Sunday

21st Apr 2019

EU divided on answer to Brexit 'wake up call'

  • Some member states suggested the EU Commission would have to be reformed too, to close the gap between the EU and its citizens (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Twenty-seven EU leaders will meet on Wednesday (29 June) for the first time without their UK counterpart to discuss the British divorce and future EU reforms.

Last UK vote to leave the EU rang “alarm bells” across the continent that EU structures are too detached from citizens, giving rise to populism and euroscepticsm.

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

Diplomats and officials in Brussels said there is need for deep reflection on how to bring the union closer to the general public.

“The [public’s] attachment to the European project is not enough to offset the negative forces of withdrawal and rejection that are being expressed everywhere in Europe,” one EU diplomat said.

Another diplomat said: “We need to listen and understand that there is an alarm bell, we need to change things”. A third EU diplomat used the same terms, saying: “This [the Brexit vote] is a very serious wake up call”.

The immediate reaction is expected to be a show of unity by the 27, leaving substantial talks for later.

Sources said EU council chief Donald Tusk might draft an informal ideas paper for Wednesday morning to serve as a basis for the summit talks, but that there would be no conclusions on the way forward.

They also said the EU self-reflection process would lack the grandeur of previous intergovernmental “conventions”.

“We don’t expect conclusions on Wednesday, we do not expect another European convention, this process cannot be carried out by ‘wise-men’,” an EU source said.

An EU official noted: “You don't need to be Einstein to understand that if you launch a debate on substance now there will be no unity. In the current context, we cannot … promise things we cannot guarantee”.

New big three

France, Germany and Italy, the EU’s post-Brexit big three, on Monday already called for deeper EU integration in areas of clear common interest.

German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Francois Hollande and Italian PM Matteo Renzi said in a joint statement (27 June) in Berlin that they have a “strong commitment to European integration.”

They said the EU should work more intensively in areas such as security, economic union, and social cohesion, but take a back seat on issues that capitals can better handle at home.

Germany had wanted stronger economic union, while social cohesion is a priority for southern EU states, which need to create jobs for young people.

The big three promised to start detailed talks in September and to agree a plan by December. They also spoke of reaffirming the European project in March 2017, the EU’s 60th birthday.

In line with that idea, EU council chief Donald Tusk indicated on Tuesday (28 June) arriving to the summit of EU leaders that he would call an informalmeeting of the 27 in Spetember in Bratislava for talks on the EU's future.

But Monday’s statement focused on listing joint policies instead of structural EU reform. It also did not mention how to tackle issues of immediate concern to average people, such as the migration crisis.

Reform, not integration

Meanwhile, other EU leaders think that further integration is not the solution.

Poland said on Monday the EU should draft a new treaty that returns powers from the European Commission to the Council of the EU, where member states meet.

It also called for commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and council head Donald Tusk to resign over Brexit.

There is no appetite for treaty change elsewhere in Europe due to fears that it would open a Pandora’s Box of national demands for opt-ins and opt-outs.

But some officials said the future role of the EU Commission and its president would have to come up for debate in the reform process.

The mood inside the EU corridors was dim, sources said. They said it was necessary to restore trust between member states and the commission and for national leaders to stop scapegoating EU institutions.

“It doesn’t work that the leaders blame the EU for everything. It sends the wrong message [to the general public],” one EU contact said.

Real world issues

Josef Janning, a scholar of EU affairs at the ECFR think tank in Berlin, said the statement issued on Monday by France, Germany and Italy “was careful and cautious” and designed to give the impression of “business as usual.”

He told EUobserver that Merkel did want to rush the UK, but neither the EU, so it does not commit to something now it cannot deliver later.

He said Merkel is herself in a tricky position because there is no consensus on deeper EU integration inside the German government.

Janning advised leaders to quickly address issues of pressing public concern, such as migration and economic structural issues in southern member states, to regain trust.

He said the EU needed a critical mass of member states that were ready to act, noting that the concerns of countries such as Poland or Hungary ought to be, and could be accommodated.

“I would advise to rebuild the political centre in Europe and focus on delivering on the existing crises,” he said.

EU leaders to seek clarity on Brexit date


EU leaders meeting in Brussels will discuss when the legal process for the UK exit from the EU could start, amid growing questions of whether it will happen at all.

Analysis

After Brexit, EU leaders start soul-searching

The general public and financial markets are waiting for the EU's response to the British shock. But when leaders meet at next week's summit, there will be more questions than answers.

Opinion

Euroscepticism: The EU's new normal

EU citizens have fallen out of love with the Union, a study suggests. The only way through the current malaise may be to dismantle some of the EU's pet projects - not least the euro itself.

Brexit vote irreversible, say EU leaders

EU leaders will not push Britain to begin the legal process to leave the EU, but they say there is no alternative after last week's referendum.

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.

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

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us