Merkel seeks post-Brexit vision on EU tour
By Eszter Zalan
German chancellor Angela Merkel has kicked off a tour of EU capitals to forge a common position on the future of the EU after the UK’s exit.
She has already held a mini-summit with France’s Francois Hollande and Italian leader Matteo Renzi earlier this week in a bid to “relaunch” the EU.
The German leader, still the most powerful politician in Europe despite being weakened by her handling of the migration crisis, is aiming to lay the groundwork ahead of an informal EU summit in mid-September in Bratislava.
The summit will be the first leaders' meeting without the UK. The remaining 27 leaders will attempt to hammer out a common position for the EU’s future after Brexit.
Merkel, who will meet 15 leaders this week, is trying to bridge the gaps between the various groups among the EU member states.
Some southern countries are keen to see more integration, especially in the economy, something that Merkel is cautious about after the euro crisis. However, eastern members have called for more powers to be repatriated to member states and vowed to come up with their own proposals for the crucial September summit.
On Wednesday (24 August), Merkel kicks off the second leg of her tour with a visit to Estonia, where is she is meeting prime minister Taavi Roivas and see Nato’s cybersecurity centre in Tallinn.
On Thursday, she will head to Prague to meet with Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka. Later on she will also meet with the country’s staunchly eurosceptic president, Milos Zeman.
Zeman has also been a fierce critic of Merkel’s welcoming policy towards refugees, and has called for a total ban of migrants entering the Czech Republic.
The migration crisis is another topic that is bound to come up during Merkel’s discussions, as she attempts to salvage the previously agreed EU policies on taking in and distributing refugees across Europe in an attempt to calm critics and concerned voters ahead of next year’s general election in Germany.
Germany has taken in over a million asylum seekers since last summer, and has suffered two terrorist attacks this summer, reinforcing a shift in mood among Germans who initially welcomed migrants from war-torn, destitute areas.
Merkel is heading for some tough talks on Friday in Warsaw, whose nationalist government, led by the Law and Justice party has been increasingly critical of Berlin’s leadership and its migration policy.
In Poland, Merkel will hold talks with the prime ministers of the Visegrad countries, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia. The bloc has been uniformly against taking in asylum seekers from Muslim countries and has been calling for a rollback of EU powers.
Some eastern countries still hold a grudge against the European Commission, which pushed through the German-inspired policy of relocating refugees across the continent in the name of solidarity, despite their opposition.
Merkel will also discuss with her eastern partners the Ukraine-Russia conflict, the sanctions against Russia, the EU's relations with Belarus and the situation in Turkey after the failed coup attempt in July.
Merkel will hold one-on-one talks with Poland’s prime minister Beata Szydlo, whose country has been mired in controversy as the European Commission said some of its policies are aimed at dismantling the rule of law.
Later on Friday, back in Berlin, Merkel will meet with Nordic leaders, and has a working dinner with the prime ministers of Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, and Sweden.
While her talks might be more relaxed with her Nordic counterparts, Finland’s president warned on Tuesday that the EU’s decision-making and implementation was weak. Sauli Niinisto called for a return to the EU's basic values.
On Saturday, Merkel will hold talks with the leaders of Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Slovenia.
While there is little chance that a consensus will emerge quickly, Merkel wants to avoid a spat between the member states, and instead aims to focus on EU policies that can deliver tangible results to voters quickly.
By speaking to 15 different leaders just this week ahead of the Bratislava summit, Merkel also wants to dissipate any impression that Berlin tries to impose its will on the rest of the EU.