Today our Brussels Brief is dominated by the European Council that convened over Thursday and Friday. EU leaders met in Brussels for the European Council Meeting, one out four meetings that are held over the year. The agenda included Energy, Rule of Law and Migration, amongst the most important issues dealt with by Heads of State or Government during what turned out to be a long summit, as we had anticipated.
The Energy discussion was a lengthy one and details emerging from the room show that the positions were quite divergent. Mainly the two opposing camps consisted of those Member States which weathered the COVID–19 pandemic well and which do not depend heavily on mineral resources for their energy, on the other side, Member States which have been battered by the pandemic and which are still dependent on mineral resources. Discussionsfocused on what should be done and to what level should the EU assist Member States on the energy prices storm. Malta, the smallest Island State insisted on having its unique specificities acknowledged in any future initiatives on energy. The European Council Conclusions are legally binding declarations on which the European Commission will base its proposals.
We will continue to support our people and our businesses in the context of the particular realities that our country has.
– PM Robert Abela
The Commission was tasked to study the electricity, gas and ETS markets and address any regulatory shortcomings:
“To swiftly consider medium and long-term measures that would contribute to energy at a price that is affordable for households and companies, increase the resilience of the EU’s energy system and the internal energy market, provide security of supply and support the transition to climate neutrality, taking into account the diversity and specificity of situations of Member States.”
In his first reaction after the European Council Prime Minister Robert Abela said that “Our country has made its position clear that we will continue to support our people and our businesses in the context of the particular realities that our country has. This was a strong message, so much so that it is reflected in the Council’s conclusions. That has been the policy we have adopted since March 2020, that throughout the pandemic we must continue to give full support to families and businesses through various measures, such as wage supplement. Similarly, we must now face a new reality where fuel prices are rising around the world, affecting energy prices and inflation in the process. We must be that Government that supports the people, so that they are not burdened with price increases. “
An extraordinary Energy Council has been convened for Tuesday 26th October. Minister for Energy Miriam Dalli is expected to attend this meeting in Luxembourg.
Once again, EU leaders discussed the EU’s ‘poison chalice’ of migration in view of the recent events on the border with Belarus. The Belarusian regime is being accused of instrumentalising migration by literally welcoming migrants to the country and transport them to the border with Poland and Lithuania. In some cases, the Belarusian authorities are even literally pushing migrants across the border. This is being done in reaction to the EU’s sanctions that were imposed this year on Belarus following the Ryanair flight incident. The discussion was a long one, and the Council passed the scheduled end time by some two hours on Friday. The time around the dynamics were quite different, as the Eastern Member States are now dealing with migration and are therefore expecting the famous but elusive solidarity. While the Eastern Member States were focusing on ensuring a strong response by the EU, the Mediterranean Member States who have been facing this issue for decades wanted to ensure that their plight is also taken into consideration.
The European Council recalled the need to ensure effective returns and full implementation of readmission agreements and arrangements, using the necessary leverage.
The EU remains determined to ensure effective control of its external borders.
Efforts should be sustained to reduce secondary movements, and to ensure a fair balance between responsibility and solidarity among Member States.
“Let’s build a wall”: Some commentators in Brussels are stating that the Baltic countries and Poland will now be focusing on constructing a wall with Belarus to stem the inflow of migrants. The protection of the Schengen zone was used in the argument that was presented at the European Council. There is fear that if inflows from the Belarusian border increase exponentially, some Member States might reimpose checks at their border, thereby effectively threatening the whole Schengen system.
Rule of Law
This was not one of the agenda items that was supposed to be discussed, but recent developments, previously outlined in our past Briefs, in Poland, highlighted the need for such a discussion. The primary mover for this discussion was the Dutch PM Mark Rutte, supported mainly by the Scandinavians. The recent Polish Constitutional court ruling over the supremacy of EU law is a red line for the European Commission, which is threatening to block recovery funds for Poland. As expected, the discussion was animated, to put it diplomatically, as we can safely assume that swords were crossed across the room. Some of the leaders expressed their frustration at having to discuss this issue, which has consumed almost all of Thursday evening.