Written by Suzana Anghel and Ralf Drachenberg.
At its meeting on 24-25 June 2021, the European Council will pursue its coordination efforts in response to the coronavirus pandemic, discuss the situation on the various migration routes, return to the strategic debate on relations with Russia, revert to their discussions on Turkey and assess progress with the EU’s economic recovery. ‘The European Council will likely also address Belarus, Libya, Ethiopia and the Sahel. Regarding the EU’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, the EU leaders are expected to address the lessons learned from the pandemic, vaccine production, international solidarity and vaccine sharing, as well as the remaining obstacles relating to the right of free movement across the EU. The strategic debate on relations with Russia will pick up from the EU leaders’ discussion on 24-25 May 2021, on the basis of a new Commission report on the matter. As regards the EU’s economic recovery, the EU leaders will discuss the recommendation on the economic policy of the euro area and review the implementation of Next Generation EU. A Euro Summit meeting on 25 June will review progress on banking union and the capital markets union.
1. European Council agenda points
The only agenda items planned in advance for this June European Council, under the Leaders’ Agenda for 2020-21, were the future of Schengen and relations with the UK. While the latter subject was already addressed at the special European Council meeting of 24-25 May, the former has been taken off the agenda as a point in itself, but Schengen will be an important part of the discussions on the pandemic and on migration. The June 2021 meeting is the last on the current Leaders’ Agenda for 2020-21; whether President Michel will continue using this tool or propose a different way of planning the key topics for the European Council remains to be seen.
(*) The 24-25 May 2021 European Council meeting also agreed to discuss migration in June but this was not part of the formal conclusions.
The Presidents of the European Council, Charles Michel, and the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, will report on the G7 discussions of 11-13 June in the UK, and also on the EU-Canada and the EU-US summits, of 14 and 15 June respectively.
2. European Council meeting
The European Council will discuss the coronavirus crisis (for the 18th time) addressing lessons learned from the pandemic, vaccine production, international solidarity and vaccine sharing, as well as the remaining obstacles relating to the right of free movement across the EU.
Covid-19: Lessons learned and future preparedness
The European Council will discuss a report on lessons learned from the pandemic, which they requested in February 2021 from the European Commission. Based on this report, EU leaders will discuss improving the EU’s preparedness for future crises; including topics such as diversifying supply chains, EU coordination, joint procurement and strategic reserves, and an annual Commission ‘state of preparedness’ report for the European Council and the European Parliament.
Production, delivery and deployment of vaccines
EU leaders are expected to discuss the production, deployment and delivery of vaccines in the EU, with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen providing an update on the state of play (353 million doses delivered and 299 million doses administered as of 14 June 2021). She may also update them on developments regarding issues such as the European Medicine Agency’s approval of a new manufacturing site producing the Moderna vaccine in France, the evaluation and use of some vaccines for children under 18 years of age, the contamination of a batch of an active substance for the Janssen vaccine, and the Commission’s legal action against AstraZeneca.
International solidarity and vaccine sharing
The European Council is likely to reiterate its support for COVAX, the EU being a major contributor, and highlight the need to accelerate the production and delivery of vaccines worldwide. EU leaders may continue to discuss the intellectual property waiver from the Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement proposed by South Africa and India, and the alternative proposed by the Commission. President Michel stated at the Global Health Summit on 21 May 2021 that the EU was in favour of a ‘third way’ public-private partnership. However, on 10 June, the European Parliament adopted a resolution proposing to start negotiations on a temporary waiver of the TRIPS Agreement for Covid-19 vaccines and other related medical products.
The proposal for an international treaty on pandemics was first announced by Mr Michel at the Paris Peace Forum in November 2020. At their meeting on 25 February 2021, EU leaders endorsed the suggestion, with a view to its being taken forward within the framework of the World Health Organization. It is expected that they will now also welcome the decision adopted by the 74th World Health Assembly to establish a Special World Health Assembly in November 2021 to consider the development of an international instrument on pandemic preparedness and response.
Remaining obstacles to the exercise of the right to free movement
The European Council is also due to discuss the remaining obstacles to the exercise of the right to free movement, and most likely it will welcome the adoption of the Council recommendation on a coordinated approach to the restriction of free movement in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Fewer and fewer Member States have temporary internal Schengen border controls as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic (Denmark, Finland, France and Hungary). At the same time, however, some of them (including Austria, Germany and Sweden) maintain controls at borders within the Schengen areas on grounds of secondary movements of migrants and/or risks relating to terrorists and organised crime.
In this context, on 2 June, with a view to reducing the need for temporary border controls, the Commission published a new strategy for the Schengen area. This strategy focuses on i) ensuring effective and modern management of the EU’s external borders; ii) reinforcing the Schengen area internally; iii) improving governance and crisis preparedness; and iv) completing the enlargement of the Schengen area. EU leaders might refer to this strategy and call for its rapid implementation.
