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27 March 2019

Report by President Donald Tusk to the European Parliament on March European Council meetings

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The Spring European Council discussed the economic situation in Europe in light of increasing global competition. On Brexit, Tusk reaffirmed his support for a long extension of the Brexit transition, warning lawmakers not to betray "the increasing majority of people who want to remain in the EU."

The leaders agreed that a strong economic base is key to Europe’s prosperity, and to the EU's role on the world stage. Consequently, we have taken a number of initiatives.

First, the European Council agreed that the Single Market should be further deepened and strengthened, with a particular emphasis on the digital and service economy. Unjustified barriers must be removed, and new barriers must not be created. The Commission has been invited to develop, by March 2020, a long‑term action plan for better implementation and enforcement of the Single Market rules.

Second, we discussed how to address the challenges faced by European industry. Given its significance for millions of jobs in Europe, the Commission has been invited to present a vision for the EU’s industrial future, including concrete measures.

Third, the EU needs to further develop its digital economy, with a special focus on data and Artificial Intelligence. In this context, we supported a concerted approach on the security of 5G networks. Yesterday, the Commission put forward a recommendation in this area.

Last but not least, trade. The European Council will continue to promote an ambitious and balanced free trade agenda that ensures a level playing field. The leaders called to resume the discussion on the public procurement instrument, as well as to pursue rapid implementation of all the elements of the US-EU Joint Statement of 25 July 2018.

We also discussed our economic relations with China. Apart from next month's EU-China summit, there are also other meetings and summits with the Chinese leaders. Therefore, it was crucially important to agree a coordinated, European approach. We worked out a positive stance that offers ambitious cooperation on bilateral and global issues, including trade. We both have a key economic interest in maintaining significant trade flows, which are possible thanks to the rules-based trading system. However, for this system to continue to operate, it needs to be quickly updated. For the EU, this means serious reform of the WTO that would cover industrial subsidies, as a priority. We want to persuade China to address this, and I am convinced we shouldn't give up. As regards bilateral issues, we would like to finalise talks on the investment agreement already next year. We will discuss all of this with China at the upcoming summit. And of course, I can’t imagine not having human rights on the agenda. I may be old-fashioned but I still think that human rights are at least as important as trade.

Additionally, leaders are determined to tackle climate change. Despite differences, it is clear how urgent the matter is, and the leaders will come back to this in June. In the meantime, we have instructed ministers to step up work on the EU's long‑term climate strategy, in order to implement the goals set down by the Paris Agreement.

Turning to Brexit. As requested by Prime Minister May, the European Council decided to approve the so-called Strasbourg agreement. Leaders also considered the UK's request for a short extension of the Article 50 period. Our decision on extension envisages two scenarios. First, if the Withdrawal Agreement is passed by the House of Commons this week, the European Council agreed to a technical extension until 22 May.

Second, if the Withdrawal Agreement is not approved by the House of Commons this week, the European Council agreed to an extension until 12 April, while expecting the United Kingdom to indicate a way forward.

As I said after the European Council, 12 April is a key date in terms of the UK deciding whether to hold European Parliament elections. 12 April is the new cliff-edge date. Before that day, the UK still has a choice of a deal, no-deal, a long extension or revoking Article 50.

And here, let me make one personal remark to the Members of this Parliament. Before the European Council, I said that we should be open to a long extension if the UK wishes to rethink its Brexit strategy, which would of course mean the UK's participation in the European Parliament elections. And then there were voices saying that this would be harmful or inconvenient to some of you. Let me be clear: such thinking is unacceptable. You cannot betray the six million people who signed the petition to revoke Article 50, the one million people who marched for a People's Vote, or the increasing majority of people who want to remain in the European Union. They may feel that they are not sufficiently represented by the UK Parliament, but they must feel that they are represented by you in this chamber. Because they are Europeans.

Full statement

© European Council

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