Sunday

21st Apr 2019

Analysis

After Brexit, EU leaders start soul-searching

  • Germany's Merkel (l) and France's Hollande (r) are expected to give momentum to the EU response, but will have to rally their 25 counterparts (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

[UPDATED 25 June at 14.20] "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger," European Council president Donald Tusk said on Friday (24 June) about the uncertain situation that the EU faced after the UK voted to leave the bloc.

There is no handbook on how to become stronger after such an unprecedented event, but EU leaders meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday (28-29 June) in Brussels will be under pressure to provide some answers.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger," European Council president Donald Tusk said. (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

"Leaders will have to look at themselves," an EU official said. "They will have to ask: 'What is wrong with the EU?' and say what they have on their minds.”

The official advised against trying to pretend that everything is under control.

"The worst thing to do would be to say [to Europeans] at the summit: ‘We hear you. We have the solution", he said.

A source in one member state told EUobserver: “It will not be easy to find a common position. But at the same time, once we start the discussion, we cannot afford to have an inconclusive summit with no message."

The soul-searching on how to respond to the departure of a major member state and to popular mistrust in the EU will have to address two questions: who leads the way forward and in which direction.

EU and foreign ministers who met in Luxembourg on Friday to prepare next week's summit had a brief exchange of views and left deeper talks to leaders.

A meeting on Sunday with the sherpas - the leaders' EU advisers - and EU ambassadors from the 27 countries that are left in the union will give a better indication of where the talks are headed.

But European leaders "don't have an answer to all the questions that have arisen”, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier admitted on Friday.

On Saturday, Steinmeier met in Berlin with his counterparts from the other five EU founding countries - France, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

In a statement, the six ministers said that they were “aware that discontent with the functioning of the EU as it is today is manifest in parts of our societies”. They said they took this “very seriously” and were “determined to make the EU work better for all our citizens.”

The six ministers met several times in spring to prepare post-Brexit scenarios. But their actions have prompted the question whether it would be best to present a six-country proposal on EU reform or to involve all 27 countries at every step.

"It's not time for an initiative at six. It would be better at 27," another EU source told this website.

As often in EU history, many people are looking to the bloc’s so called Franco-German motor.

"I expect Germany and France to take a very clear position, so it is clear and obvious to everybody that this situation of uncertainty that we're in now cannot last too long," European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said Friday.

French president Francois Hollande, who spoke on the phone with German chancellor Angela Merkel early on Friday morning, said that he was ready to take the initiative.

Merkel sounded more cautious, urging EU leaders to "remain calm and composed."

"We need to make a composed analysis and decisions," she said.

The chancellor, who has emerged as the pace-setter of EU reform, also warned that to jump to "quick and simple conclusions" from the UK referendum could “further divide Europe”.

'No more divisive issues'

Hollande and Merkel will meet on Monday in Berlin and will be joined by Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi and the EU’s Donald Tusk.

"We'll see what France and Germany bring in the end, but we must be careful with what we decide," the member state source told EUobserver.

"We need a change and we need to be united on the next steps. No more divisive issues, or we'll see a further backlash in other countries and further growth in support for nationalists and xenophobes," he said.

The search for the right EU response could oppose the geographic north and south, east and west, and the political left and right.


Moving quickly toward more EU integration seems to be ruled out.

Calling for more integration "would be crude, many would rightfully wonder whether we politicians still hadn't understood [popular feeling],” German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said earlier this month.

"With what we saw in recent referendums in Denmark, Netherlands and now the UK, it would not be credible to come out with a big action plan for more Europe," the EU official said.

The six ministers who met in Berlin recognised that there are "different levels of ambition amongst member states when it comes to the project of European integration."

No binary choice

The decisions would not be a "binary choice" between less or more Europe, a European Parliament official told this website.

On Tuesday morning, a few hours before the EU summit begins, MEPs will vote on a resolution setting out the parliament's position on what to do about Brexit.

Political groups will finalise the resolution on Monday and will try to find a consensus that could also reflect the positions of national leaders.

"On issues like climate change, terrorism, migration, economic governance, there is still room for more Europe," the parliamentary official said.

In their statement, the founding six ministers mentioned similar priorities: “security of our citizens … establishing a stable and cooperative framework to deal with migration and refugee flows … boost the European economy … convergence of our economies … sustainable and job-creating growth … completion of the European Monetary Union.”

But the political orientation might be harder to agree.

’Calm way forward'

On the left, Greek PM Alexis Tsipras has said that the EU’s crisis of confidence was due to "the democratic deficit, the enforcement of unpopular and unfair policies through blackmail, the dividing stereotypes separating Europe between the industrious and prudent north and the allegedly lazy and ungrateful south."

He said that the EU now needed "a large progressive alliance" to secure "the protection of labour, the support of the welfare state, European solidarity, the protection of individual and social rights."

On the right, Hungarian PM Viktor Orban said that immigration was "a decisive and definitive issue" in the British vote. Polish foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski said that the "concept" of the current EU was "no longer popular in Europe".

Next week’s summit is already pregnant with expectation.

If the leaders do manage to agree on a reassuring message, they are unlikely to agree a detailed, step-by-step plan on what to do next.

"We'll need another summit for that," an EU diplomat told this website.

"At this summit, we'll have to show a calm way forward, especially for the financial markets”, the diplomat added.

Brexit: EU prepares for the morning after

EU institutions have prepared a Brexit crisis agenda for the first hours and day after the vote in order to avoid a "messy" divorce if the UK opts to leave.

Analysis

Germany reluctant to lead Europe in case of Brexit

The German political elite is holding its breath before the UK vote: Brexit could mean Berlin would be once again forced to take the lead in Europe, something it doesn't want.

Leaders rule out treaty change to reform EU

EU leaders have discussed how to reform the union in the wake of Brexit, but the main faultlines will only be exposed in Bratislava in September. Treaty change remains taboo, for now.

EU will not press UK for immediate exit talks

EU leaders say there is a "very significant crisis" in the UK. At a summit on Tuesday, they will not press the British prime minister to trigger the procedure to leave the EU.

Opinion

Catalan independence trial is widening Spain's divides

What is really needed is not the theatre of a rebellion trial, but a forensic examination of whether public funds were misused, and a process of dialogue and negotiation on how the Catalan peoples' right to self-determination can be satisfied.

Orban hosts Weber in Budapest for EPP showdown

The future of the Viktor Orban's Fidesz party inside the European Parliament's centre-right EPP political group hangs in the balance. On Tuesday, Orban and EPP chief Manfred Weber meet in Budapest in a final effort to iron out differences.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us