EU Leaders Discuss Brexit, Russia, Migration, Fake News at Council Summit - MPs

© Sputnik / Vladimir Fedorenko / Go to the mediabankBuilding of Council of Europe in Strasbourg
Building of Council of Europe in Strasbourg - Sputnik International
BRUSSELS (Sputnik) - European leaders discussed the Brexit uncertainty, relations with Russia, migration, and fight against disinformation on 14 December, the second day of the European Council summit.

Brexit Woes

Brexit was the main topic of the second summit day, as UK Prime Minister Theresa May continued her quest for further reassurances on Irish border.

On Monday she said she was delaying the vote on the Brexit deal in the UK House of Commons since it was unlikely to pass, given the lawmakers' concerns over the Irish border backstop.

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European Council President Donald Tusk said at his press conference on Friday that the European leaders had reaffirmed their endorsement of the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration on the future relationship.

Tusk's words were yet another signal from the European Union that it would not renegotiate the deal. Tusk reiterated, however, that the backstop was an insurance policy, which would be only temporary in case it did have to be applied.

May said at her press conference that her discussions with EU colleagues at the summit showed that further talks were possible, and she would talk to them to secure the reassurances that would satisfy the UK parliament.

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President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters he respected May and her efforts on Brexit. Juncker added that, while watching the debate in the House of Commons on Brexit, he noticed lack of trust in the European Union among the UK lawmakers.

"We have to bring down the temperature. These attacks coming from Westminster against Europe, against the European Commission will not be responded in the same way by the European Commission and by the European Union," Juncker said.

Tusk joined Juncker in expressing his appreciation for May, adding that, in his view, the EU colleagues had "treated Prime Minister May with much greater empathy and respect than some British [members of parliament] MPs."

Relations With Russia

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EU leaders discussed relations with Russia and Ukraine after a naval incident close to the Kerch Strait, in which Russia detained Ukrainian vessels and crew that breached the Russian maritime border.

The European leaders expressed their strongest concern over the escalation at the Kerch Strait and the Azov Sea. They called for the immediate release of all detained Ukrainian seamen as well as the return of the seized vessels and free passage of all ships through the Kerch Strait.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron — as part of the Normandy format talks on Ukrainian settlement that include France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine — briefed other leaders on the implementation of the Minsk agreements. Merkel and Macron said that no progress had been made for a lasting peace in the southeast of Ukraine and the European Council took the political decision to roll over the economic sanctions against Russia.

Migration and Fight on Xenophobia

The council treated these two items as separate issues, but they appear to be linked. The rise of populist parties in Europe — many of the immigration hardliners that are quite often accused of racism by their opponents — has coincided with the influx of migrants.

EU leaders discussed the reform of asylum rules, the so-called Dublin regulation, under which the country of migrants' entry to the bloc is considered responsible for them.

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The European Council wants further measures to reduce illegal migration and prevent the return to the uncontrolled inflow of 2015. Meanwhile, a number of EU member states, including Austria, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia and several others, have declined to endorse a UN migration pact, adopted earlier this week in Marrakech.

To Gilles Lebreton, a member of the European Parliament and of French National Rally (RN) party, the UN compact is "a pure scandal", as it threatens to brand any criticism of migrants as xenophobic or racist.

"That the Brussels Eurocrats try to impose it as a sort of European moral code, with the help of two leaders who will never be re-elected and have lost all credit with their own population, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, is totally unacceptable… We hope that the next government, for France at least, will take our country out of this migration pact, like the USA, Brazil and many other countries around the world," Lebreton told Sputnik.

The migration pact split the ruling coalition in Belgium, urging Prime Minister Charles Michel to reshuffle the government as his coalition partners, the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), objected to the agreement.

"Through its extreme behaviour on the Marrakech Pact, which institutionalizes migratory chaos against the will of the overwhelming majority of its constituents, the Belgian prime minister’s party carries a heavy responsibility in the current political crisis. I invite the leaders of this party to come back to their senses and understand that we do not escape reality by vain verbal incantations," philosopher and political observer Drieu Godefridi told Sputnik.

Mario Borghezio, a member of the European Parliament from Italy's Lega party, is concerned that the pact, although described as non-binding, will set up a kind of "moral obligation" that can be then used in courts.

Discussions on Disinformation

EU leaders agreed Friday that there was a need for a prompt response to any disinformation campaign.

Borghezio, however, is concerned with the efforts to fight fake news that have been seen so far.

"Until now, the various controllers and 'debunkers' appointed by various agencies or governments to fight fake news have proved to be very partial," the member of the European Parliament said.

Janice Atkinson, an independent member of the European Parliament from the United Kingdom, believes that the debate on disinformation "is about the shutting down of the opposition."

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"It’s got nothing to do with so-called fake news that alternative news sites are putting out," Atkinson told Sputnik.

Nicola Tournay, the communication director for Belgium's Parti Populaire, believes that the idea for the anti-disinformation campaign has been promoted mainly by the French president.

"He [Macron] should know that free speech and the liberty of information, even if it is not pleasant to the ears of the powerful people, is an absolute necessity in a democracy," Tournay told Sputnik.

Climate and Euro

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Rounding off a tightly packed agenda are the discussions of the climate change, although this issue was addressed this week in much more detail at the talks in Poland's Katowice.

In addition, the EU leaders discussed the reform of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) on the basis of a report by the Eurogroup. The idea is to strengthen the eurozone further, with reforms of the EMU. The key is to deepen the banking union and reduce the risks of failure in the banking world.

Tusk said at the final press conference that the EU leaders agreed to set up "a common backstop for the Single Resolution Fund" and to grant the European Stability Mechanism larger powers.

The views and opinions expressed by the speakers do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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