Chapter News

Special European Council, 1-2 October 2020

Main results

On 1 and 2 October, EU leaders met in Brussels to discuss foreign affairs and the EU’s economic base.

On Thursday, they discussed the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean. They also addressed relations with China, the situation in Belarus, the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and the poisoning of Alexei Navalny.

On Friday, COVID-19, the single market, industrial policy and digital transition were on the agenda. Leaders were also updated on EU-UK relations and the MFF negotiations with the European Parliament.

President Charles Michel presented the Leaders’ Agenda 2020-2021, which covers the key challenges confronting the EU and allows the ground to be prepared for strategic discussions in the European Council meetings.

External relations

Eastern Mediterranean

The European Council reiterated its full solidarity with Greece and Cyprus, whose sovereignty and sovereign rights must be respected. EU leaders stressed that the EU has a strategic interest in a stable and secure environment in the Eastern Mediterranean and the development of a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with Turkey.

“Pursuing dialogue in good faith and abstaining from unilateral actions which run counter to the EU interests and violate international law and the sovereign rights of EU member states is an absolute requirement in this regard. All differences must be resolved through peaceful dialogue and in accordance with international law.”

European Council conclusions

EU leaders welcomed the recent confidence-building steps by Greece and Turkey and the announcement that they will resume their exploratory talks. At the same time, they strongly condemned violations of the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus and called on Turkey to accept the invitation by Cyprus to engage in dialogue.

Provided constructive efforts to stop illegal activities vis-à-vis Greece and Cyprus are sustained, the European Council has agreed to launch a positive political EU-Turkey agenda.

In the event of renewed unilateral actions or provocations in breach of international law, the EU will use all the instruments and options at its disposal to defend its interests and those of its member states.

The European Council will come back to the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean and take decisions as appropriate at the latest at its meeting in December 2020.

EU leaders also called for a multilateral conference on the Eastern Mediterranean.

Belarus

The European Council condemned the Belarusian authorities’ unacceptable violence against peaceful protesters, intimidation and arbitrary arrests and detentions following the presidential elections, the results of which it does not recognise.

“The European Council fully supports the democratic right of the Belarusian people to elect their president through new free and fair elections, without external interference.”

European Council conclusions

EU leaders called on the Belarusian authorities to end violence and repression, release all detainees and political prisoners, respect media freedom and civil society, and start an inclusive national dialogue. They agreed that restrictive measures should be imposed and called on the Council to adopt the decision without delay. The European Council also encouraged the European Commission to prepare a plan of economic support for democratic Belarus.

EU-China

Following the EU-China summit on 22 June 2020 and the meeting with President Xi on 14 September 2020, both held via videoconference, the European Council discussed EU-China relations. The leaders recalled the goal of finalising negotiations for an ambitious EU-China Comprehensive Investment Agreement (CAI) by the end of 2020.

EU leaders encouraged China to assume greater responsibility in dealing with global challenges, in particular regarding climate. They welcomed President Xi’s statement that China will aim to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.

The European Council also stressed its serious concerns about the human rights situation in China, including developments in Hong Kong and the treatment of people belonging to minorities.

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

The European Council called for an immediate cessation of hostilities and urged the parties to recommit to a lasting ceasefire and the peaceful settlement of the conflict. It expressed its support for the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group and asked the High Representative to examine the possibility of further EU support for the settlement process.

“The loss of life and the toll on the civilian population are unacceptable. There can be no military solution to the conflict, nor any external interference. Azerbaijan and Armenia should engage in substantive negotiations without preconditions.”

European Council conclusions

Poisoning of Alexei Navalny

EU leaders condemned the assassination attempt on Alexei Navalny using a military chemical nerve agent from the ʻNovichokʼ group. They also called on the Russian Federation’s authorities to fully cooperate with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to ensure an impartial international investigation and bring those responsible to justice. The European Council will return to the matter on 15-16 October 2020.

