EU COUNCIL SUMMIT
Austrian Presidency of the European Council hosts Salzburg summit
This week the 28 EU leaders met for an informal summit in Salzburg Austria, the birthplace of Mozart, and the first major gathering to take place under the Austrian Presidency of the European Council.
The summit addressed the contentious issue of migration, with Austrian Chancellor, Sebastian Kutz, reporting on the progress of conclusions relating to migration adopted by leaders at the all-night session of their June summit, which included plans to set up so-called migrant centres outside of the bloc. No agreement has yet been reached for such centres to be put into place.
One diplomat has said the discussion of this issue, which has so recently threatened European cohesion, was “for once a civilised one.” European leaders reportedly returned to old debates on how best to share the burden of migration. The lack of progress on this occasion supports the maxim that “sometimes boring is good.”
The summit was preceded by a meeting between European Council President Donald Tusk, Chancellor Kutz and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. In his invitation to leaders, and at the summit itself, Mr Tusk recognised Egypt’s record of stemming migrations towards Europe, as the number of irregular departures from the state has fallen from 13,00 in 2016 to zero this year. European leaders will undoubtedly be hoping to emulate this approach across the north-African region.
EU leaders take strong stance against Theresa May’s Chequers proposals
This week’s Salzburg summit was also dominated by discussions of Brexit, where both Theresa May and European leaders opened with calls for further compromise in the upcoming negotiations in October, which Donald Tusk has called the “moment of truth” for an agreement to be reached. However, the question of the Irish border backstop continues to be a sticking point, as Commission President Jean Claude Juncker acknowledged that a deal remains “far way”.
On Tuesday, in advance of the summit, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, suggested a willingness to soften the EU’s backstop proposals. Mr Barnier says he is looking for “minimal checks” between Northern Ireland and the UK, along the lines of the customs arrangement between the canary island and Spain, which would not interrupt the transit of goods, nor, he claims, undermine the constitutional integrity of the UK.
However, at a pre-summit dinner on Wednesday evening, the British Prime Minister dismissed any alternative that would involve treating Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK. Mrs May also dismissed suggestions made this week that a second referendum could take place, saying “the UK will leave on 29 March next year.”
The EU 27 met separately over the course of the summit, and leaders agreed that elements of May’s Chequers plan concerning trade are not acceptable. French President Emmanuel Macron has called for leaders to stand firm against any compromises that would divide the four freedoms, goods, services, capital and persons, of the bloc. This robust approach has seen both sides again acknowledge the real possibility of a “no deal” exit.
Theresa May looks to stem fallout from EU summit
Prime Minister Theresa May will now have to attempt to recover from her perceived political failure at the Salzburg summit, which saw her Chequers proposals largely dismissed by European leaders, a blunt approach which marked a turning point from earlier encouragement and which has left Mrs May vulnerable at home.
Mrs May and her aides will review the current standing of their Brexit approach and the implications of the summit, which has prompted one senior minister to suggest Mrs May might have to rewrite her Chequers proposal. However, it seems unlikely that Mrs May will be willing to compromise much further on the contentious issues of the Irish border and trade as she faces into her own Conservative Party Conference at the end of the month.
Supporters of the Prime Minster have defended her Chequers plan, insisting the proposals are workable at home and in the EU, despite the rejection. Former minister Stephen Crabb urged the Prime Minister to “stick to her guns.” However, it is clear that there are still some major concessions to be made, on one side or the other, if an agreement is to be reached before the extraordinary EU Summit in November.
Poland requests US military base
The White House is weighing Poland’s request for a permanent military presence in the Eastern European country, as a deterrent to Russian aggression. Warsaw has offered to pay up to $2 billion to bring this about. At a joint press conference with his US counterpart in Washington D.C., the President of Poland, Andrzej Duda even suggested the new military base would be called “Fort Trump.”
Poland’s proposal for a permanent American base has sparked debate among other NATO nations. Some allies consider the move overly provocative towards Russia and suggest it may violate the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, an agreement which does not allow the “permanent stationing of substantial combat forces” in Central and Eastern Europe, in order to ease tensions.
Mr Trump has been critical of NATO in the past and has reportedly ordered a review of the cost of basing troops in Germany, against a backdrop of poor relations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. However, the US president has declared himself open to the idea.