A low-key agenda is expected as EU diplomats head to Sibiu, Romania for a Summit that will set Brexit aside for an agenda that focuses on the future of the bloc just two weeks before Europe’s elections.
EU leaders will pledge the bloc’s unity despite the fact that the summit was initially planned as the first major gathering of EU leaders in the wake of Brexit. With the UK’s withdrawal now delayed, Europe’s leaders have to water down their expectations as British Prime Minister Theresa May may or may the Transylvanian city of 150,000.
The head of the EU-27 has narrowed down the framework, consisting of 10 commitments, for the EU’s future, according to the draft communique seen by New Europe. According to an EU official, the smaller communique which is to be finalised by the EU’s sherpas on 6 may, with no changes expected to take place.
In his 2017 State of the EU speech, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker roadmap for the bloc to be more united and more democratic. Responding to that call from two years ago, the EU-27 will “continue to protect our way of life, democracy, and the rule of law” and “uphold our shared values and principles.”
Those pledges will be accompanied by a commitment to a foreign policy that sees the EU declare its future role in the world, including being “more assertive and effective in defending its interests”. What most worries Brussels is the rise of China. Beijing’s assertiveness in a number of areas has made several of Europe’s head-of-state very anxious and with a greater commitment to wanting to “position Europe as a global player in the new strategic context”.
“Europe will be a responsible global leader” and will “uphold and develop the rules-based international order, to make the most of new trading opportunities and to jointly tackle global issues such as preserving our environment and fighting climate change.” The EU’s communique says, according to the draft seen by New Europe.
Heading into this year’s summit, the mood is somewhat more optimistic than three years ago, shortly after the UK’s referendum that saw the electorate choose to voluntarily quit the EU.
At the time, there was this feeling that nothing was going to work. There was Brexit, there was an economic crisis, migration crisis,” and through this very negative tone, the leaders vowed to deliver. Today, things are nowhere near as grim and the EU has to be pleased with the stabilisation of the economy and the migration issue. At this point, Illegal migration is down by almost 98%, the economy is doing well, with six years of consecutive growth and more people in jobs than ever before.
The knock-on effect of Brexit on Europe’s economy has not been as catastrophic as some had originally predicted. A dominant international diplomatic force, the UK was not expected to be the weakest link at the negotiating table and most anticipated that the EU would not be able to sustain a sense of unity, both of which have not proven to have come to pass.
The Security Union remains a top priority for the incoming Commission, with a “genuine European Defence Union to make defence cooperation within the EU the norm rather than the exception,” as the centre piece.
The EU’s much-needed competitiveness could see a big boost with the full implementation of the single market and a new focus for research and innovation.
“We need to invest in key European digital capacities and work together to boost Europe-made and human-centric artificial intelligence,” the Commission said just a few weeks after tabling its proposal on the EU’s Artificial Intelligence initiative.
The Commission will also commit to continue to deliver on the European Pillar of Social Rights to achieve social inclusion and equality, including by addressing regional disparities, minorities’ needs, gender issues and the challenge of an ageing population. To remain sustainable, Europe needs a modernisation of its economy through sustainable consumption and production patterns. This would move the bloc to a resource-efficient circular economy that promotes green growth, bio-economy and sustainable innovations, that will limit the bloc’s impact on climate change.
The EU also needs to reposition itself as a global leader through consistent and strong support for a multilateral, rules-based global order with the United Nations at its core, according to the Commission. Developing strong relations with close neighbours and strengthening the euro’s role in the global economy would further secure the EU’s economic and monetary independence.
Post-EU elections Summit ahead
EU leaders are expected to meet right after the 23-26 May elections where they will discuss decisions on who will replace Juncker.
The discussion, according to an EU official, will not focus on specific names, but rather political parties, gender balances in the EU Institutions.
What remains to be seen is how the EU members will push their candidate then for Europe’s top job while also having to consider German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s favoured candidate in the race, Manfred Weber from the European People’s Party.
London talks Brexit
With the Sibiu summit so soon before the EU elections, Britain’s May won’t have as much time as she would need to achieve a breakthrough on Brexit, but the impact of her possible presence in Romania will be fairly negligible when it comes to any discussion about who will succeed Juncker.