, this European Council meeting – if successful – could become a milestone summit. Notably, EU leaders are expected to consider granting candidate country status to Ukraine and Moldova, most probably with certain specific conditions, to reaffirm the Western Balkans’ European perspective, and to consider the proposal put forward by the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, to create a European Political Community. They will also discuss developments in and support for Ukraine following Russia’s military aggression, as well as the broader consequences of the war, including food security. As at past meetings since the outbreak of the war, the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, may once again address the European Council. EU leaders could also consider the situation in the eastern Mediterranean, a topic they last discussed at the request of the President of Cyprus, Nikos Anastasiades, at the special European Council meeting of 30-31 May 2022. To what extent EU leaders will discuss the follow-up to the Conference on the Future of Europe remains uncertain.
1. European Council agenda points
Charles Michel is expected to use the opportunity of the 23-24 June European Council to update the indicative Leaders’ Agenda, setting a timetable for key issues to be discussed by the EU Heads of State or Government at upcoming meetings. The latest version expired in March 2022.
Following the opening address by the President of the Parliament, Roberta Metsola, the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, as leader of the country holding the six-month rotating presidency of the Council of Ministers, is expected to provide an overview of progress made in implementing previous European Council conclusions. An outstanding task for the European Council is the adoption of the new ‘strategic guidelines for legislative and operational planning’ within the area of freedom, security and justice, which were expected to be updated in the spring of 2020. More than two years later, and despite more than 20 European Council meetings in the meantime, EU leaders have yet to comply with this Treaty obligation (Article 68 TEU).
2. European Council meeting
As confirmed in the invitation letter from the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, EU leaders will ‘hold a strategic discussion on the European Union’s relations with its partners in Europe’ and consider the recent initiative by President Macron aimed at creating a European Political Community (EPC). In a non-paper circulated ahead of the meeting, France has outlined its vision of the EPC, which would be a body for political cooperation with democratic, non-EU European partners, including countries in the Western Balkans and the Eastern Partnership, as well as other like-minded partners. It would not substitute for the enlargement process, but instead could contribute to the ‘security, stability and prosperity of our continent’. President Michel has supported the initiative, underlining that the EPC’s aim is ‘not to replace the EU accession process’, but to grant ‘immediate political integration’ and facilitate regular political dialogue. The initiative initially drew criticism from Ukraine, which perceived it as an attempt to sidestep its EU membership application. During a visit to Kyiv on 16 June, the leaders of France, Emmanuel Macron, of Germany, Olaf Scholz, of Italy, Mario Draghi, and of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, expressed their support for granting ‘immediate’ candidate status to Ukraine. With this visit, they addressed Ukraine’s concerns, while paving the way to a more consensual debate on the EPC at the forthcoming European Council meeting.
EU leaders will discuss, for the fifth time since the start of the war, Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine. They will most probably call again on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine, reaffirm Ukraine’s legitimate right to defend itself, and condemn Russia’s war crimes as well as its breaching of international law and international humanitarian law. They might also reiterate their earlier call for the return of Ukrainians deported to Russia. In a recent resolution, the Lithuanian Parliament pointed to the 200 000 children ‘exiled’ to Russia, stressing the breach of international law and calling on ‘the UN and the EU to use the principle of universal jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute those involved in supervising the deportation of Ukrainians’.
Sanctions have been a recurrent topic on the European Council’s agenda since the outbreak of the war, with EU leaders green-lighting six packages so far. At the previous special European Council meeting on 30-31 May 2022, several EU leaders, including the Prime Minister of Estonia, Kaja Kallas, called on EU leaders to go beyond the current set of sanctions. A seventh package of sanctions was brought up for discussion by Poland during the Foreign Affairs Council on 20 June. EU leaders could also discuss sanctions at their meeting, and recall the importance of implementing them in close cooperation with like-minded partners.
EU leaders could discuss humanitarian aid, as well as further civilian and military assistance. The amount of military assistance agreed since the beginning of the war under the European Peace Facility (EPF) amounts to €2 billion, representing over a third of the envelope agreed for the EPF for the 2021-2027 period.
Food security has become a recurrent item on the European Council agenda since the Versailles summit of 10-11 March 2022, being considered either as a stand-alone point or as part of the debate on the situation in Ukraine. Russia has been attacking silos, blocking Ukraine’s ability to export grain by sea, and even resorting to grain theft. To avoid shortages and a global food crisis, sustained efforts are being made to export Ukrainian grain, mainly through Romania and Poland, despite ‘bottlenecks’. Addressing the UN Security Council, President Michel stressed that ‘Russia is solely responsible for this food crisis’ and for ‘preventing Ukraine from planting and harvesting’. Turkey has shown readiness ‘to host a four-way meeting with the United Nations, Russia and Ukraine to organise the export of grain through the Black Sea’. At the Foreign Affairs Council on 20 June, the High Representative/Vice-President of the European Commission, Josep Borrell, spoke of the growing risk of famine in Africa as a direct consequence of Russia’s war on Ukraine. He underlined the EU’s support for ‘UN efforts to de-block the exports from Ukraine’, stressing once again that the food crisis is not the result of EU sanctions.
