European Council meeting

EU Heads of State or Government met via video conference on February 25 and 26 to discuss the current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic and preparedness for health threats, security and defence, and relations with the Southern Neighbourhood.

EU leaders insisted on the need to urgently step up efforts to accelerate the provision of vaccines

EU leaders took stock of the epidemiological situation. They will continue working together and coordinating their action to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, keep the overall situation under close review and take action as needed.

The epidemiological situation remains serious, and the new variants pose additional challenges. We must therefore uphold tight restrictions while stepping up efforts to accelerate the provision of vaccines.

COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic: the EU’s response – click here.

Travel restrictions
Leaders agreed on the need to restrict non-essential travel for the time being.

They welcomed the adoption of the two Council recommendations on travel within, and into, the EU. According to them, restrictions can be introduced in accordance with the principles of proportionality and non-discrimination and taking into account the specific situation of cross-border communities. The flow of goods and services within the Single Market must be ensured, including by making use of Green Lanes.

Leaders stressed the need to urgently accelerate the authorisation, production and distribution of vaccines, as well as vaccination. 

They also highlighted the need to enhance surveillance and detection capacity to identify variants as early as possible so as to control their spread.

EU leaders supported the Commission’s efforts to work with industry and member states to increase vaccine production and to adjust vaccines to the new variants.

They also welcomed the Commission’s ongoing efforts to:

  • accelerate the availability of raw materials;
  • facilitate agreements between manufacturers across supply chains;
  • scope existing facilities so as to help production scale-up in the EU;
  • further the research and development efforts;

Companies must ensure predictability of their vaccine production and respect contractual delivery deadlines.

Solidarity with third countries
EU leaders reaffirmed their solidarity with third countries and stressed their determination to step up the global response to the pandemic.

They welcomed COVAX’s first plans to distribute vaccines to 92 low- and middle-income countries.

We remain committed to improving access to vaccines for priority groups in our neighbourhood and beyond, based on common principles, and to supporting a global approach through the COVAX Facility.

Despite the fact that the COVID-19 crisis is not yet over, leaders agreed to already start strengthening the EU’s future health resilience.

They will work to improve EU coordination to ensure:

  • better preparedness and prevention systems;
  • response tools;
  • means to secure enough vaccines and critical supplies for all member states;
  • support for the process of developing safe and effective vaccines and medicines, including through early investment in production capacity;
  • best use of big data and digital technologies for medical research and healthcare;
  • access to medicines across member states.

Leaders invited the Commission to present by June 2021 a report on the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic so far.

Leaders also discussed ways to reinforce international solidarity and health cooperation, which is essential to address current and future health threats. In this context, leaders want to strengthen the World Health Organization and work towards an international treaty on pandemics within its framework.

Security and defence
On Friday, at the beginning of their meeting the members of the European Council were joined by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, for an exchange of views on EU-NATO relations.

EU leaders then held a strategic debate on European security and defence policy:

  • strengthening the EU’s security and defence policy;
  • increasing the EU’s ability to act autonomously and to promote its strategic interests and values on the global stage;
  • developing the EU’s partnerships in security and defence, in particular with NATO.

EU leaders also discussed work to increase the EU’s resilience, in particular against cyberattacks and hybrid threats.

Southern Neighbourhood
Leaders held a strategic discussion on EU relations with the Southern Neighbourhood. In December 2020, the European Council adopted conclusions on this partnership. Leaders emphasised that a democratic, more stable, greener and more prosperous Southern Neighbourhood is a strategic priority for the EU.

Statement of the members of the European Council, February 25-26, 2021 – click here.

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