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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European Council Briefing Note 2017/5

June 2017: EU27 En Marche
The Bratislava Roadmap, Macron and a little bit of Brexit

EU27 are en marche, not just because of Emmanuel Macron, but also and still more because the EU institutions and the UK’s 27 partners have acquired an impressive momentum since June 2016. Events have played a part as always, but so too has leadership, particularly in and through the European Council.

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Commentary 2017/4

The 2017 British general election and Brexit: is a fresh start possible?

The outcome of the British general election was a surprise and its implications are still far from clear, not least as far as Brexit is concerned. Advocates of a ‘soft Brexit’ hope that the tide has turned in their direction, while the Leavites insist that nothing has changed. The assumption underlying this paper is that a fresh start might be possible, but only if the lessons of twelve mismanaged months are taken to heart by the government’s critics as well as by the government.

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Commentary 2017/3

Dealing with Britain: the European Council of 29 April and its sequel 

Ten days ago, on 29 April, the European Council held a brief, but very important meeting. I do not normally comment in writing so soon after the event and I still intend to assess the April meeting more systematically in a Briefing Note which will cover the first four months of 2017 as a whole. The meeting of 29 April was however so important that it merits a more rapid appraisal than usual.

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Brussels Briefings

The post March European Council briefing will be held at the Canadian Mission to the EU, Avenue des Arts 58, 1000 Brussels on Wednesday 28 March at 10.30 am. Please allow enough time before the meeting to get through the security screening. If you are a subscriber you are welcome to come to briefings but must first register at

Brexit Briefings

The third Brexit Briefing at the Athenaeum Club in London on 19 January was an intense and thought- provoking session. Participants were briefed on the present state of play in the relationship between EU27 and the UK.

  •  The European Council on December 15, 2017 had decided that there had been sufficient progress in part 1 of the negotiations to move to part 2. This will be concerned with:
    - Putting into legal form the agreements reached on citizens’ rights, money, Ireland.
    - Negotiating a transition agreement to last from UK exit date March 2019  for approx. 21 months
    - Negotiating the framework of the future relationship. This will NOT be a trade agreement but a set of governing principles. This phase can only begin if and when the UK gives a clearer picture of what kind of relationship it wants.
  • The rest of the morning was spent on the economic costs of Brexit which are already being seen.
  • The process – demonstrating how and why EU 27 is maintaining its unity.
  • The prospects for the next stage of the negotiations
  • The main feeling of the meeting was that the UK had very little room for manoeuvre and it would be better to recognise this sooner rather than later. In the short term, the UK would be well-advised to accept what will inevitably be a poor outcome as far as trade is concerned and focus instead on ways of cooperating in other areas, such as research, justice and home affairs and security and defence

The next Brexit Briefing in London will take place on April 13 at the Athenaeum Club, 107 Pall Mall, London SW1Y 5ER. Contact if you are interested in attending. This is a roundtable meeting with a group of speakers who are well plugged in to the viewpoint of the 27 member states of the EU. The fee is €1500 though there is a discount for clients of EuroComment and our partners Llewellyn Consulting.