European Council meets in Brussels: Focus on finance, institutional reform & responsiveness to citizens
The EU heads of state and government agree that the EU’s budget must take account of the future priorities of the Union, reported Chancellor Angela Merkel at the close of the meeting in Brussels. They are in favour of a slight increase in the number of seats in the European Parliament and unanimously welcome the concept of citizen dialogues, she continued.
Also on the agenda of the informal summit of the EU27, meeting without the United Kingdom, was electoral reform for the European Parliament, in addition to budgetary matters. Before the meeting, Chancellor Angela Merkel attended the International High Level Conference on the Sahel with other EU heads of state and government.
Strong institutions – reforms for Parliament
"There is agreement that the number of seats in the Parliament will be increased slightly," said the Chancellor in the evening following the meeting. With regard to the question of lead candidates, the Chancellor said clearly that the parties have a lead candidate concept. There is, however, no automaticity. It is not necessarily the case that the candidate of the strongest party will become the President of the European Commission. Like in a national parliament, coalitions must be forged.
The European Council is made up of all heads of state and government of the European Union. It is responsible for providing the impetus needed to take the EU forward and for laying down the general political goals and priorities. The European Council does not, as a general rule, deal with the day-to-day business of the Union, but focuses on major issues that will shape the future.
Bringing the EU closer to the people through dialogue
The concept of citizen dialogues was also unanimously welcomed. Prime ministers too are to visit one another and engage in dialogue. The Chancellor proposed that the results of the citizen dialogues be discussed at a Council meeting at the end of the year, and any relevant conclusions drawn for the work of the heads of state and government. "We must promote the European vision, explain it, and try to kindle the enthusiasm of the people," said the Chancellor before the informal meeting. "That also means listening to the people."
Refugees to be taken into account in finances
With regard to the future EU finances, the Chancellor first advocated making the EU’s agricultural policy less bureaucratic. "The common agricultural policy is an enormous block that has become steadily more bureaucratic over the years," said the Chancellor. She urged, "We must get rid of more of the red tape."
There was also a high level of agreement between the heads of state and government that "the next budget must take account of the future priorities of the Union". These include research and development, digitalisation, foreign-policy duties and protecting the external borders.
The number of refugees countries take in could also have an impact on the share of funding they are granted from the Structural Funds, she continued. Countries taking in refugees have to provide more schools, accommodation and training. These could be new tasks that impact on the budget.
At the informal meeting of the European Council, the multiannual financial framework for the period 2021 to 2027 was discussed. The question was where the EU’s cash is to be allocated. Where can goals be better achieved with common European responsibility than at national level with states using their own funding? The European Union generally decides once every seven years on its future funding. The ceilings are then determined on EU spending in the individual policy fields.
Germany supports the G5 Sahel states
At the International High Level Conference on the Sahel held immediately before the informal meeting of the European Council, progress was made, said the Chancellor before the EU27 met. Germany is engaged in cooperation to address the root causes of displacement and illegal migration and will be proving 1.7 billion euros between 2017 and 2020 alone for the G5 Sahel states and their development.
The Sahel Conference was attended by high-ranking representatives of the G5 Sahel states (Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania, Mali and Chad), the African Union and the United Nations, alongside the heads of government of EU member states.
Where do we go from here?
At the informal meeting of the European Council no decisions are adopted. The aim is to achieve a common understanding of how the EU27 intend to master the main challenges of the future together.
That is why possible decisions on institutional reforms (e.g. the redistribution of seats within the European Parliament) will be adopted at a later date by the heads of state and government.
With respect to the multiannual financial framework, it is up to the European Commission to take the next step. It is expected to present its concrete proposal for the next multiannual financial framework in May 2018. Over and above this, the heads of state and government also want to wait to see the proposal of the Commission for the new Structural Funds Regulation. The "good will" is there, said the Chancellor, to adopt the multiannual financial framework before the end of this parliament, but no conclusive statement can yet be made on this.
The outcome of the national citizen dialogues are to be discussed by the European Council in December, and if appropriate conclusions will be drawn for future work.
The next regular meeting of the European Council will be held on 22nd and 23rd March 2018.