EU Membership applications of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia
The European Council is expected to consider whether to grant candidate status to Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. In its opinion presented on 17 June 2022, the European Commission recommended candidate status for Ukraine and Moldova, while stressing that Georgia ‘must first meet certain conditions before receiving candidate status’. For Ukraine and Moldova, the European Commission stressed that candidate status is granted on the assumption that the two countries stay the course on reforms, accelerate judicial reform efforts, continue and deliver on ‘the commitment to fight corruption’, and strengthen efforts to eliminate the oligarchs’ ‘influence of vested interests in economic, political, and public life’. Prior to being granted candidate status, Georgia would have, inter alia, to ‘adopt and implement a transparent and effective judicial reform strategy’ and work towards free and independent media.
It remains to be seen to what extent the European Council will follow the European Commission’s opinion, what specific conditions would be put in place, and for which countries, if not for all. The debate might be less heated than initially expected, following the positive outcome of the four leaders’ visit to Kyiv as well as the readiness of several Member States, including the Netherlands and Denmark, to support granting Ukraine candidate country status. If granted candidate country status, the three countries could access funds under the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance
Following the EU–Western Balkans leaders’ meeting, which precedes the European Council on the morning of 23 June, EU leaders are likely to discuss the outcome of the meeting and reaffirm the region’s ‘unequivocal EU membership’ perspective. In this context, EU leaders might recall the principles and methodology governing the enlargement process, and call on countries from the region to work towards solving their outstanding disputes. The Western Balkans are a key priority for the EU, which is aware of the fragile regional situation and of Russia’s disinformation there. Visiting the region, President Michel stressed that the Western Balkans are a ‘strategic priority’ for the EU, that the EU–Western Balkans leaders’ meetings will help to strengthen ‘political cooperation and coordination’, and that ‘launching accession negotiations with both North Macedonia and Albania as soon as possible is a top priority’ for the Union.
Conference on the Future of Europe
EU leaders are supposed to discuss the follow-up to the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE), and examine whether their views align with the CoFoE proposals. EPRS research (see ‘The Conference on the Future of Europe and the European Council‘) has shown that there is significant convergence between the results of the CoFoE and the priorities of the European Council as expressed in its strategic agenda for 2019-2024 and in its conclusions over the last three years.
Although the French Minister for European Affairs, Clément Beaune, representing the rotating Council Presidency, expressed his hope of prioritising the follow-up of the CoFoE at this European Council meeting, it is currently not certain whether an extensive discussion will take place on this topic.
The European Parliament has clearly signalled its preferences as to how to follow up on the results of the CoFoE. On 9 June, it adopted a resolution in which it argued that the Treaties need to be amended to make the EU better prepared for future crises, and called for a Convention to be convened for that purpose.
While Parliament’s position is clear, a joint Council position still needs to be established, with initial discussions at the General Affairs Council meeting of 21 June not progressing to that stage. Currently, Member States hold different positions. While 13 Member States have expressed their opposition to Treaty change, six other Member States have indicated that they ‘remain in principle open to necessary Treaty changes that are jointly defined’, emphasising the need for ‘an inter-institutional process to coordinate consensus-building in the Council, European Parliament and the Commission’.
EU leaders, such as French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheál Martin – the latter two in their speeches as part of Parliament’s ‘This is Europe’ series of debates – have already expressed their support for Treaty change, if necessary. Consequently, it is still open whether EU Heads of States or Government will solely reiterate that ‘an effective follow-up to this report is to be ensured by the institutions, each within their own sphere of competences and in accordance with the Treaties’, or if they will go further.
On 17 June, Vice-Presidents of the European Commission Dubravka Šuica, Věra Jourova and Maroš Šefcovic presented the Commission’s communication on the Conference on the Future of Europe. The Commission’s position is that the follow-up is a shared responsibility of the EU institutions, according to their institutional remit and in respect of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.
To follow up on the proposals of the CoFoE, the Commission sets out four categories of responses: i) existing initiatives that address the proposals; ii) those which the European Parliament and the Council are called upon to adopt; iii) planned actions which will deliver on the ideas, building in new reflections from the Conference; and iv) new initiatives or areas of work inspired by the proposals, falling within the remit of the Commission. To keep citizens informed and to keep up the momentum, a Conference feedback event will be organised in autumn 2022.
Considering the proposal to hold a Convention, the Commission stressed that it ‘stands ready to fully play its institutional role in the procedure set out in Article 48 of the Treaty on European Union, and in particular to give its opinion in response to a consultation by the European Council’.
EU Heads of State or Government are expected to endorse the 2022 country-specific recommendations (CSR), which set the goals for Member States’ fiscal and economic policies, outlining necessary structural reforms, thus concluding the policy-guidance phase of the European Semester.
EU leaders will welcome the fulfilment by Croatia of all the convergence criteria as set out in the Treaty and endorse the European Commission’s positive recommendation on Croatia joining the euro area on 1 January 2023. The Eurogroup has already endorsed the Commission’s recommendation, on 17 June 2022, and the European Council will most likely call on the Council to adopt swiftly the relevant Commission proposals.
3. Euro Summit
On 24 June, EU leaders will convene for a Euro Summit meeting in inclusive format, in order to review progress on completing banking union and the capital markets union. As the March 2022 Euro Summit meeting was cancelled due to lack of time, EU Heads of State or Government will discuss these issues together for the first time since December 2021.
EU leaders will consider the results of the meeting of the Eurogroup on 16 June, which saw progress on banking union but failed to agree on the Commission’s 2015 proposal for a European deposit insurance scheme (EDIS). EU leaders will most likely reiterate the need for further progress to be made in these areas.
Read this briefing on ‘Outlook for the meetings of EU leaders on 23-24 June 2022‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.