Remarks by President Donald Tusk after the European Council meeting on 15 December 2016
Let me start with Syria. Today I invited the chairman of the local Council in Aleppo to personally address the leaders so that the voice of the people of Aleppo is heard, at least in this symbolic way. To be clear, faced with the brutality of the Syrian regime and its supporters, notably Russia and Iran, we are not as effective as we would like to be. But we are not indifferent to the suffering of the Syrian people. We will exert pressure on other global players who are present in Syria using all available diplomatic channels. The aim is clear: the immediate opening of humanitarian corridors to allow aid into Aleppo, and for civilians to be evacuated safely under neutral, international supervision. There must be full and unrestricted access for all medical personnel and aid workers. The protection of civilians is the absolute priority.
Another point on the agenda was migration. Leaders stressed their commitment to implement the EU-Turkey Statement, which also requires continued efforts from Turkey. High Representative Mogherini reported progress with African countries. For example, our partnership with Niger is reducing the numbers of people using smugglers to get to Libya. But we know that more needs to be done, and so we will discuss Libya and our approach to the Central Mediterranean route at our next informal summit in Malta in February. As for the reform of the common asylum system, Prime Minister Muscat will continue this work under his presidency. The aim will be to achieve consensus.
As regards Ukraine, we did what we could to help save the Association Agreement that has been ratified already by 27 Member States and the European Parliament. We have adopted a legally binding decision of the leaders to facilitate the ratification in the Netherlands. This decision addresses all the concerns expressed by the Dutch voters earlier this year. Now the responsibility lies with the Netherlands. The ratification is important not only for Ukraine, but also for Europe's geopolitical standing and credibility. We are counting on our Dutch colleagues.
Today we also agreed to step up our work on security and defence, in partnership with NATO. It is evident that Europe needs to do more to fulfil our international responsibilities and to protect our own citizens,. We committed to increase cooperation and to allocate more resources to security and defence.
Moving on to Brexit, the EU27 had a short informal meeting where we finalized procedural arrangements and reconfirmed our principles, meaning the indivisibility of the four freedoms, the balance of rights and obligations and the rule "no negotiations without notification". We adopted the organisational structure with the European Council maintaining political control over the process, and the Commission as the Union's negotiator. And Michel Barnier as the Commission's Chief Negotiator.
Finally, let me thank Prime Minister Fico and his team for a very successful and productive presidency. Not only did you host the historic EU27 summit in Bratislava, but thanks to your professionalism you have also succeeded in making a number of promises from Bratislava a reality. To give a few examples, the Council agreement on the Trade Defence Instruments, the Visa Suspension Mechanism and the Schengen Borders Code. So let me conclude by again thanking Robert and the entire Slovak Presidency for a great performance.