On Thursday, they discussed the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean. They also addressed relations with China, the situation in Belarus, the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and the poisoning of Alexei Navalny.
On Friday, COVID-19, the single market, industrial policy and digital transition were on the agenda. Leaders were also updated on EU-UK relations and the MFF negotiations with the European Parliament.
The European Council held an in-depth discussion on the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. It called on the Council and the Commission to further step up the overall coordination effort and work on the development and distribution of a vaccine at EU level.
President Charles Michel presented the Leaders' Agenda 2020-2021, which covers the key challenges confronting the EU and allows the ground to be prepared for strategic discussions in the European Council meetings.
Poisoning of Alexei Navalny
EU leaders were debriefed by Chancellor Merkel on the state of play. The European Council conclusions state: “The European Council condemns the assassination attempt on Alexei Navalny with a military chemical nerve agent from the ʻNovichokʼ group. The use of chemical weapons constitutes a serious breach of international law. The European Council calls upon the Russian Federation’s authorities to fully cooperate with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to ensure an impartial international investigation and to bring those responsible to justice. The European Council will return to the matter on 15-16 October 2020.”
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
The European Council called for an immediate cessation of hostilities and urged the parties to recommit to a lasting ceasefire and the peaceful settlement of the conflict. It expressed its support for the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group and asked the High Representative to examine the possibility of further EU support for the settlement process.
The European Council condemned the Belarusian authorities' unacceptable violence against peaceful protesters, intimidation and arbitrary arrests and detentions following the presidential elections, the results of which it does not recognise.
EU leaders called on the Belarusian authorities to end violence and repression, release all detainees and political prisoners, respect media freedom and civil society, and start an inclusive national dialogue. Following the agreement by EU leaders, the Council on 2 October imposed restrictive measures against 40 individuals identified as responsible for repression and intimidation against peaceful demonstrators, opposition members and journalists, as well as for misconduct of the electoral process.
The European Council reiterated its full solidarity with Greece and Cyprus, whose sovereignty and sovereign rights must be respected. EU leaders stressed that the EU has a strategic interest in a stable and secure environment in the Eastern Mediterranean and the development of a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with Turkey.
The European Council calls for a Multilateral Conference on the Eastern Mediterranean to develop a more positive channel of dialogue and communications, and invites the High Representative to engage in talks about its organisation.
The European Council discussed EU-China relations. The leaders recalled the goal of finalising negotiations for an ambitious EU-China Comprehensive Investment Agreement (CAI) by the end of 2020.
EU leaders encouraged China to assume greater responsibility in dealing with global challenges, in particular regarding climate. The European Council also stressed its serious concerns about the human rights situation in China, including developments in Hong Kong and the treatment of people belonging to minorities.
Following the European Council meeting, High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell published a blog “When member states are divided, how do we ensure Europe is able to act?” He reflects on possible alternatives to the unanimity rule on foreign policy, and the need to have an honest debate without taboos on how the EU could play a stronger, geo-political role in the world, including on how the EU takes decisions.