Remarks by President Charles Michel after the Special European Council meeting on 2 October 2020

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Raad i, gepubliceerd op zaterdag 3 oktober 2020.

We have just concluded the European Council, which - as you know - had a very concentrated programme on the agenda. We discussed international issues at length and, importantly, we were once again able to demonstrate our unity on issues that are difficult, strategic, and important for the future. Today, we had the opportunity to focus on other matters.

The first topic that we addressed today is the coordination related to the COVID-19 crisis. You know that our goal is to limit the spread of the virus. It means that it is important to make more progress between the member states, with the support of the Commission, and the rotating Presidency, and we have worked a lot, in recent days and weeks on that. We took the decision to strengthen our coordination, our cooperation on the basis of the concrete proposals put on the table by the Commission, with the involvement of the rotating Presidency, and we also took the decision to make more efforts to work together in the perspective of vaccines. The Commission had the opportunity to explain in detail what we are trying to do together as the European Union to be able, when vaccines will be available, to make sure that it will be possible for the different member states in Europe but also for our partners, to have access to those vaccines. In our opinion, this should be considered as a common good. It was a long, a substantive discussion, and we agreed that we will have the opportunity at our next European Councils to come back again to this very important topic. This was my first point.

Another important point: I had the opportunity this morning to present to the colleagues the Leaders' agenda for the next months. I think it's very important to have a clear vision about what are the strategies, the topics that we will discuss at the level of the European Council between today and June next year. This is a concrete proposal that I put on the table, knowing that this agenda would be flexible, based on the circumstances. We will probably adapt our way of working and I intend to continue to try to develop a strong preparation for each European Council. We have experienced the last two months, smaller formats, smaller video conferences in preparation for some difficult topics. We used these tools, smaller formats, for example, to prepare our position regarding China. We did the same regarding Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean. We think it's an effective approach, in order to be certain that we have space for real interactivity, political interactivity among the leaders.

Then today we agreed formally our conclusions on the digital and single market. This is a very strong signal. This is a very important step that we are taking today.

As you know, it is our goal to see that the European Union is of course completely committed to an open economy. We believe in the benefits of free trade and at the same time we believe that the European Union must be more resilient, better able to achieve its priorities, and better able to assert its ability to be less dependent in strategic sectors than we sometimes have been. This is something we have sometimes had a painful reminder of during the COVID-19 crisis. In this context the conclusions adopted this morning send out a strong signal, since they demonstrate an ability to develop very specific priorities to achieve digital sovereignty and to build up our capacities and our strength in terms of the internal market. Everyone understands that we do not just want to repair the internal market; we also want to work towards improving its functioning, ensuring that this great asset that brings Europeans together can continue to be developed for the benefit of our project and our values. I would very much like to express my sincerest gratitude to the Commission for the outstanding work it has done in cooperation with the Member States to enable agreement on proposals that are concrete, ambitious and set a very clear strategic direction for the European Union in the coming years.

In the past few months we have worked hard on the climate transition, the large-scale transition to which has been the focus of our efforts in the context of the European Green Deal, which was put forward by Ursula von der Leyen very swiftly after taking up office.

Today, in sending this message, we have set the course for the other large-scale transition - the digital transition. As you know, these two transitions are very closely linked. This brings me to two last points.

We had a short update about the negotiations, the ongoing process of negotiations with the European Parliament in order to implement what we have decided in July: the MFF, the own resources and the Recovery Fund. We will have the occasion in the next days to be involved in order to try to make progress. We know that there are some difficult topics between the member states and with the European Parliament that we need to solve. We know that we know that our agreement in July was a political package and it's very essential to be able, as soon as possible to deliver, to implement what we have decided. It's a question of credibility and I feel a strong political will to make progress and to be able to implement the MFF and the Recovery Fund, but we will continue to work very hard in order to reach this goal.

And finally, just one word about Brexit, just an information point. We had the opportunity to have an update by Ursula (von der Leyen) and also an analysis by the Irish Prime Minister. But we didn't open the debate today because you know, we will have the occasion in October, during our next meeting, to have a more substantial exchange of views. And we will take into consideration the possible developments between today and the next European Council. We trust the Commission. We trust Michel Barnier. We have a clear European position. We are united. We are very calm. We have expressed very clearly the last weeks what we think about the current situation. And we will have the occasion in October to tackle this important topic.

As you can see, a large number of substantive issues were addressed at this meeting. At the level of the European Council we have an agenda that is politically intense, and this meeting was another opportunity to summon up what I like to call the 'European magic'. The issues are difficult, they are complex, and they are strategic. Yet this willingness to enter into dialogue, to discuss with one another, to get to the heart of the matter, allows us to move forward and to make progress. It is in any event the way in which I would wish to conceive of this European ambition.

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