EU 27 meet for 'moment of truth'
By Eszter Zalan
EU leaders, meeting in Slovakia on Friday (16 September), have insisted on the need for unity after the Brexit referendum and for common policies on security, economic growth, border controls and terrorism.
Speaking to media before their summit in Bratislava castle, they showed no appetite for a grand redesign of the EU architecture or for a new treaty, focusing instead on urgent action on the migration crisis, the economy and terrorist threats.
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EU Council chief Donald Tusk on Thursday had called for a “brutally honest assessment of the situation”.
But on Friday he hit a more cheerful note when asked how to overcome differences between member states. “It’s much easier than you’d expect," he said.
Hosting the informal summit, Slovak prime minister Robert Fico said he hoped that by the end of the day leaders would agree on a roadmap “on the most important topics” for the next six months, which would be tackled at follow-up summits in Valetta and in Rome.
“We want to show that this [the EU] is a unique project and we want to continue this project,” Fico said.
Belgian prime minister Charles Michel said: “This is the moment of truth”.
Luxembourg’s prime minister, Xavier Bettel, dismissed the view that the EU is facing an existential danger.
“Ninety percent of the EU is working. We should not blame the EU for the rest of the 10 percent. We should find solutions,” he said.
No binding decisions are to come out of Friday’s meeting, with the “Bratislava roadmap” to point to future actions instead.
But despite Tusk’s sunny welcome in Bratislava, there are deep divergences between the 27 leaders.
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte even criticised the format, which left out the UK. “They are still in the EU. I don’t think it’s good to have summits without them,” he said.
One of the most divisive subjects is migration - western EU states and the European Commission have called for relocations and burden-sharing, but eastern EU countries do not want to take part.
Another important issue at the summit is security.
France and Germany are pushing for deeper military cooperation, with joint battle groups and a European military headquarters.
Hungary and the Czech Republic had already expressed their support for a European army.
But Ireland’s Enda Kenny has insisted on his country’s neutrality, and said he will bring up his country’s “red lines” on deeper defence cooperation.
Sweden’s prime minister Stefan Lofven also expressed doubt over anything that would amount to an EU army, and said that his country would not support such a move.
Lithuania’s president Dalia Grybauskaite was even more blunt.
“I have never heard about EU army, there is a misunderstanding, better cooperation on defence, yes, but not an army, we cannot replace Nato, we cannot duplicate Nato,” she said.
She also warned that EU fragmentation went further than Brexit. “We have no choice, but to solve these issues,” she said.