Spotlight: European summit agrees to permanent defense cooperation, increased anti-terrorism measures

Source: Xinhua| 2017-06-23 02:13:32|Editor: MJ

British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives to attend a two-day EU Summit in Brussels, Belgium, June 22, 2017. (Xinhua/Ye Pingfan)

BRUSSELS, June 22 (Xinhua) -- European leaders agreed Thursday on the need for permanent defense cooperation and increased measures in the fight against terrorism.

They made the decision on the first day of the two-day European Summit at the European Council, which was bringing together in Brussels the heads of state of the 27 European Union member states, as well as British Prime Minister Theresa May.

In the context of what a Thursday European Council statement called "today's challenging geopolitical environment," and aiming to match the level of ambition set out in the EU Global Strategy plan, European heads of state agreed on the need to launch an "inclusive and ambitious Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO)" on defense.

In his remarks after the decision, European Council President Donald Tusk said PESCO was a "historic step, because such cooperation will allow the EU to move towards deeper integration in defence."

He noted that all EU member states will be invited to join, and that within three months, a "common list of criteria and commitments, together with concrete capability projects" will be drawn up to help implement the project.

Leaders also agreed to make reinforcements to external border security for the EU as well as the Schengen Zone. An Entry/Exit System was agreed upon and is expected "shortly," as well as the finalization of a "European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS)," will enhance external border control and internal security, all allowing for specific cases for EU member states who do not fully apply Schengen rules.

Emmanuel Macron celebrated the moves in a press conference at his first European Summit since being elected President of France in May. Calling Entry/Exit checks an "indispensable element to a greater securization," he noted that he had defended such a policy during his campaign, against the calls of other French presidential candidates who wanted to throw out the Schengen agreement altogether.

The fight against terrorism and especially the struggle against terrorist propaganda online was another major theme of the first session of the European Summit. In light of recent attacks in the United Kingdom and other countries around the world, European leaders called on social media companies to do whatever necessary to stop the spread of radicalizing material on the internet.

"In practice, this means developing new tools to detect and remove such materials automatically," explained European Council President Donald Tusk, before adding, "And, if need be, we are also ready to adopt relevant legislation."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking to the press after the first session, said leaders had agreed that, "if necessary and if there is ground and hard evidence for a terrorist background, then we must track those communications links." She assured listeners, however, that user privacy needed to be respected, "which is to say, very strict legal rules have to be respected."

It appears that the first session of the June European Summit went more quickly and smoothly than expected, with Chancellor Merkel remarking that good planning for the meeting and strong understanding with her French counterpart had contributed to the efficient outcomes. "I believe that Franco-German cooperation went a long way to bringing about very positive results."

Later Thursday evening, European leaders will discuss the political situation around Europe. Council President Donald Tusk said in his statement that he would be sharing his assessment of recent international meetings, including with United States President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Erdogan, in addition to the G7 and EU-China summits.

"I will also propose to the leaders that we send a clear signal on the Paris Agreement on Climate Change," Tusk said.

He also told the press that UK Prime Minister Theresa May would inform EU leaders Thursday evening on her intentions regarding the Brexit process. Donald Tusk stressed however that the European Council was "not a forum for Brexit negotiations, we have our negotiators for this, and so leaders will only take note of these intentions."

Donald Tusk went on to say that his goal for Thursday evening was to have the 27 EU leaders agree on the procedure for choosing new locations for the EU banking and medicines agencies, which are both currently based in the UK.

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