European Council blog

28th June, 2014

The has been much media coverage given over to this, the first European Council meeting since the European Parliament elections last month. Top of the media agenda was of course the appointment of the new European Commission President and, to a lesser extent, the political priorities or the agenda of the EU for the next five years.

The two day summit began with a ceremony in the city of Ypres to mark the 100th anniversary of World War I. Ypres was the scene of much hostility during the war that tore Europe apart and set nations on a collision course for decades to follow. Standing there in Ypres in the Flemish province of West Flanders – 28 Member States together – one could not help but be reminded of how far the European project has brought us. The strength of the Union lies is in its diversity. It is also in the determination of nations to ensure that such destruction and conflict is consigned to the history books, forever.

On Thursday evening floral wreaths were laid at the ‘peace bench’ at the Menin Gate, where the fallen men who did not return from war are commemorated. EU leaders then partook in a working dinner in Ypres Town Hall, before heading for day two of the summit in Brussels. 

On Friday morning the Council signed Association Agreements with Georgiaand the Republic of Moldova and completed the signature process withUkraine (the political element of the Agreement with Ukraine was signed at the Council meeting back in March). These Agreements provide for Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas with the EU and have been hailed as nothing short of historic by the current Commission President, Manuel Barroso. President Poroshenko, the newly elected President of Ukraine, attended the Council meeting on Friday afternoon to brief EU leaders over lunch on the current situation in Ukraine.

These Agreements are a commitment by the Union to support these countries along the path to stable and secure democracies with functioning and prosperous economies. President Barosso in his speech this morning pointed out that ‘these Agreements are positive agreements. They are meant to add more momentum to our partners’ established international relations, not to compete with – or intrude in – our partners’ relations with any neighbour. These Agreements are for something – they are not against anyone’. This sends a loud, clear message about the intentions of the EU in respect of the development of its relationships with neighbouring counties.

Agreeing a Strategic Agenda for the years ahead was also one of the objectives of the Council. Justice and Home Affairs issues, Regulatory Reform (REFIT), Climate & Energy Security, as well the European Semester were all prioritised. Negotiating the best way forward to ensure job creation and growth in the years ahead is essential, with leaders cognisant of the delicate stage we are at in our recovery.

A decision was taken to nominate Jean Claude Juncker as the next President of the European Commission. And the Council also endorsed the decision to grant candidate status to Albania, which I was delighted about. Having visited Tirana last January, I witnessed first-hand the desire that exists there to build closer links with the EU, in the hope of attaining full membership status down the line and a better way of life for Albania’s people.