Bratislava EU Summit: Quo Vadis?

Last week on September 16th, an informal meeting of the heads of states or governments of the 27 European Union member states took place in Bratislava, Slovakia. The choice of the city was not random. Starting from July 1st, Slovakia is holding a rotating Council Presidency, a job which involves promoting Council’s work on EU legislation, ensuring continuity of the EU agenda and cooperation among its member states. Has the EU moved forward after Bratislava?

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Last week on September 16th, an informal meeting of the heads of states or governments of the 27 European Union member states took place in Bratislava, Slovakia. The choice of the city was not random. Starting from July 1st, Slovakia is holding a rotating Council Presidency, a job which involves promoting Council’s work on EU legislation, ensuring continuity of the EU agenda and cooperation among its member states. Has the EU moved forward after Bratislava?

The leaders met on the banks of Danube to continue “a political reflection to give impetus to further reforms and to the development of the EU with 27 member countries”. They wanted to show that they stand united and are ready to take back political control of the common future, after Britain voted to leave the EU this June.

For the first time in 40 years, the British Prime Minister was not invited and the topic of Brexit remained on the margins. How long can Theresa May keep postponing with triggering the Article 50 is a rhetorical question, but the EU refuses to openly discuss the issue until then. At least on this, there seems to be a common position.

The discussions largely focused on migration, the effects of globalisation, the slow recovery from the economic crisis and the fear of terrorism.  Bratislava did not produce magical, fast solutions to these complex problems. In large part, it was a “brainstorming session” focusing on ways to provide the internal and external security to the citizens of the EU and bringing its institutions closer to them.

The goal of showing unity has been, at best, achieved only in part. The differences between Western and Eastern European capitals, especially when it comes to ways of resolving the migration crisis, have largely remained. The Visegrad countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) keep pursuing a hard line position on refusing the entry and resettlement of refugees in their countries. Yet, all countries seem to agree that solutions to the current internal and external challenges can be found only inside the Union. Exit is not an option for any of the remaining 27 countries.

In the run-up to the summit, media reported about the developments in the common European defence policy. The plans to deepen European military co-operation were also reinforced in the State of the Union address by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, 2 days prior to Bratislava. Juncker called for the creation of EU military headquarters in Brussels.  If the EU leaders are serious about this plan, Federica Mogherini, EU’s foreign policy chief, has all the chances of leaving the legacy of laying the ground for the “European Army”, a long-term dream of European federalists. With the UK leaving the EU, it will be a lot easier to move forward with this plan.  It is too soon to speculate on the content but fears are already growing that the hypothetic EU military planning and operations headquarters could be a rival to NATO. In times of hybrid threats from the revanchist Putin’s Russia and the radical Islamic State, separating capabilities, undermining NATO and weakening transatlantic partnership does not seem to be a good idea. The EU needs to find a formula which would involve defence integration of EU member states and enhancement of NATO simultaneously.

Ukraine was not explicitly discussed during the Summit. Yet the future of the country depends on the ability of the EU member states to find unity to keep addressing current challenges (including, keeping a common position on sanctions against Russia), protect European values and reassure its citizens about the value added of the Union. Effectiveness of European integration in reforming the country and European Commission’s “carrots and sticks” approach in relation to the Ukrainian government is directly linked to the internal and external reputation of the EU. The more disunited EU becomes, the weaker its transformative powers in the neighbourhood will become.

Bratislava opened a complex process of building the unity and finding answers to the existential questions the EU is facing today.


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