"We must compromise"

European Council in Brussels "We must compromise"

Brexit, EU climate targets, COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing financial negotiations – these were the topics discussed by the heads of state and government on day one of the summit. With a view to negotiations on the future relationship with the United Kingdom, Chancellor Angela Merkel explained that it is important to be ready to compromise. Today, attention will focus on relations with Africa.

Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives at a meeting of the European Council.

In the negotiations in Brussels, Chancellor Angela Merkel is working for a fair agreement with the United Kingdom "that benefits both sides".

Photo: European Union/Mario Salerno

On the first day of their summit, the heads of state and government first discussed the EU’s future relationship with the United Kingdom. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier reported on the status of negotiations. In their Conclusions, the heads of state and government note with concern that progress on the key issues is still not sufficient. At the same time, they reaffirm "the Union’s determination to have as close as possible a partnership with the United Kingdom".

Speaking after the first day of the summit, Chancellor Angela Merkel said, "We have asked the United Kingdom to remain open to compromise in order to achieve an agreement. That obviously also means that we too must be ready to compromise." Each side has its own red lines. "For us it is important that Ireland can continue to live in peace and that we underpin the single market," she said. The leaders have asked Michele Barnier to continue negotiations. In view of the global situation, the Chancellor feels it would be good and beneficial for both sides to reach an agreement. If this does not prove possible however, she added, we will just have to live without one.

The future relationship with the UK – why is it important?
On 1 February 2020 the United Kingdom left the EU. On 1 January 2021 the transition period also ends as stipulated in the withdrawal agreement. After almost 50 years, the UK will no longer be part of the EU single market or the customs union. Because of the connections that have been established over this period, the EU would like to agree on a comprehensive partnership with the UK. "The wide spectrum of relations […] indicate that an agreement is in the best interests of all parties," stressed the Chancellor this week. "The EU stands united in its determination to attempt to come to an agreement in the short time that remains."

Exchange of views on Climate Target Plan

In the evening, the heads of state and government discussed progress made towards realising the EU’s goal of becoming climate neutral by 2050. They also looked at the European Commission’s proposal to reduce emissions by at least 55 per cent of the 1990 level by 2030. There is a high level of readiness to take this path, said the Chancellor. "Between now and December, we will be engaged in intensive consultations, but the general tenor was positive. We need more climate action and more ambitious goals, and I hope we can agree on these in December."

A common EU climate policy – why is it important?
Germany can only really influence the global climate situation to any extent in and with the EU. The European Green Deal intends to make the EU the world’s first climate neutral continent by 2050. This policy must be advanced and shaped together by member states. Chancellor Angela Merkel is also convinced that "a global solution to climate change is only possible if Europe acts as a trailblazer on climate action."

Cooperating more closely to combat the pandemic

The European Council also looked at the latest epidemiological situation. In view of the rising numbers of new cases throughout Europe, the heads of state and government agreed to step up cooperation to combat the pandemic. The Conclusions state that coordination is to be improved on quarantine regulations, cross-border contact tracing, testing strategies, building vaccination capacities and travel restrictions. 

Angela Merkel said that, as winter approaches, dealing with the pandemic is a major challenge for all EU leaders. "The question of how we emerge from this pandemic will have a major impact on the health of very many people." It will decide how many people die, and it will determine our economic performance. 

Financial negotiations at critical stage

At the start of their deliberations, the heads of state and government had an exchange of views with David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament. They looked at the multiannual financial framework and the "NextGeneration EU" recovery fund, that the heads of state and government approved in July. Germany, as the nation holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, is currently engaged in negotiations on these issues with the European Parliament.

"The financial negotiations are at a critical stage and I will make it clear once again, as leader of the nation holding the Presidency, that we need results fast," declared the Chancellor when she arrived in Brussels. The financial framework for the next seven years is closely linked to the recovery fund and the own resources decisions that the national parliaments must pass. The European Council wants to ensure that results are achieved by the beginning of next year, said Angela Merkel.

Relations with Africa

Today, Friday, the European Council will focus its attention on EU-Africa relations. The leaders will discuss in particular how a forward-looking common agenda can be developed – especially in the face of the pandemic.

On the one hand it will be a question of solidarity and cooperation in addressing the pandemic. On the other, closer cooperation with African partners will be discussed, in order to foster sustainable economic development and investment.

Moreover, they will be discussing how the EU can support African efforts in other areas, including peace, security, good governance, human rights and cooperation on mobility and migration.

A common EU-Africa policy – why is it important? 
Africa and Europe are neighbours, linked by more than just geography. The EU has a major interest in seeing the 54 states of Africa develop well. As the Chancellor put it, it is about "seeing Africa as the continent of the future and putting relations on the basis of partnership." 

Other issues

The heads of state and government will also be discussing topical external policy matters. Since the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) published its report, it will again look at the case of Alexei Navalny and the consequences thereof. The current situation in the Eastern Mediterranean will again be on the agenda.