Wednesday, 18 January 2017
Department of An Taoiseach
European Council Meetings
The agenda for the European Council which took place in Brussels on 15 December included migration; security; economic and social issues; and international relations, specifically the situation in Syria, and the Dutch ratification of the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine. We discussed a number of other topics, including: Russia; Cyprus; energy union; the single market; the digital single market; and the European economy, on which President Draghi spoke. The digital single market is of course particularly important to Ireland and, in advance of the European Council, I wrote a letter to President Juncker, which was co-signed by 15 other EU leaders, calling for greater ambition in the period ahead.
Following the European Council, there was a short meeting of the 27 EU Heads of State of Government, i.e. without Prime Minister May. This meeting focussed on the mechanics and timing of the Brexit negotiations from the EU perspective. President Tusk outlined the process whereby the European Council will agree guidelines for the negotiations, once the UK Government has triggered Article 50. We re-confirmed the principles that we agreed last June i.e. that there can be no negotiation without notification; that the Single Market and the four fundamental freedoms are indivisible; and that, until the withdrawal negotiations are concluded, the UK remains a member of the EU with all the rights and responsibilities that implies. There was no detailed discussion about the future of Europe: this will be the focus of a separate summit in Malta on 3 February.
As set out in the statement which issued from the meeting, the 27 EU Heads of State and Government will remain permanently seized of Brexit and will update the guidelines as necessary. The Commission will lead the detailed negotiations, with Michel Barnier as the chief negotiator for the Commission. The General Affairs Council, the European Parliament, the Committee of Permanent Representatives and official level working groups will also play important roles in the negotiations process.
During conversations with my counterparts in the margins of the meeting, I took the opportunity to reiterate and explain Ireland's particular concerns arising from Brexit, including in relation to Northern Ireland, the Peace Process, the Common Travel Area and our deeply entwined economic and trade links with the UK.