EU leaders look at 6 months of rebuilding its dream
Bratislava, Slovakia — With policy splits among European Union countries putting their bloc under existential threat, national leaders agreed Friday on a six-month time table to come up with solutions for the multiple crises hobbling their union. But they delivered few concrete commitments on ways to bridge the deep differences.
While not on the agenda, Britain’s decision to leave the EU hung over the meeting, reinforced by the absence of British Prime Minister Theresa May. But the 27 leaders attending talks in the Slovak capital had plenty of other divisive issues to discuss: Migration, a common European defense policy, worrying unemployment and the anemic state of the economy
In the end, the leaders committed to have a clear roadmap of the way ahead and some practical results when they meet in late March to mark the 60th anniversary of the EU founding Treaty of Rome in the Italian capital.
“Europe can, must move forward, as long as it has clear priorities: protection, security, prosperity and the future of the youth,” said French President Francois Hollande in a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Merkel called the current situation in the EU “critical,” not only because Britain voted in June to leave the EU, the first ever member to do so.
She noted the migration crisis and economic problems that have fed growing disenchantment with the EU among many member states. Still, she said there was a common willingness to bounce back beyond the many issues that divide and even anger individual EU nations.
EU Council President Donald Tusk agreed, saying the mood in the EU now was “sober but not defeatist.”
Still, comments by some leaders as they left the meeting suggested hard work ahead.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the staunchest opponent of liberal EU migration policies, again blamed Germany for refusing to set limits on migrant arrivals under Merkel. Unless Berlin caps arrivals, he said, the flood will continue “because everyone sees … that there is a place in Europe where the good life can be achieved, where they are welcomed and where their needs are taken care of.”
Orban said Hungary should be praised instead of criticized for erecting a razor-wire barrier at its southern borders.
The refugee emergency has been particularly divisive and Orban has been one of the most abrasive voices as he makes common cause with other countries to the East — Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland — to oppose solutions coming out of EU headquarters in Brussels.
At the end of a “difficult day” of consultations, Orban said the good news is that all 27 remaining EU members said they would stay in the union and work together to improve it. But he complained that the current “self-defeating and naive” migration policies would remain.
Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, acknowledged the divisions. “There are different views, different ideas,” he said.