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EU leaders' summit: What's on the agenda?

David Martin
December 14, 2017

As European Union leaders meet in Brussels for the last time this year, three major items dominate the agenda: Brexit, defense and migration. However, Emmanuel Macron's push for eurozone reforms will likely have to wait.

European Council Hall, Brussels
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Lecocq

Defense, migration and Brexit are set to dominate European Union leaders' meeting, which starts Thursday in Brussels.

Preparations, however, have hardly gone to plan. British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives in the Belgian capital reeling from a parliamentary defeat on Brexit, just as her European counterparts are set to back moving on to the second phase of Brexit negotiations.

European Council President Donald Tusk, meanwhile, will be desperate to save face after being accused on Wednesday of making "unacceptable" and "anti-European" comments on migration

Read more: EU reignites dispute over refugee quotas ahead of Brussels summit

EU proposals 'ideas but not reforms'

While both leaders may still leave the summit happy, one man who could be underwhelmed with proceedings is French President Emmanuel Macron. His push for closer fiscal union and debt-sharing in the eurozone will likely have to wait until next year, if not later.

DW takes a look at what's on the agenda and what to expect from the upcoming Brussels summit.

Celebrating a joint defense pact

The first item on Thursday's agenda will see EU leaders welcome the launch of the bloc's newly established defense pact, known as the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO).

The defense network will see the 25 participating member states join together to develop their military capabilities, invest in shared projects and enhance their respective armed forces. Seventeen initial joint defense projects have already been earmarked for PESCO to take on — from the creation of a pan-European medical unit, to establishing a pan-European military training center.

Read more: Can PESCO provide a new European identity?

However, Thursday's defense meeting is expected to be more of a soft launch, since the European Council isn't expected to formally adopt any of the projects before early next year.

A new migration policy?

Tensions surrounding the EU's migration scheme boiled to the surface again on the eve of the summit, with European Council President Donald Tusk criticizing mandatory relocation as "ineffective" and "highly divisive."

While his comments were denounced as "anti-European," the scheme has been far from successful. Of the 160,000 migrants planned to be relocated, only 32,000 have found a new home. Meanwhile, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have fiercely opposed the plan from the start and have repeatedly refused to accept asylum seekers.

According to early reports coming out from the summit, the four countries, which together make up the Visegrad group, said they were prepared to commit around €35 million ($41 million) towards beefing up the EU's border protection scheme, instead of taking in migrants.

The EU is also set to agree on a deadline for June 2018, by when leaders must agree on how to reform the quota scheme by "combining responsibility and solidarity." 

The Council will also table a long-term financial mechanism for stemming illegal migration that should replace the old system of several small-scale, ad-hoc pledges.

Infografik Fluchtrouten EU ENG

Brexit negotiations, phase two

The European Council will decide on Friday whether sufficient progress has been made in the Brexit negotiations concerning citizen's rights, the Irish border and the UK's financial obligations.

Read more: With Brexit, Northern Ireland peace hangs in the balance, says ex-negotiator Jonathan Powell

Leaders are widely expected to greenlight a deal reached between the EU, Ireland and the UK that would enable negotiations to move onto the second phase and talks of a future trade deal.

The French president's vision of Europe

While progress appears to be going well, Theresa May finds herself in a precarious position, with her government accused by Brussels of backtracking on its promises. A European Parliament on Wednesday passed a resolution ordering the UK to "fully and faithfully" turn last week's preliminary agreement into part of its concrete exit treaty.

In a subsequent major blow May, the British parliament on Wednesday voted in favor of an amendment that gives it the right to approve or reject any Brexit deal reached by the government.

Eurozone shared budget put off

With the eurozone expected to grow at its fastest rate in a decade, the focus has now shifted to avoiding crises, rather than managing them.

The bloc's 19 eurozone members are set to table their preferred approach on how to strengthen the group's Economic and Monetary Union. However, no major breakthroughs are expected here, as member states disagree on what needs to be done and how urgent it is.

Read more: Eurozone reform: move along, nothing to see here

The most delegates are hoping to ratify is a banking union agreement, which would see a set of common rules and policies imposed on banks in the eurozone.

Many of the more ambitious reforms, such as French President Emmanuel Macron's push for a shared eurozone budget and governance structure, are not expected to get as much as a mention. With Berlin expressing its unease with Macron's plans, France's president will have to wait until a new German government is formed, which might not be until Spring 2018.