Before I make my report on the European Council of 10 days ago, I would like first of all to say that I fully subscribe to the words of Sophia in ‘t Veld. A crime has been committed against a journalist, and that crime constitutes an attack on our fundamental values, and on freedom of the press. It is a crime which must be condemned; I would like to state my solidarity with the victim’s family and loved ones. And my solidarity with the Netherlands and the Government of the Netherlands.
I would like to warmly thank the Portuguese presidency. This was an exceptionally, intensive and productive presidency. A warm thank to you Portugal. The baton now passes to the Slovenian Presidency with many challenges
We tackled many important issues during our last European Council: COVID-19, migration, external relations and our economic recovery.
We also held a Eurozone summit and hosted the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
Today I will focus on the major topics.
Discussing our fundamental values at European Council level was not a common practice in the past. But last year, during our 4-day meeting in July, we held a full session on the rule of law: that was a first.
Recently, the legislation passed in Hungary has caused widespread concern, in particular among EU leaders. This is why I decided to discuss the issue at our last meeting. LGBTQI+ rights are not a marginal issue. They are a concrete example of how a society relates to diversity. And how it relates to human dignity. It touches on our most intimate thoughts and beliefs: our fundamental liberties. In the European Union, we do not discriminate. We integrate. That’s the meaning of Article 2 of our Treaty.
Our discussion was necessary, difficult, and at times emotional. Many leaders expressed deep concern. The Prime Minister of Hungary explained the motives behind the new laws. The President of the Commission gave her assessment and the formal steps the Commission might take as guardian of the Treaties.
For my part, I concluded with two remarks:
First: our debate should encourage the Hungarian government to reflect on the values that bind us together as one European Union. The Conference on the Future of Europe must be an opportunity to put our fundamental rights front and centre.
Second: EU law has primacy in our Union. We have the tools and institutions to uphold our principles and our laws. The rule of law will run its course.
We also had the opportunity to address COVID-19 once again. I will summarise the discussions by saying that on the one hand, we are delighted with the progress made throughout Europe in rolling out vaccinations. On the other hand, we are fully aware that we must remain extremely focused and vigilant with regard to the emergence of new variants and mutations, especially the Delta variant. And this is why we wish to step up cooperation so as to strike the right balance between a return to freedoms and to travel on the one hand and the continuing need for vigilance on the other.
We are pleased that progress has already been made on COVID certificates in the context of the travel recommendations. But we are very conscious that national measures must be more closely synchronised so that additional measures at national level do not make existing difficulties even more complicated.
The issue of migration was also on the European Council's agenda. Our discussions mainly focused on the external dimension of migration. It goes without saying that we aim to prevent tragedies involving loss of human life. We aim to relieve pressure on the EU’s external borders; we have agreed to ask the European Commission and the High Representative to submit proposals with the greatest possible degree of operational readiness before the autumn so that we can take steps to strengthen our cooperation with third countries and countries of origin and transit, identifying countries which are a priority for the European Union. And, very firmly, I would like to tell you that we have condemned attempts by certain third countries to use or instrumentalise illegal migration to exert political pressure on the EU.
We had a long discussion on Russia. We remain committed to a united, long-term, and strategic approach based on the five guiding principles. And we remain fully united.
We call on Russia to assume its responsibility in fully implementing the Minsk agreements. We also agreed on the need for a firm and coordinated response to any illegal and disruptive activities by Russia. We therefore invited the Commission and the High Representative to present possible options for additional restrictive measures.
We also agreed on our continued support for people-to-people contacts, Russian civil society, and human rights organisations. More broadly, we are also committed to deeper cooperation with our Eastern partners and with Central Asia.
We discussed possible, selective engagements with Russia in areas of EU interest - climate change, environment, health, foreign affairs, and security. We will explore the formats of, and conditions for, dialogue with Russia.
Finally, given no progress in implementing the Minsk agreements, we have agreed to proceed with a roll over of the sanctions. We will come back to EU-Russia relations at a future meeting.
The de-escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean is a good sign. But constructive engagement needs to be deepened.
Engaging with Turkey in a phased, proportionate and reversible manner remains our policy. Work has started at technical level towards modernising the EU-Turkey Customs Union and, at the same time, work needs to deepen on addressing existing irritants. And the Commission has outlined an indicative financing framework for the continued financing for Syrian refugees and host communities — in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and other parts of the region. The European Council expects this work to be taken forward without delay. We therefore called for formal Commission proposals.
We will continue to actively support the process to settle the Cyprus problem, according to relevant UNSC resolutions, including the issue of Varosha. And we are very clear: the two state solution is a non-starter.
The rule of law and respect for fundamental rights remain a key concern. In particular, the targeting of political parties and media and women’s rights. Dialogue on these issues remains an important part of the EU-Turkey relationship.
Lastly, we dedicated part of the European summit to economic issues. We are pleased with the progress made since last year and welcome the agreement on the European budget and the recovery fund. We are pleased that the national plans under that recovery plan are being evaluated, step by step, by the Commission and that it will be possible to implement them. However, we are well aware that, for all that, some outstanding issues still remain. We know that it is important to continue coordinating and cooperating in what we do on the economic front. We are also well aware that the two pillars related to the two fundamental transitions - climate change and the digital agenda - must be at the heart of our concerns. And it is with quite some satisfaction that we see that several European countries which have already submitted their plans have taken great care to follow the recommendations to devote a large proportion of funding to recovery by means of climate and digital transitions.
That being said, much still remains to do, in particular relating to banking union and the capital markets union. On those issues, we held an exchange of views with the President of the Eurogroup and the President of the European Central Bank, and we encourage finance ministers to continue to develop a work plan so that we can make progress on the banking union.
Perhaps I should mention the capital markets union. The Commission drew the attention of colleagues around the table to the proposals for moving forward on this important matter, and I note that many also underlined the importance of working on the green dimension of this capital market - the idea of promoting this green financing not only as a lever for economic development, but also as a means of gradually meeting our ambitious climate objectives.
And, finally, we also exchanged views concerning recent progress, in particular in the G7, relating to international corporate taxation. The Commission will soon be presenting a legislative package on climate change, as well as a package on own resources. And no doubt the debate will continue in the various democratic fora so as to bring more equity to taxes internationally, whether or not in the digital sector, more generally, for all companies.
Mr President, colleagues, this is the information I wanted to share with you after the last European summit. I will, of course, remain at your disposal to respond to remarks and questions. Thank you.