Wednesday

14th Nov 2018

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.

News in Brief

  1. Draft Brexit deal on London cabinet agenda on Wednesday
  2. EU proposes no visa for UK citizens after Brexit
  3. EU parliament 'deeply concerned' on Romania judiciary
  4. Macedonia's ex-PM flees to Hungary, seeks asylum
  5. Cyprus opens first new border crossings in eight years
  6. Putin's Austrian dance partner cancels Moscow visit
  7. Political deadlock over Sweden Democrat influence
  8. Court: Catalan referendum organisers must repay costs

Opinion

On Armistice Day, EU is still best gift we can give our children

While young people fought each other in 1918, young people in 2018 travel to study together under the Erasmus programme. But there is a risk of limiting our commemoration to representing the past through just speeches, museum exhibits and visits.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. Merkel calls for 'real, true' EU army
  2. Italy defiant on budget on eve of EU deadline
  3. EU action on Hungary and Poland drowns in procedure
  4. EU unable to fully trace €1bn spent on refugees in Turkey
  5. Romanian leaders trade jibes over upcoming EU presidency
  6. EU warns Romania not to abuse GDPR against press
  7. EU 'Magnitsky Act' must bear its proper name
  8. Fear of nationalist surge marks European memorials

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  9. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  10. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  3. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  5. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  6. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  8. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  9. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  10. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  11. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us