British PM asserts her role in EU 'nest of doves'
By Eric Maurice
At her first EU summit on Thursday (20 October), British prime minister Theresa May let other leaders know that she was not there only to wait until Brexit formally happens but said nothing about the upcoming process.
Although she hinted several times that she would seek a so-called "hard Brexit", few EU colleagues wanted to cross swords with her before the negotiations have started.
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Her host in Brussels, European Council president Donald Tusk set a friendly tone before the summit started, saying that she was not entering a lion's den but a "nest of doves."
"She'll be absolutely safe with us. And I hope that she will also realise that the European Union is simply the best company in the world," he said.
Upon her arrival, May said she had come "with a clear message. The UK is leaving the EU but we will continue to play a full role until we leave."
She tried to prove it by first calling on the EU to "show a robust and united stance in the face of Russian aggression" in Syria.
Then, early in the summit, after Slovak prime minister Robert Fico gave an update about work on the roadmap for EU reforms agreed at the Bratislava summit on16 September, May took her colleagues by surprise.
She said that she "recognises and understands" the desire of the 27 other leaders to meet without her, as they did in the Slovak capital to discuss the future of the EU without the UK. But she insisted that when decisions will be taken that could affect all 28 member states, the UK should be there.
Tusk told journalists after the meeting: "Our regular meetings will be of course with 28 member states".
He added that after the UK started its exit negotiations, other leaders would have a "right and also [a] legal obligation to meet at 27 to discuss [their] strategy."
"There is nothing extraordinary," he said, adding that he "would have preferred the 28 member states' format not only for the next months but also for the next years and decades."
Diplomats said May was active during the summit discussions on migration, Russia, and Syria.
Then, shortly after midnight, she gave a quick update on her government's position on the upcoming Brexit negotiations.
She spoke only five minutes to confirm that she would trigger article 50, the exit procedure, before the end of March
"Nothing revolutionary," one official said.
"She said she will enter the discussion with the most constructive spirit. We'll see," French president Francois Hollande said.
Before the meeting, he had warned that if May wanted a "hard Brexit, negotiations will be hard."
German chancellor Angela Merkel said that May's message was "OK", adding that it was "a good basis for the upcoming work together", even if the Brexit talks will be "a difficult path".