It appeared on the outside that following Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of The European Union address on Wednesday the meeting of 27 leaders of the EU states would be a dynamic get-together to tackle the problems currently facing the EU. With Britain not present, the plan was to work out what format the Brexit negotiations would take and try to form a united front for the forthcoming meetings; a “road map” as described in official statements that were being passed around the day before.
As the summit was underway, President of the European Council Donald Tusk called on EU leaders to take a “brutally honest” look at the current EU, saying that “we must not let this crisis go to waste. We haven’t come to Bratislava to comfort each other or even worse to deny the real challenges we face in this particular moment in the history of our community after the vote in the UK,” he said.
The Slovak Prime Minister, Robert Fico, who is hosting the summit, said the leaders “all want to show unity. After Brexit and the risks connected with Brexit, it is absolutely necessary to me to be very honest.”
This summit was supposed to be an in-depth review at how the EU can restore public confidence and show its citizens that the European project is not on its knees. Unfortunately, if today’s quotes from some of the leaders are anything to go by, it seems that internal disagreements were fast becoming the main point of discussion. With the issue of how the EU is currently dealing with the migration and refugee crisis taking the centre stage in the discussions, it now looks as if the summit had quickly fallen into the trap of being a case of whose fault it is.
Matteo Renzi, the Italian Prime Minister, turned down the opportunity to host a press conference with Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Francois Hollande because he believed that there has been no concentrated effort to help the southern states’ faltering economies. “I’m not satisfied with the conclusions [today] on growth or on immigration,” said Renzi, “To define as a step forward today’s document on migrants would require a form of fantasy, a verbal high-wire act”, added the Italian Prime Minister.
To add salt into the wounds of what seemed like a difficult day, Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister, condemned the EU’s migration and refugee policy as “self-destructive and naïve”.
Angela Merkel was still optimistic, however, stating that “we have to show with our actions that we can get better.” She added that the EU must improve “in the domain of security, internal and external security, the fight against terrorism, the cooperation in the field of defence”. Standing alongside her French counterpart at a press conference which was notable by the absence of Matteo Renzi, they struggled to portray show of unity, despite their calls for “a vision of an attractive EU they can trust and support.”
It remains to be seen if this summit will go down as a turning point in the fortunes of the EU, so damaged from within by internal pressure from states with a national agenda as their first priority. But can we really expect anything different? What is fast becoming a foundation built on bad soil, the EU is now feeling the wrath of over expansion and half written treaties which go only so far to stop rouge states from stepping out of line. Were we better off with the structure of 1990 rather than 2016? Did the European Union move too fast, expecting states which had experienced totalitarianism and marshal rule to simply rush towards a feeling of mutual agreement without suspicion and mistrust? We must accept that there are now situations where some of the states are not on the same playing field when it comes to liberal thinking, globalisation and an open door policy on further unity. Some of these states were prepared to accept the good times, but fall back on old nationalistic mistrust when confronted with a problem that they partly need to shoulder. The summit needed a weeding out of those unwilling to knuckle down and work a solution which is in the common good and not pandering to populist local politics. The long term outcome of Bratislava is still to be determined, but one thing is for sure – it will not be a united front. So what is our assessment? Well it’s a B for effort, but a D for action.
Images in this article are courtesy of the European Parliament website.