"We have emerged from the past 16 months united and stronger"

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The Federal Chancellor at the European Council "We have emerged from the past 16 months united and stronger"

The European Council summit in Brussels was once again dominated by Russia's ongoing, brutal offensive against Ukraine and all the terrible consequences for the Ukrainian people. The EU and NATO "stand firmly together side-by-side with Ukraine" said Federal Chancellor Scholz after the summit. The heads of state and government also discussed such urgent issues as migration, the relationship with China, and Europe's economic sovereignty.

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Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz holding a press conference in Brussels.

Federal Chancellor Scholz in Brussels: "We need to pool our defence capabilities within Europe, make our defence industry more efficient, and accelerate its production output."

Photo: Federal Government/Bergmann

The heads of state and government had consulted at length with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg before the start of the European Council summit, whereby, as the Federal Chancellor said, one thing had become very clear: "We, the European Union and NATO, have emerged from the past 16 months united and stronger. Along with our European and transatlantic partners we stand united and firmly together side-by-side with Ukraine."

Clear message of solidarity

In this respect, Scholz said, this European Council summit had once again sent out a very clear message of solidarity, particularly with a view to the NATO summit in Vilnius on 11 and 12 July. According to the Federal Chancellor, in order to further strengthen Europe's role in the North Atlantic Alliance, it was evident to him that: "We need to pool our defence capabilities within Europe, make our defence industry more efficient, and accelerate its production output." This, he said, was particularly true when it came to coordinating the production of ammunition because the supply of ammunition was vital for the survival of Ukraine.

Assurances were given to the Ukrainian President Zelensky, who joined the meeting by video link, that the EU and its international partners would continue to provide humanitarian, financial, and military aid. "For as long as necessary," Scholz emphasised. At the same time, he said, discussions had been held on how to ensure long-term support. Part of this were such questions as how to prosecute the many terrible war crimes committed by Russian soldiers in Ukraine.

Controversial discussions on migration

The discussions also focused on the issue of migration in relation to which the Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers had already agreed on the important Common Asylum Policy package earlier in the month. The EU asylum reform policy includes effective border management at Europe's external borders with uniform registration standards and responsibilities, in addition to a practicable solidarity mechanism.

One part of the overall agreement is to introduce mandatory asylum proceedings at the external borders of the EU. A new solidarity mechanism has been proposed to balance the current system in which a few member states, namely those at the external borders, are responsible for processing the vast majority of asylum applications. The member states can take in refugees, make financial contributions, or deploy staff for capacity development. Member states can decide at their own discretion which type of contribution they would like to make. Those who refuse to take in refugees will be obliged to make compensation payments.

In the Federal Chancellor's opinion, this represents "a significant breakthrough and a great success for solidarity-based collaboration in dealing with refugee migration within Europe". This, he said, had shown that the European Union was capable of taking action even on difficult issues that required a lot of discussion.

This would always require a compromise, Scholz said. Germany too, he continued, was hoping for some improvements in the upcoming negotiations with the European Parliament. At the same time, he added, it would be important to conclude these negotiations before next year's European Parliament elections.

The EU and Germany need immigration

The Federal Chancellor is convinced that the EU and Germany need immigration but, he said, it had to be controlled. Obviously, he pointed out, irregular immigration also had to be limited and this would have to go hand in hand with legal immigration opportunities. This principle, Scholz said, had just been adopted in Germany under the new Skilled Workers Immigration Act, "of which we are very proud". 

The Federal Chancellor also conceded that not all member states would see it the same way as the vast majority of interior ministers or even the countries assembled in the European Council: "Discussing this is part of the process and that's what we did in the European Council meeting."

De-risking rather than de-coupling

The EU's relations with China were also discussed at the European Council meeting, whereby the goal is to reduce one-sided strategic dependencies. As the Federal Chancellor put it, this would occupy companies in particular for a few years. They would have to diversify their supply chains and export markets and make more diverse direct investments. In other words, it was about de-risking rather than de-coupling, he explained, because economic cooperation would continue anyway, as it was necessary with regard to issues such as climate protection, food security, and health protection.

And of course, he added, there were also issues that China and the European Union, for example, viewed differently. We should not exclude such issues from the talks, Scholz said, "for example, when it comes to human rights, or always making it clear in our discussions that we cannot accept China’s supporting Russia in this war, such as by supplying weapons, and that we also want to work towards China convincing Russia that this terrible war against Ukraine must end".