Saturday

21st Oct 2017

EU leaders promise action after Tallinn brainstorming

  • EU leaders brainstormed in Tallinn on the future direction of Europe (Photo: eu2017ee/Flickr)

EU leaders agreed on Friday (29 September) to work out a roadmap of concrete actions to address the concerns of EU citizens, who have been increasingly voting for populist parties across the continent.

European Council chief Donald Tusk will consult with all member states in the next two weeks and will draw up for the next year a working program of palpable actions that EU leaders will then agree on.

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It would include the launch of a permanent defence cooperation by the end of the year, a euro summit in December, and a Western Balkan summit next year in Sofia, Bulgaria.

"I will concentrate on finding real solutions to real problems to citizens' concerns with security, migration, and unemployment," Tusk said after an informal EU summit in Tallinn.

Earlier in the day he suggested a "step-by-step", "issue-by-issue" approach.

After the Brexit vote last year, and amid the increasing popularity of populist parties on the continent, EU leaders have been focusing on restarting the EU project and delivering concrete results to counter the rise of anti-establishment political forces.

In the wake of the UK decision to leave, renewed efforts to deepen integration gave birth to a flurry of ideas that inspired Tusk to liken the leaders' brainstorming to the popular song contest, Eurovision.

"Some may think it is a kind of Eurovision contest, perhaps it is. But together we will make good use of it," he quipped when arriving at the summit on Friday.

French president Emmanuel Macron came to the event with a bag full of ideas on how to restart the EU engine, with the help of Germany's Angela Merkel, and to cater to the needs of French and other European voters.

He secured the tacit approval of Merkel, who said that there was "a wide agreement" between France and Germany.

"Last night's discussions showed there's a common realisation for the need for a leap forward in Europe," Macron told press on Friday.

Three days after a speech in which he laid out a wide-ranging reform of the EU, he insisted that 2018 - the year before Brexit and the next European elections - will be the right moment to establish a roadmap for the bloc

Others sounded less enthusiastic.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte cautioned against grand visions.

"Under-promise and over-deliver", he advised, adding: "Don't promise an elephant and see a mouse show up."

There is concern among non-eurozone members that implementation of Macron's ideas on a eurozone budget and parliament will lead to two-speed Europe, with those outside the new structures falling behind.

With diverging ideas on how to move ahead, and a looming Brexit, Tusk pledged to the maintain unity of the 27.

"I will do everything in my power to keep the unity of the EU," he told press after the summit.

Waiting for 'miracle' on Brexit

Discussions on the future of Europe were also attended by British prime minister Theresa May, even though the UK leaves the bloc in 2019.

Brexit was not on the menu of EU leaders this time.

That did not stop European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker from saying to press that a "miracle" was needed to have sufficient progress in the exit talks by the end of October to be able to move to trade talks.

The EU has said the UK must settle the issues of citizens' rights, the Irish border, and the UK financial settlement, before discussing future relations.

But Britain has said it wants to talk about future trade arrangements in parallel with the other questions.

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Macron to sell EU plan in Tallinn

EU leaders to discuss French president's reform plan over dinner in Estonia, but German chancellor Angela Merkel's hands tied for now by coalition talks.

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