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Mrs Merkel made her remarks during a wide-ranging discussion over a working dinner at Brdo Castle in northern Slovenia prior to the start of the summit today The event, attended by the leaders of the EU27, also touched upon the highly controversial idea of a European defence force, ways of reducing dependence on gas supplies from outside the bloc, and the bid by western Balkan countries to be admitted to the EU by the end of the decade.
Prior to the start of the dinner, Charles Michel, the European Council’s President and a former Belgium Prime Minister, is said to have asked all those attending to switch off their phones “to ensure confidentiality of the discussion on EU’s role in the world”.
Mrs Merkel, who is stepping down after 15 years as Germany’s leader, with SPD leader Olaf Scholz appearing in prime position to replace her, broached the subject of migration, more than five years after she controversially allowed more than one million people to settle in Germany.
On that occasion she said the decision by Germany and Austria to accept migrants, most of them Syrian, who were stranded in Hungary was “a humanitarian imperative”.
Angela Merkel, pictured last night
French President Emmanuel Macron
However, she last night warned her fellow leaders new solutions would be required with further migration into Europe inevitable.
Both Austrian Prime Minister Sebastian Scholz and Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte echoed her sentiments.
The Council agreed to address the issue of the border-free Schengen area once the European Commission has presented proposals in November, Politico reported.
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Angela Merkel and Mark Rutte share a joke in Slovenia
The dinner also exposed divisions on the subject of defence, with Latvia’s Prime Minister Krisjanis Kariņs reportedly declaring “the EU-NATO alliance, the transatlantic alliance is a very important aspect which should not in any way be compromised”.
After the dinner, Mr Rutte said: “Of course, this is a debate among the 27 without a paper, clear paper from the European Commission, so this was a brainstorming debate – and very useful.
“We have to do more on the European side to work on our collective defence whilst at the same time we have to make sure that the transatlantic relationship through NATO but also the EU-US stays strong.”
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Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission
Charles Michel, European Council President, arrives at the summit
Mr Michel later revealed plans for a new political declaration with NATO prior to next summer’s summit.
Meanwhile Emmanuel Macron took an apparent swipe at US President Joe Biden prior to the start of the dinner.
Asked whether he believed Mr Biden recognised his country’s importance as an ally, the French President simply said: “We will see.”
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell was tasked with writing a draft “Strategic Compass,” which will be presented in November, and which will be debated by leaders in December prior to approval in March 2022.
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Speaking afterwards, Mr Borrell said: “We are very much aware that the world is having a shift on the geopolitical balance of power.
“There is a big bipolarity between China and the US on one side, and on the other side there is a multipolarity of actors, and Europeans have to act.
“Europeans have to create a common strategic culture, to share the challenges they are facing, and that’s what the Strategic Compass is about.”
On the subject of energy supplies, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez unveiled a joint statement also signed by France, the Czech Republic, Greece and Romania which called for a probe into the EU gas market with the aim of reducing “European dependency on gas exporting countries as fast as possible”.
Latvia’s Prime Minister Krisjanis Kariņs
They also floated the idea of joint gas purchases to increase EU leverage, with the proposal coming hours after President Ursula von der Leyen confirmed the EU was looking to establish a joint strategic gas reserve.
Slovenia’s Prime Minister Janez Jansa also renewed his calls for all six Western Balkan countries – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo – to be admitted to the EU by 2030.
The issue was the subject of an intense disagreement in 2019 after Mr Macron vetoed proposals to admit Albania and North Macedonia.
At the time then-European Commission President Emmanuel Macron said Mr Juncker described his decision as a “historical mistake”, adding: “I am very disappointed.”