The European Council meeting last week focused on a number of urgent economic and foreign political issues. Ahead of today’s EU-Turkey leaders meeting in Varna, Bulgaria, the Council “strongly condemned Turkey’s continued illegal actions” against natural gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea and underlined its full solidarity with Cyprus and Greece.
European Council President Donald Tusk said at a press conference after the Council meeting that he is aware that the meeting in Varna will not be easy. According to a spokesperson for the European Commission at today’s press briefing in Brussels all issues will be discussed in Varna and the outcome clarified at a press conference tonight.
The Council also “condemned in the strongest possible terms” the recent nerve gas attack against a former Russian agent and his daughter in Salisbury, UK. It agrees with the UK government’s assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible and that there is no plausible alternative explanation.
Furthermore, the Council decided to recall EU’s ambassador to Russia for consultations for an undefined time. The measure was described by a spokesperson at today’s press briefing as an exceptional step and may be followed by EU member states doing the same.
On Brexit, the Council, meeting in a EU27 format, adopted the guidelines on the framework for a future relationship with the UK after Brexit. The EU wants to have the closest possible partnership with the UK but the EU 27 leaders noted that UK’s current positions “limit the depth of such a future partnership”.
On trade with the US, the Council regretted last week’s decision by the US to impose tariffs on import of steel and aluminium from a number of countries. “These measures cannot be justified on the grounds of national security, and sector-wide protection in the US is an inappropriate remedy for the real problems of overcapacity.”
The EU (and other allies) has been temporarily exempted from the tariffs and calls for the exemption to be made permanent. In the meantime it reserves its right, in compliance with World Trade Organisation rules, “to respond to the US measures as appropriate and in a proportionate manner.”
The Commission decided on Monday to launch a safeguard investigation – one of three countermeasures previously announced – on imports of 27 steel products into the EU. The investigation might take up to 9 months but provisional measures, should they prove to be necessary, can be adopted with short notice.