For the first time since December 2018, migration will formally feature on the European Council’s agenda – although the Commission’s new communication on migration and asylum was submitted back in September 2020. EU leaders are not expected to discuss outstanding decisions on the asylum package, but will probably focus on the protection of the EU’s external borders and on cooperation with countries of origin and transit. They will also review the migration situation on the various routes.
While overall illegal migration flows remain low (see graph above), illegal border crossings between January and April 2021 increased compared to the same period last year:
This was the case notably for Spain and Italy, which experienced high numbers of irregular arrivals of migrants on their territories this spring. EU leaders are expected to call on the Commission and the High Representative to propose concrete action for cooperation with priority countries.
EU leaders will assess progress made on implementation of the Next Generation EU recovery fund. While welcoming the entry into force of the Own Resources Decision on 1 June, which has enabled the Commission to start borrowing resources (€20 billion) for the recovery instrument, the European Council is expected to push for rapid implementation of the national recovery and resilience plans. EU leaders are likely to underline the need for timely implementation of these plans in order to allow Member States to make the most of Recovery and Resilience Facility funding. Furthermore, the European Council is expected to welcome the EU headline targets, in line with the Porto Declaration – an instrument through which, on 8 May 2021, EU leaders committed ‘to continue deepening the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights at EU and national level’. On the EU economy, EU leaders are also due to discuss the Council recommendation on the economic policy of the euro area for 2021, which encourages Member States to implement priority reforms and investments with the aim of making the euro area and its members more sustainable and resilient.
The European Council is expected to resume its May 2021 discussion on relations with Russia, on the basis of the joint communication and reiterating the five guiding principles identified in 2016. To uphold these principles the EU would have to simultaneously ‘push back’ against human rights violations, ‘constrain’ Russia’s attempts to undermine the Union’s interests, and ‘engage’ with Russia on subjects of common interest such as health and climate change. President Michel has stated that the EU stands united in condemning Russia’s illegal and provocative behaviour, and underlined that relations could improve ‘if Russia stops [its] disruptive behaviour’. EU leaders may once again express concern about the situation of Alexei Navalny, who is still imprisoned. Ahead of his 16 June meeting with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, US President Joe Biden stressed that the possible death of Mr Navalny in prison would ‘hurt’ Russia’s relations with the ‘rest of the world’. Russia was discussed at the EU-US summit on 15 June, which confirmed the willingness of both the EU and the US to shape a renewed transatlantic policy agenda based on an enhanced dialogue on Russia.
As regards Turkey, the European Council is expected to acknowledge the de-escalation efforts in the eastern Mediterranean. No further decisions are however expected for now since progress is still awaited regarding the resumption of negotiations on the settlement of the Cyprus problem as well as on human rights protection in Turkey. EU leaders might take note of the technical work being carried out to modernise the customs union and of the ‘preparatory work’ undertaken to establish high-level bilateral dialogues on health, climate change and counter-terrorism.
EU leaders last discussed Turkey in March 2021, establishing the principle of ‘phased, proportional and reversed cooperation’, which will guide EU leaders when considering further cooperation depending on progress made on the normalisation of Greek-Turkish relations, on solving the Cyprus problem and on human rights protection in Turkey. Greece and Turkey have already held several rounds of ministerial-level talks, including on the delimitation of maritime zones, with the objective of ‘attempt[ing] an initial normalisation process’. There has been agreement on the need to ‘resolve differences within the framework of good neighbourly relations, international law and respect for mutual interests’. On the sidelines of the 2021 NATO summit, the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, agreed to a ‘quiet year’ for Greek-Turkish relations and to continued maritime delimitation talks and cooperation.
As regards the Cyprus problem, an informal 5+1 meeting was held in Geneva in April 2021, but ‘failed to achieve progress’. Antonio Guterres acknowledged that not ‘enough common ground’ had been found to resume negotiations formally and that another meeting, highly unlikely for now, would be convened ‘in the near future’. The President of Cyprus, Nikos Anastasiades, has stressed that stopping illegal drilling in the Cypriot economic exclusive zone is not sufficient to give a green light to a positive agenda with Turkey, which would require ‘positive behaviour’. He has warned that Cyprus could veto the positive agenda, pointing out that genuine progress on the Cyprus problem is among the conditions outlined by the European Council for further cooperation with Turkey.
3. Euro Summit
On 25 June, the Euro Summit will meet in inclusive format with all EU-27 leaders. The focus will be on economic challenges facing the euro area in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis. EU leaders will receive an update on the state of play on banking union and the capital markets union.