Friday

28th Apr 2017

In Bratislava, EU leaders try to bridge divisions

  • Bratislava Castle: The "process" will culminate in Rome next year (Photo: Petra Gregorova)

Cool heads will be needed in Bratislava on Friday (16 September) to find common ground among 27 European leaders in a union that EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker described as fragmented at a never before seen level.

A divided EU at 27 will gather for a day in the Slovak capital to establish a “diagnosis” of the bloc after the Brexit vote, and agree on a road map of common interest to be followed up at later summits in the next months.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The so-called Bratislava process to be launched on Friday will include another informal meeting in Malta in February and will culminating in Rome in March, when the EU celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Rome treaty.

“Never before have I seen so much fragmentation, and so little commonality in our Union,” Juncker said in his state of the union address on Wednesday.

After the union just survived a bruising eurocrisis, June’s Brexit vote exposed simmering frustrations among the electorate with globalisation, the ruling political elite, and an EU that seems unable to deliver.

With populist forces on the rise across Europe, leaders are pressed by time to give viable answers. Next year will see elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany.

EU Council chief Donald Tusk will have the task of focusing leaders on finding what unites them in a time that a senior EU official described as “dramatic moment in EU history”.

In a letter to leaders on Tuesday, Tusk wrote: “People in Europe want to know if the political elites are capable of restoring control over events and processes which overwhelm, disorientate, and sometimes terrify them. Today many people, not only in the UK, think that being part of the European Union stands in the way of stability and security.”

The 27 leaders will gather in the Bratislava castle. In their first discussion they will focus on agreeing on a common “diagnosis” on where the EU is at and why, and what should be improved. This could define the political agenda for months.

The intention is to have an honest debate. Tusk believes “we cannot simply shut down reality with optimistic messages", said one EU official.

During lunch, leaders will discuss communication and the working method, as the senior EU official put it. Brexit will not be on the table, but Tusk will brief leaders on his talks with UK prime minister Theresa May.

Bratislava process

In the afternoon, leaders will focus on a statement, and how to proceed with what the “Bratislava process".

However, EU powers, the reoccurring core debate of whether there should be more or less integration to effectively tackle the multiple crises Europe is facing, will not be discussed.

Tusk notes in his letter that “giving new powers to European institutions is not the desired recipe” by national leaders.

Leaders will concentrate on finding common ground on migration, a deeper defense cooperation, a common trade policy, growth, better intelligence and resource-sharing to fight terrorism, and strengthening the EU’s external border frontier.

But EU countries are deeply divided on policies, and Bratislava is meant to rebuild those bridges.

A commission internal graphic laying out member states' positions on 29 different policy areas, seen by this website, shows that only three EU policies – single market, fight against terrorism, and the digital agenda – are backed a majority of leaders.

While Tusk wants to avoid a blame game among the member states and the institutions, spats among eastern and western EU member states can flare up.

Some eastern member states hold a grudge against the commission for pushing through a mandatory relocation quota to distribute refugees among member states.

Earlier this week Luxembourg's foreign minister Jean Asselborn called for the exclusion of Hungary from the EU for the way it is treating migrants. In return Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban called Asselborn a “communist”.

“The risk of failure is not excluded. The summit will fail if there is total discord,” said another EU official.

Leaders are expected to be pressed not to blame the EU for their countries’ vowes, when they take part in the decision-making.

Concrete decisions are not expected in Bratislava, except for personnel and equipment to help Bulgaria protect its border with Turkey.

And while officials attempt to play down expectations of a breakthrough, showing a united front in itself will be a challenge.

Tusk and Merkel discuss post-Brexit EU

EU Council president Tusk will meet chancellor Merkel at a castle retreat in Germany on Thursday as part of preparations for the Brexit summit in Bratislava.

Opinion

Our common path: EU cohesion, not trenches

In Bratislava, leaders will decide how to reform the EU in reaction to Brexit. The Czech PM says, in a comment for EUobserver, that the future EU must get closer to its citizens.

Opinion

Juncker-Tusk: A clash of EU visions

The EU commission president may be right that Brexit is not an existential challenge to the EU, but rifts with the EU council chief over how to handle the divorce talks may well be.

France still anxious over possibility of Le Pen win

Despite opinion polls that place centrist Macron well ahead of the far-right leader Le Pen in the 7 May presidential run-off, doubts are emerging about his capacity to unite the French people around his candidacy.

News in Brief

  1. Vote of no confidence prepared against Spanish PM
  2. Syria to buy Russian anti-missile system
  3. Germany seeks partial burka ban
  4. Libya has no plan to stop migration flows
  5. EU has no evidence of NGO-smuggler collusion in Libya
  6. Poland gets 'final warning' on logging in ancient forest
  7. Commission gives Italy final warning on air pollution
  8. Romania and Slovenia taken to court over environment policies

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ECR GroupSyed Kamall: We Need a New, More Honest Relationship With Turkey
  2. Counter BalanceParliament Sends Strong Signal to the EIB: Time to Act on Climate Change
  3. ACCARisks and Opportunities of Blockchain and Shared Ledgers Technologies in Financial Services
  4. UNICEFRace Against Time to Save Millions of Lives in Yemen
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersDeveloping Independent Russian-Language Media in the Baltic Countries
  6. Swedish EnterprisesReform of the European Electricity Market: Lessons from the Nordics, Brussels 2 May
  7. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  8. Counter BalanceCall for EU Commission to Withdraw Support of Trans-Adriatic Pipeline
  9. ACCAEconomic Confidence at Highest Since 2015
  10. European Federation of Allergy and Airways60%-90% of Your Life Is Spent Indoors. How Does Poor Indoor Air Quality Affect You?
  11. European Gaming and Betting AssociationCJEU Confirms Obligation for a Transparent Licensing Process
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region and the US: A Time of Warlike Rhetoric and Militarisation?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Free AllianceEFA MEPs Vote in Favor of European Parliament's Brexit Mandate
  2. Mission of China to the EUXinhua Insight: China to Open up Like Never Before
  3. World VisionViolence Becomes New Normal for Syrian Children
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsTime to Turn the Tide and End Repression of Central Asia's Civil Society
  5. European Free AllianceAutonomia to Normalnosc - Poland Urged to Re-Grant Autonomy to Silesia
  6. UNICEFHitting Rock Bottom - How 2016 Became the Worst Year for #ChildrenofSyria
  7. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  8. ACCAG20 Citizens Want 'Big Picture' Tax Policymaking, According to Global Survey
  9. Belgrade Security ForumCall for Papers: European Union as a Global Crisis Manager - Deadline 30 April
  10. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  11. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved
  12. European Jewish Congress"Extremists Still Have Ability and Motivation to Murder in Europe" Says EJC President