Europe united on Iran and trade relations with the US, improving connectivity and security in the Western Balkans region
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker participated in the informal dinner of the EU leaders and in the Western Balkans Summit in Sofia where EU leaders showed unity and determination tο address a number of current international issues.
Following the Western Balkans Summit, President Juncker said: "This summit has allowed us to forge even closer links with our friends from the Western Balkans who, step by step, each day come a little bit closer to the European Union - each at its own pace and merits. Being anchored in the European Union means sharing values and principles, including respect for the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and freedom of expression - because the European Union is first of all a community of values and law."
The EU-Western Balkans Summit brought together the Heads of State or Government of EU Member States and their counterparts from the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Kosovo). In addition to President Juncker, High Representative/Vice-President Mogherini, Commissioner Hahn and Commissioner Gabriel also took part. This is the first Summit with Western Balkan leaders for the last 15 years. Following on the Commission's Western Balkans Strategy released in February this year and President Juncker's visit to the region, the Summit reaffirmed the European perspective of the Western Balkans.
The Summit injected new energy in the EU-Western Balkans relationship by reaffirming the EU's commitment towards its Western Balkans and their European perspective; strengthening links between the EU and the Western Balkans in infrastructure, digital and human connectivity and working more closely together to tackle common challenges, such as security, migration, geopolitical developments and good neighbourly relations. As a concrete outcome of the Summit, EU leaders adopted the Sofia Summit Declaration with follow-up actions. To support the implementation of the Sofia Declaration and drawing on the Commission's Western Balkans Strategy and its six flagship initiatives, President Juncker announced a new package of measures which will boost connectivity within the region and with the EU, in particular through the Western Balkans Investment Framework. In addition, partners committed to the Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans to support the move of the Western Balkans towards a digital economy.
The EU and the Western Balkans also agreed to step up common work on key security priorities to counter terrorism including its financing, violent extremism and the return of foreign fighters, and radicalisation, and enhance cooperation in the fight against serious and organised crime, in particular on illicit firearms and drugs trafficking, smuggling of goods and persons, as well as cyber and hybrid threats.
In view of recent events, EU leaders discussed at their informal dinner EU-US trade relations, the future of the Iran nuclear deal, as well as the EU's response to US announcements on the imposition of sanctions and how to best protect the economic interests of European companies.
At the press conference and referring to Iran President Juncker said: "As long as the Iranians respect their commitments, the EU will of course stick to the agreement of which it was an architect - an agreement that was unanimously ratified by the United Nations Security Council and which is essential for preserving peace in the region and the world. But the American sanctions will not be without effect. So we have the duty, the Commission and the European Union, to protect our European businesses, especially SMEs. Last night I was encouraged by our debate since the Commission's proposals were entirely backed by the Heads of State or Government. We must act now and we will act now. That's why we are launching the process to use the 1996 Blocking Statute to neutralise the extraterritorial effects of US sanctions on European companies."
On the trade situation between the US and the EU, President Juncker said: "We want an unlimited exemption from the proposed tariff measures. If Europe obtains an unlimited exemption from the proposed tariff measures we are ready to engage in talks with our transatlantic partner, focusing on four specific points:
Firstly, deepening our energy cooperation, notably on liquefied natural gas.
Secondly, focusing on voluntary cooperation between regulators on both sides on an ad hoc basis, outside the framework of trade negotiations.
Thirdly, working together with the US on the World Trade Organisation reform to ensure a level playing field for all and to lift the current blockage of the WTO's Appellate Body nominations.
And lastly, discussing with the US how to best improve reciprocal market access, notably for industrial products including, amongst others, cars as well as the liberalisation of government procurement.
These talks will be based on the principles of reciprocity and WTO compatibility. We will not negotiate with the Sword of Damocles hanging over our heads."
In the context of the Leaders' Agenda agreed in October 2017, discussions also focused on research and innovation and on the actions necessary to complete the Digital Single Market on the basis of the Commission's contributions presented on 15 May. The contributions consist of a Renewed European Agenda for Research and Innovation and a set of concrete actions to protect citizens' privacy and make the EU's Digital Single Market a reality before the end of 2018.