Cyber Threats and Climate Demands on EU Summit Menu After Brexit

(Bloomberg) -- European Union leaders will switch their focus from the internal headache of Brexit on Thursday to a slew of external challenges that are testing the limits of the bloc’s so-called soft power.

Hours after a dinner debate on Britain’s plan to leave the EU, the heads of government or state gathered in Brussels will turn to threats that range from Russia to refugees.

These are the main topics for the meeting due to start at 10 a.m.

Security

Several member states including the U.K. and the Netherlands want to add cyber attacks to the EU sanctions regime. Penalties typically involve asset freezes against companies and individuals and travel bans against individuals.

Following alleged attempts by Russian and Chinese operatives to infiltrate government computer systems in Europe and the U.S., the leaders will agree to “work on the capacity to respond to and deter cyber attacks through EU restrictive measures,” according to a draft final statement.

The bloc has just widened the scope of its sanctions system to include chemical weapons after alleged agents from Russia attempted in March to murder a former Russian spy in the English city of Salisbury using weapons-grade nerve poison.

Refugees

The EU still faces political aftershocks from the refugee crisis of 2015, keeping migration high on the agenda even though illegal arrivals have fallen 95 percent over the past three years.

According to the draft statement, the leaders will:

  • urge the EU to reach migration-control agreements with countries of origin and transit, particularly in Africa
  • call on the bloc to step up the fight against people-smuggling networks with “a comprehensive and operational set of measures” by year-end
  • express hope for progress on a deadlocked proposal to overhaul the European asylum system so that refugees can be relocated when a gateway country such as Italy is overwhelmed

Behind all the plodding, bureaucratic activity is a lingering threat to one of the EU’s crowning achievements: the passport-free travel area known as Schengen. Austria has just offered a reminder of the threat by prolonging internal border controls yet again.

Climate

With the U.S. turning its back on the United Nations climate accord struck in Paris three years ago and Poland due to host a key UN meeting in December to advance the landmark deal, the EU leaders want to signal their ambition in the fight against global warming.

The summit will say “global emission reductions in all sectors are crucial” and the Dec. 3-14 gathering in the Polish city of Katowice “must result in the adoption of ambitious and comprehensive implementing rules of the Paris Agreement,” according to the draft.