Tuesday

23rd Apr 2019

EU countries praise Tusk's new summit plans

  • Tusk has grown into his role as European Council chief. (Photo: Consilium)

EU member states praised the proposals made by European Council chief Donald Tusk to have more EU summits and for EU leaders to take more political decisions.

The Polish politician will be seeking feedback from the leaders at their meeting on Friday (20 October).

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EU diplomats across Brussels have voiced support for the working programme outlined by Tusk after two weeks of shuttle diplomacy, to gather different ideas in national capitals on how the EU should work after Brexit.

Tusk's proposals stem from the discussion in Tallinn three weeks ago, where leaders debated the future of Europe, and France's president Emmanuel Macron outlined his reform ideas.

With one year having passed since Britain's EU referendum, Tusk's team sensed that there is less anxiety in the EU about discussing controversial issues, and that EU leaders would like to break the stalemate on some key issues - such as migration, trade, monetary union.

Structured ambition

"Tusk is taking that ambition - the need to move forward - and gives it a structural focus," one EU official said, describing the proposals.

"It is very positive that Tusk wants to streamline and structure the debate [on the future of Europe]," another EU official said.

Tusk's aim is to give dynamism to the often uneventful EU summits, but without breaking the unity that was created after the UK's decision to leave the bloc. It is also to improve the implementation of the decisions that have already been taken.

The former Polish prime minister wants to focus on practical solutions by taking a more political approach towards EU summits, while encouraging leaders to take decisions on critical issues where their ministers - at the lower level - are stuck in a deadlock.

Tusk proposes to "cut the Gordian knot on the most sensitive issues", such as migration or the reform of the monetary union. He also wants to hold more summit meetings to tackle pressing issues.

If Tusk's plans are accepted, leaders would meet 13 times - including this summit - in the next two years.

If a compromise is not possible, the new working method would encourage EU leaders to take decisions based on a majority, instead of always depending on a consensus.

"Some say unity should not be an excuse for stagnation, others say ambition should not be an excuse for divisions," said one senior EU official, describing the dilemma.

Diverging EU visions

But several EU countries felt there was a risk of member states drifting apart in pursuit of differing visions for the future of the EU. Macron, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, and plans stemming from last year's summit in Bratislava have all put forward separate ideas.

"With Tusk, this risk is being scaled down," one of the officials said.

One diplomat praised Tusk for not inventing new formats, or new institutions - but instead using the existing institutional framework.

"Tusk prepared this very well," said a third EU official.

Some diplomats warned against turning summits into a kind of "appeals court", where decisions taken at a lower level could be challenged. They also want to avoid smaller countries being pushed to the sidelines.

The general praise for Tusk's work signals how much the 60-year-old Polish politician - who first struggled to speak in English when he came into office in 2014 - has grown into his role as the "headmaster" at the gatherings of the 28 EU leaders.

One official commended Tusk for talking to every EU leader over the last two weeks, meeting most of them in person, as well as talking to some of them multiple times to fine-tune the work programme.

"I hope it's going to be Tusk's summit," said the EU official.

Tusk summits to create new-model EU

Tusk has proposed a series of 13 top-level talks to take forward European reform, but his backing for a multi-speed Europe risks deepening divide.

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