COVID-19

The European Council held an in-depth discussion on the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. It called on the Council and the Commission to further step up the overall coordination effort and work on the development and distribution of a vaccine at EU level. The European Council will come back to this issue regularly.

Single market, industrial policy and digital transition

EU leaders focused on:

  • returning to a fully functioning single market as soon as possible
  • making the EU’s industries more competitive globally and increasing their autonomy
  • accelerating the digital transition

Single Market

The European Council called for:

  • strict implementation and enforcement of the Single Market rules
  • the removal of unjustified barriers, particularly in the area of services
  • the European competition framework to be updated
  • the new system of global economic governance to be shaped
  • investment in education, training and the effective use of skills

Industrial policy

EU leaders invited the Commission to identify strategic dependencies, in particular in the most sensitive industrial ecosystems such as the health sector. They also tasked the Commission with proposing measures to reduce these dependencies.

The European Council called for:

  • a level playing field and a regulatory environment and state aid framework that are conducive to innovation
  • the development of new industrial alliances
  • an increase in the assistance given to pre-existing projects of importance and common European interest, and for help to be provided to member states to develop new ones
  • the development of EU autonomy in the space sector and a more integrated defence industrial base

Digital transition

“The COVID-19 pandemic has further underlined the need to accelerate the digital transition in Europe. (…) Building a truly digital Single Market will provide a home-based framework allowing European companies to grow and scale up.”

European Council conclusions

EU leaders look forward to the Commissionʼs proposal for a Digital Services Act by the end of 2020. They also invited the Commission to present, by March 2021, a comprehensive Digital Compass which sets out the EUʼs concrete digital ambitions for 2030.

“The EU will remain open to all companies complying with European rules and standards. Digital development must safeguard our values, fundamental rights and security, and be socially balanced.”

European Council conclusions

EU leaders agreed that at least 20% of the funds under the Recovery and Resilience Facility would be made available for the digital transition, including for SMEs. Together with the amounts under the long-term EU budget, these funds should help to advance objectives such as:

  • fostering European development of the next generation of digital technologies, including supercomputers, quantum computing, blockchain etc.
  • developing capacities in strategic digital value chains, especially microprocessors
  • speeding up the deployment of high capacity and secure network infrastructure, including fibre and 5G
  • enhancing the EUʼs ability to protect itself against cyber threats
  • making use of digital technologies to achieve the EU’s ambitious environmental goals
  • upgrading digital capacities in education systems

EU leaders welcomed the European strategy for data and the creation of common European data spaces in strategic sectors. They invited the Commission to give priority to the health data space, which should be set up by the end of 2021. The European Council also stressed the need to establish secure European cloud services to ensure that European data can be stored and processed in Europe, in compliance with European rules and standards.

The European Council called on the EU and the member states to make full use of the 5G cybersecurity toolbox adopted on 29 January 2020 and urged all EU countries to submit their national plans on the roll-out of 5G to the Commission by the end of 2020.

EU leaders also called for the development of an EU-wide framework for secure public electronic identification (e-ID), which would provide people with control over their online identity and data and facilitate access to public, private and cross-border digital services. It tasked the Commission with presenting a proposal for a ʻEuropean Digital Identificationʼ initiative by mid-2021.

The European Council will return to the topics of the Single Market, industrial policy and digital transition in March 2021, including an assessment of the situation on digital taxation.

MFF negotiations

EU leaders were updated on the negotiations with the European Parliament on the MFF, the EU’s own resources and the recovery fund.

“Our agreement in July was a political package and it’s very essential to be able, as soon as possible, to deliver, to implement what we have decided. (…) We will continue to work very hard in order to reach this goal.”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council

EU-UK relations

At the end of the meeting, a brief update on negotiations with the United Kingdom was provided.

” We are united. We are very calm. We have expressed very clearly the last weeks what we think about the current situation. And we will have the occasion in October to tackle this important topic.”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council

Compliments of the European Council.