The European Council brings together EU leaders to set the EU’s political agenda and defines the EU’s overall political direction and priorities. It represents the highest level of political cooperation between EU countries. The members of the European Council are the heads of state or government of the 28 EU member states, the European Council President and the President of the European Commission. The European Council mostly takes its decisions by consensus. However, in certain specific cases outlined in the EU treaties, it decides by unanimity or by qualified majority.
What does the European Council do?
- Decides on the EU’s overall direction and political priorities – but does not pass laws.
- Deals with complex or sensitive issues that cannot be resolved at lower levels of intergovernmental cooperation
- Sets the EU’s common foreign & security policy, taking into account EU strategic interests and defense implications
- Nominates and appoints candidates to certain high profile EU level roles, such as the ECB and the Commission
On each issue, the European Council can:
- ask the European Commission to make a proposal to address it
- pass it on to the Council of the EU to deal with.
Topic 1: “FOSTERING COOPERATION IN THE FIELD OF REFUGEE PROTECTION – THE ISSUE OF UNACCOMPANIED MINORS DISAPPEARANCES”
Caused by crises around the world, mass displacement has become a severely destabilizing factor for both countries of origin and arrival. Among the large number of refugees and asylum seekers being forced to leave their homes and flee to Europe, children – especially those travelling unaccompanied – are particularly vulnerable. Between the beginning of 2016 and the end of February 2017, 92 per cent of children and young people who reached Italy by boat traveled alone. The number of unaccompanied minors has been on a steady rise in the past years; while the United Nations Children’s Fund registered 66,000 unaccompanied and separated children worldwide in 2010 and 2011, said number has risen to 300,000 in the past two years.
Unaccompanied minors face major obstacles and challenges when they arrive to EU territory; they often do not receive the protection they are entitled to by law, live in atrocious conditions or become victims of violence. Most disconcertingly, however, Europol reports that at least 10,000 refugee minors have gone missing in the past two years. While experts struggle to determine what exactly happened to these missing children, there are several reasons for these disappearances: border authorities are inconsistent with issuing missing reports and do not register all people passing through their countries, and some countries do not offer guardian services to support the children in question throughout the lengthy asylum process. In general, there is a lack of effective systems to collect information about the minors and exchange information between agencies. Left to their own devices, children missing in migration usually end up on the streets, experience homelessness, hunger and other risks; in some cases, they end up in the hands of traffickers or other criminal networks and become victims of labour and sexual exploitation.
Given these serious occurrences, the Heads of State and Government at the European Council meeting will have the task of identifying the problems of the status quo leading to the disappearances of unaccompanied minors as well as of finding solutions on how to improve cooperation between the Member States (especially with regard to their border authorities) in order to avoid such disappearances in the future.