EU leaders back in Brussels to discuss migration

This week EU leaders will be returning to Brussels for their scheduled June European Council meeting which will be held over two days on Thursday and Friday. This meeting forms part of the four scheduled European Council meetings that are convened during the year. As the epidemiological situation in Brussels keeps improving, with the number of COVID patients in Belgian hospitals falling to less than 500, meetings will be held in person.

At the last Special European Council meeting held last month, the Italians called on the EUCO President Charles Michel to include the subject of migration on the EUCO agenda. Diplomats in Brussels were not so keen on discussing this issue at the European Council, as it is the EU’s Achilles heel, with no breakthrough having been registered for the last ten years at least, and therefore the conditions for an agreement are not right. The EU’s political dynamics have not changed since the last discussion held in 2018. Governments in Poland, Hungary and Austria are still dominated by the same parties who are adamantly against having to share the burden with other Member States.

The Conclusions that are published following every EUCO meeting carry legal weight as they serve as guidelines to the European Commission on how to proceed. Such conclusions require the famous unanimity which in EU circles, isone of the most dreaded concepts.

The mere fact that the European Council will include an item on migration sent some shockwaves around the Brussels bubble who fear that this EUCO will be another all-nighter.

What’s on the table?

Discussions on the draft EUCO conclusions have stretched until late last week among national ambassadors during their weekly or sometimes biweekly COREPER meetings.

This time round however, discussion on migration will focus solely on the external dimension. According to the draft EUCO conclusions, the focus is on cooperation with third countries in the form of assistance that should be provided to the countries of origin and transit that would be mutually beneficial. The EU is seeking to demonstrate a united front on the matter by turning the discussion on migration to focus on third countries. However, the crux of the matter will be how Member States will interpret some of the text contained therein.

Extracts from the text on the table read: “The EU will take “a pragmatic, flexible and tailor-made approach” and base its actions “on shared priorities and a Team Europe approach.”

Member States, however, want more emphasis on a partnership with third countries on this issue, by also linking it to financial assistance. Yet, while the perception of migration is limited to the Mediterranean region, there are other regions in Europe, namely the EU-Belarusian border, which might also be challenging. Hence, Eastern European countries are calling for the inclusion of this aspect in the EUCO conclusions.

COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic will also be on the agenda. Leaders are expected to take stock of the situation, but are also likely to welcome the communication that was issued by the European Commission on the lessons learned. This exercise undertaken by the European Commission states that the EU should be more prepared for such eventualities. In fact, the European Commission was heavily criticised for its lack of preparedness across the board, from the lack of action in terms of vaccine procurement to the ad-hoc measures that were introduced by its Member States, without any coordination. In the initial weeks of the pandemic the European Commission seemed to have been lost and could not grasp the reality that hit. It was only after some months that it managed to grab the bull by its horns and throw its weight around.

Russia and Turkey back on the agenda

The European Council will also discuss political developments on Russia and Turkey. While tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean seem to have diminished after all sides have engaged in de-escalation, not the same can be said on Russia.

Following a travel ban Russia imposed on some European officials including the President of the European Parliament and European Commissioner Vera Jurova, among others, and Russia’s support to the Belarusian Government in the aftermath of the Ryanair flight forced landing, the European Council will be evaluating a report, drafted by the EU’s High Representative Josep Borell, on the EU’s relations with Russia.

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