In a two-day summit, the EU leaders discussed possible solutions to long-standing issues affecting the union. Here are some key takeaways.
European Union leaders met in Brussels on Friday to discuss economy, migration and other issues that are troubling the EU bloc.
In the two-day summit, which started from December 13, the leaders put down various proposals to address the social and economic issues that have been the EU for several years. Germany and France have already agreed upon the reforms but smaller countries such as Finland, the Netherlands and Ireland expressed their discomfort with the big economies dominating the bloc.
The question of Brexit also dominated the discussions, as EU leaders stated their frustrations over British Prime Minister Theresa May’s demands to renegotiate the deal.
The union also faces the challenge of how to handle and improve the migration system, especially when several wars and conflicts have pushed tens of thousands of people out of their homes worldwide.
“Our British friends need to say what they want,” European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker said.
The European commission president asked for clarification on British Prime Minister Theresa May’s demands regarding UK’s exit from the bloc. May attended the summit seeking assurances on the Irish border backstop — one of the critical issues that put May's Conservative Party at odds with the union.
The leaders said "it is the Union's firm determination to work speedily on a subsequent agreement that establishes by 31 December 2020 alternative arrangements, so that the (border) backstop will not need to be triggered."
The visa-free entry though has been out of the question. British citizens will now have to pay €7 (£6.29) from 2021 and apply for a three-year electronic visa waiver, a move confirmed by Juncker, Sky News reported.
But many of the members voiced concerns over May’s ability to pass her ideas to her concerned MPs. Ireland, France, Sweden, Spain and Belgium are not convinced.
Earlier this month, France's minister for European affairs, Nathalie Loiseau said "the withdrawal agreement is the only one possible," as the UK leader was touring EU countries to gain support for the agreement.
French President Emmanuel Macron presented his plan for the future of the union suggesting a post for an EU finance minister, a joint eurozone budget and a body tasked with overseeing bloc-wide economic policy.
The leaders did not entirely agree with Macron and smaller countries led by the Netherlands agreed to only to discuss incorporating the idea as a small slice of the EU budget of the full 28 member nations.
The common budget will aim at assisting or stabilising countries hit by an economic shock but Germany, one of EU’s most powerful member, disagreed with such a reform.
But leaders seemed more positive on strengthening the power of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), also known as the Eurogroup governed by the 19 eurozone finance ministers which will assess the economic and financial situation of the euro area countries and will need to closely cooperate with the EU commission.
This will make it easier to EU countries to access cash with no reforms.
The EU has been trying to complete it’s Banking Union, also known as EDIS, which was launched back in 2015 with Germany strongly objecting to it. Berlin said the union will be constantly called to rescue weak and bankrupt countries.
The deposit guarantee scheme would guarantee all EU deposits up to 100,000 euros are insured.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte already tried to convince Merkel and other European Union leaders at the summit that his offer to cut Italy's deficit target for next year should make an EU disciplinary procedure unnecessary.
A united Europe?
The European Union seemed more united than ever, ready to support Ukraine on its standoff with Russia as well as provide the country with aid. The union also decided to extend its economic sanctions towards Russia over the lack of progress in the issue.
President of EU Council Donald Tusk took to Twitter to announce the decision.
“EU unanimously prolongs economic sanctions against Russia given zero progress in implementation of Minsk agreements,” he wrote
Decision: EU unanimously prolongs economic sanctions against Russia given zero progress in implementation of Minsk agreements.— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) December 13, 2018
The European Commission also decided to offer Switzerland six additional months to agree on a new deal that will align the country's relations with the bloc, while an existing 12-month deal is due to expire at the end of the year. The deal, however, was ignored by Switzerland’s federal council last week.