European Council Briefing Note 2018/6/7/8

October, November and December: Brexit centre stage at last

The present note is a narrative in the proper sense of the term: an attempt to give meaning to a process by describing and analysing step by step what actually happened. Based on a significant number of unpublished documents as well as interviews, it is a complex but fascinating story, which is best read in its entirety. Readers who are short of time can however begin here with a highly compressed version of the final section of the paper.

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European Council Briefing Note 2018/4

June 28-29: Migration Policy, Security and Defence, Economic Policy, Brexit and the Future of the Euro 

There were three meetings rather than one: a meeting of the European Council in its normal formation on 28 June, which went on until almost 5.00 am on the following day, a Brexit breakfast at which Mrs May was not present and a Euro Summit.

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European Council Briefing Note 2018/5

September 19-20 in Salzburg: Migration Policy, Internal Security and Brexit

Brexit was always likely to be on the agenda at Salzburg. Those who were responsible for planning the meeting nevertheless maintained throughout the preparatory phase that other issues would have equal if not higher status.1 It is therefore important to analyse the debate about Brexit in context and with the intentions of those who planned the meeting in mind.

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European Council Briefing Note 2018/2

March: challenges of the digital era, EMU present and future, trade policy, Russia, Turkey, migration policy and Brexit

The March European Council did not go according to plan. The discussion about trade policy which was supposed to have been the principal feature of the first session did not take place until the following morning and even then only in truncated form and the debate about Russia during the working dinner was ‘wild’, as one of those who witnessed it said afterwards.

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European Council Briefing Note 2018/3

May 16-17 in Sofia: Innovation and Digital, Iran, Trade and the Western Balkans

The two Sofia meetings were very brief: the European Council went on for three and a quarter hours, while the Summit at which there were 39 set piece speeches, finished with a lunch which some leaders did not attend at all and others left before the end. Both meetings were nevertheless thoroughly worthwhile.

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European Council Briefing Note 2018/1

February: Institutional Issues, the MFF, Martin Selmayr 

The meeting on 23 February was an informal meeting of the leaders of EU27. The issues with which it was mainly concerned were large and important, but it was an open-ended discussion in which everybody could have their say and most did and at the end of which no Conclusions were published.

The meeting was nevertheless interesting, important and revealing. Interesting because of what was said. Important because of the direction which it set and the tone in which it did so. Revealing because of the light which it cast on the politics and morale of the EU without Britain.

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European Council Briefing Note 2017/9

December 2017: migration policy, the euro and Brexit 

Three features of the meeting are highlighted for special mention in the conclusions at the end of the paper:

  • Its confident tone. Parts of the meeting were celebratory, but the substantive debate too reflected the fact that over the past eighteen months EU27 have developed a coherent strategy and a clear institutional hierarchy.
  • The primacy of the European Council as an institution, not only over the other institutions, but also over the individuals of whom it is composed. Personalities matter and there were some big personalities at the December meeting. But office and institutional hierarchy matter even more. As Macron himself observed in the session on Brexit, the British problem had been dealt with effectively ‘because we are in charge’. Not ‘I’, not Barnier and certainly not Juncker, but ‘we, the European Council whose overriding collective authority has not been questioned by any of the formidable personalities involved at any time during the making of EU27.
  • The importance and effectiveness of the Leaders’ Agenda. Migration policy and the future of the euro were the first major test of the Leaders’ Agenda as an instrument of collective government and both it and the Presidency emerged well from the process.
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European Council Briefing Note 2017/8

November 2017: a trial run for the Leaders’ Agenda 

This is a very short note indeed, which will be best read as a postscript to the longish note on the October European Council, which is being circulated at the same time. The October Council adopted the Leaders’ Agenda. The November meeting gave it its first trial run.

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European Council Briefing Note 2017/7

October 2017: the Leaders’ Agenda

The European Council on 19-20 October had a crowded agenda. One item, the Leaders’ Agenda was more important than any of the others however. It remains to be seen how effectively Tusk and his colleagues use the Agenda between now and mid-2019, but in principle at least this innovation appears likely to be comparable in importance to the transformation of the status of the Conclusions which occurred in the early 1980s and which subsequently prompted Jacques Delors to place the latter on a par with articles of the Treaties.

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European Council Briefing Note 2017/6

September 2017: Tallinn and the Leaders’ Agenda 

The working dinner which Donald Tusk presided over in Tallinn on 28 September was unscheduled, informal and conclusion-less.  This note is therefore unusually short. The meeting was not unimportant however. A brief account is therefore appropriate, not just for the sake of completeness, but also because both the debate and Tusk’s very brief comments on it afterwards clarified several aspects of EU27’s ongoing and increasingly lively debate about the Union’s future.

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