European Council meeting: EU leaders discussion on Covid-19, EU external relations and energy prices

Article
Giorgia Termini

On Thursday 16 December 2021, EU leaders met for the last European Council of the year. Central to the meeting was the discussion of the current worsening of the epidemiological situation across Europe. Leaders stressed the importance of vaccine booster doses in the fight against the virus and its new variant Omicron, and of the battle against disinformation around the Covid-19 vaccines. EU leaders also discussed the following measures to fight the spreading of the virus: developing genome-sequencing capacity internationally; exporting and sharing vaccines to support countries in need; removing obstacles to the global delivery of vaccines; and strengthening coordination with vaccine producers, the World Health Organisation, and the COVAX Facility.

During the European Council, national representatives touched upon the current issue of the surging energy prices. However, in this regard Member States did not adopt conclusions since views continue to diverge on dossiers such as the energy market and EU Taxonomy. Where the latter is concerned, Member States are still debating on whether gas and nuclear energy should be classified as transitional or green in the upcoming Commission delegated act.

Heads of States and governments also exchanged views on many topics related to the EU external relations agenda. While addressing the situation in the Ukraine, they called on Russia to “de-escalate tensions at the border”. Commission President Von der Leyen stated that the EU in coordination with the United States is prepared to put into place sanctions should Russia not refrain from further acts of aggression. They also recalled the need to increase humanitarian aid at the EU-Belarus border, where thousands of migrants have been arriving since July 2021. When discussing migration, EU leaders also recalled what had emerged from the past October summit, namely their request for the Commission to make the recent action plans for countries of origin and transit operational rapidly and to define and provide adequate financing for migration-related actions on the different migratory routes.

Further issues addressed in last week’s European Council summit involved security and defence. In these areas, no major decisions were made but specific guidelines were defined. Leaders asked the European Council to continue with its work on an actionable Strategic Compass aimed at ensuring Union resilience and further developing its defensive capacities. Nevertheless, they stressed the EU commitment to the EU-NATO partnership and cooperation.

Furthermore, the Euro Summit was held on the same day. During the Summit, all 27 leaders noted the EU’s swift response in terms of delivering economic policy to meet the recovery from the pandemic. Beyond stressing the importance of close coordination of euro zone fiscal policies, EU leaders called for accelerating the completion of the Banking Union and the Capital Markets Union.

This European Council summit was the last one held under the Slovenian Presidency of the European Council, which will be taken over by France from the January 1 2022.