The leaders of the European Union’s member states are about to start a two-day summit in Brussels with a debate with Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament.
Schulz has said that he wants to bring “a message of urgency and solidarity” to the summit following the deaths of hundreds of migrants off Lampedusa, an Italian island about halfway between Malta and Tunisia. Schulz met Rosario Crocetta, the president of Sicily, and Giusi Nicolini, the mayor of Lampedusa, earlier today.
EU leaders are scheduled tomorrow morning (25 October) to discuss how to prevent similar tragedies.
The first working session tonight, after the exchange with Schulz, will focus on Europe’s digital economy. The European Commission, with the support of the member states, has argued that Europe’s digital sector has fallen behind the US and China, and has been urging EU action to make it more competitive.
EU leaders are expected to set a target for completion of the EU digital single market in 2015. They are also expected to give support to initiatives to increase the availability of high-speed broadband and the spread of new technologies such as 4G. The European Council is also likely to call for European co-operation to boost the cloud-computing sector.
But member states have been resisting calls from the Commission for EU leaders to set down a strict deadline for adopting a Commission proposal on reforming Europe’s telecoms sector – a core part of the digital agenda.
US spying row
The talks on the digital economy are expected to touch on an issue that is certain to dominate the news conferences tonight and tomorrow – allegations that the US National Security Agency tapped into the mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and spied on millions of email communications in France.
Merkel is today expected to hold bilateral talks about the issue with Francois Hollande, France’s president, on the sidelines of the summit.
The second session tonight, over dinner, is supposed to focus on issues related to the eurozone.
EU leaders will discuss the next steps in plans for EU banking union, which would see the EU’s largest banks brought within a single regulatory system.
They are expected to reiterate a commitment that member states should finalise their position on proposals for a European bank resolution fund by the end of the year, to allow for a final agreement with the Parliament before the end of the current legislature in April 2014.
They are also expected to ask the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers to ensure that they have finalised the details on how the eurozone’s permanent bailout fund will be able directly to recapitalise failing banks once EU banking union is in place. Agreement on the role of the eurozone bailout fund is an essential step towards banking union.
EU leaders will be briefed by Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank (ECB), over dinner. The ECB yesterday announced the criteria it will use in a review next month of the financial situation of Europe’s largest banks. The asset quality review is a precondition for bringing into force the first elements of EU banking union.
There is concern among EU governments and investors that the ECB’s review will uncover significant losses in EU banks. But Draghi has emphasised that the ECB will prioritise a thorough and transparent assessment of banks’ assets to ensure that investors’ confidence is restored.
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