EU summit ends on notes of economic and political optimism

European Council president Donald Tusk says ‘Brexit took up very little time’

 German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron  at  the end of the European Council summit in Brussels. Photograph:  EPA

German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron at the end of the European Council summit in Brussels. Photograph: EPA

 

European leaders wrapped up their summer summit on Friday embracing a new political and economic optimism despite the shadow of Brexit overhanging their deliberations.

“As a matter of fact, Brexit took up very little time,” European Council president Donald Tusk told the final press conference.

German chancellor Angela Merkel said her co-operation with her newest partner in France, President Emmanuel Macron, had helped feed that optimism.

The leaders heard an upbeat assessment of the European economy from ECB president Mario Draghi,  Mr Tusk insisting “it’s the first time in many years that we have heard such good news”.

Commission president Jean Claude Juncker echoed the point. “We have good news. Unemployment is going down, employment is improving, growth is picking up…The fiscal deficit is decreasing: in 2011 we had 24 countries in the excessive deficit procedure, we are left now with four countries. This is a tremendous achievement.”

In a debate emanating from French concerns about Chinese takeovers of major “strategic” industries, leaders agreed that Europe needed to better protect its industry from unfair trade practices. They tasked the commission with analysing investments from third countries in strategic sectors.

Free market

The debate pitched the more interventionist states, led by France, against the free traders like the Nordics and, indeed, Ireland. A clearly delighted Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke of the importance of the free market in investment, and although they don’t want strategic industry falling into foreign hands they had seen off what he described as a “Trojan horse” for protectionism in more prescriptive measures.

He welcomed Mr Draghi’s assurance that the ECB would not be raising interest rates in the medium term.

The leaders also agreed to extend economic sanctions against Russia for a further six months.

They strongly reaffirmed their commitment to fully and swiftly implement the Paris accord on climate change.

The summit also highlighted what leaders said was the key importance of “an ambitious digital vision for Europe”, a key plank of the incoming Estonian presidency.