EU leaders are in Brussels for the October European Council set over Thursday and Friday. This time round, restrictions have been relaxed a little more in Brussels and the activity within the Council premises has picked up. Heads of State or Government have quite a full agenda and rumours are abounding that this EUCO will be a long one. The agenda includes a discussion on COVID-19, yet this has been relegated to lesser priority as leaders will turn their focus to the most pressing issue, the energy crisis.
As Europe braces itself for a cold winter, some EU leaders are afraid, literally, that the high energy prices will result in a wave of social upheaval. In fact, to cushion the effects that energy prices might have on the most vulnerable, both Spain and France announced measures to this effect. Spain is the most vocal on this issue and in a comment to the press ahead of the meeting, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said that the energy toolbox presented by the European Commission is just a starting point and Spain is calling for a European platform for joint purchases of natural gas, and for a revision of the way electricity prices are set on the wholesale electricity market.
However, this issue might not be as contentious as the discussion on the rule of law.
Rule of Law
The Scandinavians and some other Member States led chiefly by the Netherlands, want the European Council to discuss the rule of law in Poland, particularly in view of the recent Polish Constitutional Court questioning the supremacy of EU law. In her comments ahead of the meeting, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen urged EU leaders to step-up on Poland. This is a red line for the European Commission, but Poland can expect the support of Hungary and Slovenia while support from unexpected quarters should not be discounted either. Some EU countries expressed open concern with Poland such as the Irish, while, French President Emmanuel Macron held a meeting with the Polish PM at the airport.
The European Commission is threatening to block Next Generation EU funds earmarked for Poland if Poland does not relent. Yet, geopolitics and the very political nature of the European Union make this issue quite ‘unwinnable’ for both sides. Poland needs the funds to recover from COVID-19 while it also needs EU backing to tackle the issue at its border with Belarus, and to counteract Russian threats. The EU Commission on the other hand knows full well that a war with Poland can only result in the blocking of major proposals, especially those requiring unanimity.
Migration remains the omnipresent issue and is the EU’s poison chalice. The issue remains over the way solidarity is being referred to in the Draft Conclusions, as in the current draft, solidarity is being attached to secondary movements. Mediterranean countries are up in arms calling for a broader reference to solidarity in the text. Ahead of the meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that migration “is and remains bad that we have not yet found a common line on migration among the 27 Member States, although the Commission has made very good proposals here.” Migration is expected to consume much of the debate scheduled for tomorrow.
TheJournal.mt is informed that COREPER II, the Council body that is tasked with making the preparations for the European Council, failed to reach an agreement on the migration part of the conclusions, which effectively means that it will be the Leaders themselves who will be making the changes to the text.
The European Council Conclusions are a legally binding document on which the European Commission issues proposals for regulations and directives.