Merkel wants EU to focus on jobs and security
By Eszter Zalan
The Bratislava summit of the 27 EU leaders on 16 September should focus on job creation for the young and reinforcing security in Europe, German chancellor Angela Merkel said on her diplomatic tour to lay the groundwork for the meeting.
Speaking in Prague on Thursday (25 August), Merkel said: "The Bratislava summit will accent ways that we can improve economic power, create more jobs for young people and how to boost internal and border security.”
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She added: “I think we can overcome Britain’s decision [to leave]. But we have to work hard to do that.”
At the summit, leaders are expected to chart out the future direction for the EU after Britain’s shock decision to leave the bloc.
The German chancellor is meeting with 12 EU leaders in the next two days on a post-Brexit tour to find a compromise between those who want deeper European integration and those, particularly in eastern and central Europe, where governments support taking some powers back to the national level.
Merkel met with her Estonian counterpart in Tallinn on Thursday, then travelled to Prague to meet PM Bohuslav Sobotka.
One area of further cooperation could be defence and intelligence, which could eventually lead to the establishment of a European army - an area where even the eurosceptic Czech Republic has showed willingness to cooperate.
Sobotka said on Thursday that more European security and defence cooperation, in addition to Nato, was a priority given the need to protect external borders of the EU and to respond to growing security threats, for instance from the Middle East.
Merkel faces tough talks in Poland on Friday, where she is meeting with the leaders of the Visegrad countries, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.
Migration policy will top the agenda. Some in the Visegrad group think that Germany pushed too hard for the mandatory refugee relocation scheme without taking into consideration the national sensibilities of member states.
Ahead of her visit in Warsaw on Friday, Poland’s foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski criticised German foreign policy as being too “selfish”, citing the examples of migration policy, and the plan to build a new gas pipeline connecting Russia and Germany, bypassing Poland.
"There are diverging views on how to distribute migrants across the EU, but on many other issues opinions converge," Merkel said in Prague.
“All families occasionally need phases in which they think about where they go from here,” she added, referring to the EU as a family.
Several hundred protesters rallied in the Czech capital on Thursday against Merkel and her decision a year ago to open the country’s doors to asylum seekers.
A leading figure of Germany's anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant Pegida movement, Tatiana Festerling, was also present for the demonstration, according to the AFP news agency.
In a sign of the anger in some parts of society, Czech police said they arrested a man for attempting to drive his black Mercedes into Merkel's motorcade in Prague as she travelled from the airport to government headquarters.
Later on Friday, Merkel will meet in Germany with a mostly nordic group that includes the prime ministers of Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, as well as the Netherlands.
She will, the same day, also host separate talks with leaders from Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovenia.
The tour is part of her new attempt to be seen as a “listener” and to dispel the image of Berlin trying to impose policies on the rest of the bloc.
But countries in southern Europe are also planning to bind together on a joint proposal to have more clout at the Bratislava summit.
Greece’s prime minister Alexis Tsipras has called for a southern Europe meeting before the event, with French president Francois Hollande having already indicated that he would participate.