Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen; Credit: © 2019 SIP / Thierry Monasse, all rights reserved

On 12 and 13 December 2019, EU leaders, including Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, gathered in Brussels for the European Council.

On 12 December, EU leaders examined issues such as climate change and the long-term EU budget; on 13 December, they participated in a Euro Summit, the first to be chaired by former Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel since his appointment to President of the European Council (in July 2019), during which they debated Brexit and the preparation of negotiations on future relations between the EU and the UK after the latter's withdrawal.

The day before the European Council, Xavier Bettel, as Prime Minister of the country currently holding the Benelux Presidency, also held a Benelux-Slovenia working dinner. Discussions included the EU budget, the fight against climate change and Brexit, among others.

According to the European Council website, the leaders supported the target of making the EU climate-neutral by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement. They underlined that the transition to climate neutrality will bring significant opportunities for economic growth, markets, jobs and technological development. However, Poland's reluctance to commit to implementing this objective led to the European Council's decision to return to this issue in June 2020. Nevertheless, the European Council took note of the Commission communication on the European Green Deal and asked the Council to take this work forward.

In addition, the European Council stressed that the next multiannual financial framework (MFF) will significantly contribute to climate action. Tailored support for regions and sectors most affected by the transition will be made available from the Just Transition Mechanism. EU leaders also invited the Commission to prepare a proposal for the EU’s long-term strategy as early as possible in 2020 with a view to its adoption by the Council and its submission to the UNFCCC and, after a thorough impact assessment, a proposal for an update of the EU’s nationally determined contribution (NDC) for 2030 under the Paris Agreement.

Regarding the long-term EU budget, the leaders called on European Council President Charles Michel to take the negotiations forward with the aim of reaching a final agreement on the multiannual financial framework (MFF) for 2021-2027.

In addition, EU leaders reaffirmed the importance of the EU-Africa partnership, stressing the need for a strategic discussion on Africa relations and on the next EU-African Union summit at the June 2020 European Council. They also agreed to roll over the economic sanctions on Russia for another six months, before once again condemning Turkey's illegal drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. They also denounced the Turkey-Libya Memorandum of Understanding on the delimitation of maritime jurisdictions and reaffirmed their full solidarity with Greece and Cyprus on this matter. EU leaders then expressed solidarity with Albania in light of the recent earthquake.

On the subject of trade, the Council reiterated its full support for the global rules-based international order and noted with concern the paralysis of the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) mechanism for settling disputes. EU leaders supported the Commission’s efforts to set up interim arrangements with third countries while actively pursuing a permanent solution. 

At the Euro Summit, EU27 leaders took stock of progress made on the matter of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), namely regarding the revision of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) Treaty, the budgetary instrument for convergence and competitiveness (BICC) and technical work on the strengthening of the banking union.

They then discussed Brexit and preparations for the negotiations on future EU-UK relations after withdrawal. In this context, EU leaders reconfirmed their aim of establishing as close as possible future relations with the UK and welcomed the Commission’s decision to reappoint Michel Barnier.