European Council focuses on Ukraine crisis and further sanctions
Meeting in the European Council on 20-21 March, EU leaders discussed the Ukraine crisis and also addressed economic issues, industrial competitiveness and climate and energy.
Following the annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol to the Russian Federation earlier this week, EU leaders decided to add 12 names to the list of Russian and Crimean officials subject to EU visa bans and asset freezes.
In addition to the new names, the European Council cancelled a planned EU-Russia summit and noted that Member States will not hold any bilateral regular summits with Russia. Leaders also agreed to further strengthen the EU's political association and economic integration with Georgia and the Republic of Moldova.
In addition, EU leaders requested the European Commission to prepare broader economic and trade sanctions that could be imposed if Russia further destabilises Ukraine.
The European Council urged that an agreement be quickly reached on an OSCE observers mission to Ukraine. In the absence of such an agreement, EU leaders agreed to prepare an EU monitoring mission.
In parallel, EU leaders and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, acting Prime Minister of Ukraine, also signed the political provisions of the Association Agreement.
On the question of increased sanctions, European Council President, Herman Van Rompuy said, "Sanctions are not a question of retaliation; they are a foreign policy tool. Not a goal in themselves, but a means to an end. Our goal is to stop Russian action against Ukraine, to restore Ukraine's sovereignty – and to achieve this we need a negotiated solution. Europe stands ready to facilitate and engage in a meaningful dialogue involving Ukraine and Russia and supports all multilateral initiatives towards that aim."
Other topics on the agenda
The spring European Council provides strategic policy guidance to the member states relating to the European Semester. Leaders concluded that this year member states' national reform programmes and the stability and convergence programmes should address the issues identified in 2013 country-specific recommendations as well as in the Commission's recent analysis of macroeconomic and fiscal imbalances, including its in-depth reviews in a number of member states.
The European Council confirmed that the Council will adopt the amended directive on taxation of savings income at its next meeting in March 2014. The directive will enable member states to better clamp down on tax fraud and tax evasion.
It requires member states to exchange information automatically, allowing interest payments made in one member state to residents of other member states to be taxed in accordance with the laws of the state of tax residence. The amended directive will also apply to new types of savings income and products that generate interest or equivalent income.
Banking union: single resolution mechanism
Leaders congratulated the European Parliament and Council negotiators on the agreement reached on the single resolution mechanism regulation. "This is a major achievement that will open the way to the completion of the banking union", they noted. Formal adoption of the regulation is expected before the end of the Parliament's current legislature.
EU leaders highlighted the need for Europe to develop its industrial base. In particular, they agreed that industrial competitiveness concerns should be mainstreamed across all policy areas. They also called for greater cooperation on key-enabling technologies (KET), such as batteries for electrical cars and intelligent materials, to boost Europe's competitiveness.
Acknowledging that EU industrial growth requires the right skills, the European Council urged action on skills shortages in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Leaders will review progress on these issues at the March 2015 European Council.
Climate and energy
EU leaders held a first policy debate on a framework for climate and energy policies for the 2020-2030 period. They agreed that a final decision on the future framework should be reached by October 2014 at the latest.
They also addressed issues such as energy prices, energy dependence and energy efficiency, and reconfirmed EU objectives of completing the internal energy market by 2014 and developing interconnections by 2015.
EU leaders also discussed preparations for the 4th EU-Africa Summit on 2-3 April 2014. They underlined the EU's commitment to building a partnership of equals with Africa and strengthening relations in all relevant areas.
Press conference highlights