Malta summit on EU future This WEEK
Twenty seven EU leaders, with the UK left out, will meet in Malta on Friday (3 February) to discuss reforms in reaction to last year’s Brexit vote.
The informal talks are part of a “reflection” that already produced the so-called Bratislava Roadmap last September.
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EU leaders declared in the Slovak capital that they would find new ways to stem the flow of migrants to Europe, tighten up security on external borders, pursue military integration, and fight youth unemployment.
They also agreed to step up their communications policy to “challenge simplistic solutions of extreme or populist political forces” and to renew “trust and confidence” in the European project.
The self-reflection has been given added urgency by the election of Donald Trump in the US and the risk of a rift in transatlantic relations on top of the Brexit rupture.
The Maltese summit is to pave the way for final decisions “on the future orientation” of the EU to be undertaken in Rome in March.
Differences remain, not least on the bloc’s long-term migration policy, with central and eastern European states unwilling to take in Arab asylum seekers under EU quotas.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini will also meet with Libya’s UN-recognised leader Fayez Mustafa al-Sarraj in Valletta on Thursday.
Some member states want to strike a deal with al-Sarraj on stopping migrants on the model of an EU-Turkey agreement, but EU institutions have said that Libya is too chaotic for the time being.
Trump’s election has also posed questions for the EU’s plans to help a handful of former Soviet countries align with the West.
MEPs will vote on Thursday on letting Georgian nationals visit the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone without visas in future.
A similar vote on Ukraine is expected next month.
The EU energy commissioner, Maros Sefcovic, will also brief MEPs in a mini-plenary session in Brussels on Thursday on how to reduce dependence on Russian gas by building an “energy union”.
But if Trump, who is cosying up to Moscow, gives Russia a free hand to wage war in Ukraine, then the EU’s “eastern partnership” policy and its broader strategy for regional security could crumble.
Putin in Budapest
If more EU leaders take a pro-Russian line, the policy could crumble further.
The EU commission’s Juncker will meet with Bulgaria’s new president, Rumen Radev, in Brussels on Monday to discuss his vision for the future of one of the EU’s most Russia-dependent members.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin is also scheduled to visit Budapest for the second time in two years on Thursday.