Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

What EU Leaders Have to Worry About (Other Than Brexit)

Updated on
  • Leaders hold summit in Brussels to discuss the bloc’s future
  • Talks will also focus on Russia, defense, foreign affairs

As the European Union prepares to declare that divorce talks with the U.K. have made sufficient progress to move on to negotiations about their future relationship, the bloc’s leaders, gathering in Brussels for their last summit this year, will shift their attention to some familiar topics.

EU heads of state will talk about the future of the euro and how to shore up the single currency so it can better withstand financial turmoil now that the worst of the economic crisis is in the past. They will also discuss migration and a range of foreign policy issues, from sanctions against Russia to the U.S.’s recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Here are some non-Brexit highlights to look out for in the summit:

Euro Future

On Friday morning, leaders of the 19 euro-area countries will be joined by their EU counterparts -- except the U.K. -- as well as European Central Bank President Mario Draghi and Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem to talk about the future of the common currency. Their discussion comes as the bloc is seeking to shift from crisis management to crisis prevention. In order to do so, however, euro-area countries have to agree on a set of controversial outstanding reforms, including the completion of the post-crisis banking rules, the creation of a European Monetary Fund and the possibility of a dedicated euro-area budget and finance minister.

To read more about EU plans to beef up the euro area, click here

While no decisions are expected to come out of the summit, the aim is for the leaders to set out a roadmap for what should be done over the coming months. Still, while consensus has emerged that it is time to take further steps to strengthen the euro area, key differences persist among the bloc’s members over what should be done. With the clock ticking ahead of European Parliament elections in 2019, EU President Donald Tusk has tasked leaders to reach a compromise on some key issues by June.

Migration Tussle

Over dinner on Thursday, the leaders will talk about migration and asylum, in what diplomats expect to be the most politically charged part of the summit. The discussion, which is part of Tusk’s efforts to bring important topics to the highest political level, will also focus on possible deals with third countries. Ahead of the summit, the Italian premier will hold a meeting with his counterparts from the four central and eastern European Visegrad countries and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, to discuss shoring up the EU’s trust fund for Africa, which seeks to curb immigration by funding projects in the countries of origin.

EU leaders are expected to discuss the challenges faced by their countries in an effort to bridge the gap between capitals and to address the concerns of frontline states. Among the most divisive issues is that of mandatory migration quotas, and how effective they have been. In a draft document circulated to EU representatives ahead of the summit, Tusk called the quotas “ineffective”, drawing criticism from the EU’s commissioner for migration, who called the paper “anti-European.” As with the euro discussion, no conclusions or decisions are expected.

Foreign Policy

Also over dinner, the leaders will be updated on the implementation of a 2015 peace agreement -- signed in Minsk, Belarus -- to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and are expected to agree to roll over sanctions against Russia. EU diplomats also anticipate the U.S.’s recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will come up, with the aim for the EU to send a message of unity. The bloc’s foreign policy chief already rebuffed Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu in Brussels earlier this week, stressing Jerusalem must be the capital of both Israel and Palestine. But EU countries including Hungary are wary of another confrontation with Donald Trump’s administration, this time over Jerusalem, following earlier quarrels over trade, climate policy, and Iran.

Polish Premier

The summit will also be an opportunity for the leaders to meet their new Polish counterpart, Mateusz Morawiecki, a Western-educated former banker. While Poland’s newly appointed prime minister said his government would continue the policies of his predecessor, he chose softer language in his first policy speech on Tuesday in what Polish officials said may signal an attempt to change the tense dynamics between Warsaw and Brussels. 

To read more about the new Polish premier, click here

The new approach could indicate that Poland is becoming pragmatic on issues that are less politically charged or that it can’t block, including the reform of the world’s biggest emission trading scheme. Warsaw hopes that a more conciliatory approach by Morawiecki could prompt its EU partners to reconsider their stance toward Poland, especially on the ongoing rule of law probe and pending threat of sanctions on the eastern state.

— With assistance by Alexander Weber, Ewa Krukowska, Marek Strzelecki, Ian Wishart, and Lyubov Pronina

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