The leaders of the European Union 27 (EU27), minus the UK, met in Bratislava on 16 September. The summit addressed the root causes of the political problems of the European Union, recognising the insecurity felt by many Europeans and their fears about migration, terrorism and the economic and social future. Donald Tusk declared after the talks that there was agreement that the European Union “is the best instrument we have” to tackle certain problems, despite its imperfections.
Bratislava Declaration and Roadmap
To address the root causes of political problems of the Union, the summit adopted ‘The Bratislava Declaration’ in which the following was affirmed:
“Although one country has decided to leave the EU remains indispensable for the rest of us […] we need the EU not only to guarantee peace and democracy and the security of our people. We need the EU to serve better their needs and wishes to live, study, work, move and prosper freely across our continent”.
The EU27 also drew up the ‘Bratislava Roadmap’ as a guide to tackling social and political issues within the EU. The Bratislava documents are analysed in detail in Aislinn Dwyer’s recent blog ‘The Bratislava Summit – A Declaration of Division?’.
The Roadmap was intended to be the beginning of a process that would be advanced at future meetings of the European Council and at a ‘Europe of 27’ summit in Malta in February. The March 2017 celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaty would round off the process and set out orientations for the Union’s future. The European Commission indicated that it is working on a white paper for the Rome gathering, which will address the need to strengthen and reform the Economic and Monetary Union and take account of the political and democratic challenges facing Member States after Brexit.
Upon leaving the Bratislava Summit, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras commented that he left the meeting “with guarded optimism that something might change” while insisting that “if we do not embrace the notion of solidarity we will not escape from the crisis.” Mr. Tsipras noted that the European social acquis must form part of discussions once again and that social protection must be expanded. Moreover, he criticised the attitude of European nations towards the rules of the Stability and Growth Pact, claiming that it was necessary to stop treating the rules as if they were “Commandments of Moses written in stone”.
Italy’s then Prime Minister Matteo Renzi lamented the summit’s lack of concrete ideas on promoting growth and pointed to the anomaly of Germany’s massive current-account surplus. The Economist praised Mr Renzi for exposing “the fearful, almost timid mood that has taken hold in Europe.”
The Visegrád Group produced yet another lengthy Joint Statement which supported the strategic political approach of the summit and introduced a new concept – ‘flexible solidarity’ – as the basis for future migration policy, enabling Member States “to decide on specific forms of contribution taking into account their experience and potential.”
French President Francois Hollande gave an insight into the making of the Bratislava documents, saying that as usual, the European leaders “got there in the end”. He noted that some thought that it would be possible to end the summit without a declaration, but that the leaders later realised that it was “better to have a declaration than no declaration at all.” He acknowledged that the roadmap was based largely on Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union address, but concluded that, after the summit debate it became the EU27’s roadmap.
The European Trade Union Confederation was disappointed with the results of Bratislava meeting, stating that it fell well short of the expectations of the ETUC. The Confederation remarked that it “awaits more than a vision, and expects specific proposals to improve economic policies to tackle unemployment and inequality, and raise standards of living for all workers; and to create new and progressive social policies and rights.”
Business Europe’s President, Emma Marcegaglia, commended the roadmap on containing useful first steps, but remarked that MS had much to do in terms of delivering on these initiatives. In particular, Ms. Marcegaglia noted that the Member States must answer citizens’ security concerns and boost confidence in the EU by protecting external borders and safeguarding the Schengen area against illegal immigration.
The Economist expressed scepticism about the “beginning of a ‘period of reflection’ that will culminate in a set of shiny new initiatives next March” and commented that “if the failed attempt to keep Britain inside the EU provides any lessons for others it is that years of unchecked attrition warfare on Brussels may have nasty consequences.”
The Guardian also commented that “[w]hile Europe stares ahead, Britain remains entangled in our own uncertainties: outside but looking in.”
The Reaction from the Irish Government
Following the Summit, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, reported to Dail Éireann that “The Bratislava summit on 16 September was part of the process of political reflection” and that he
acknowledged the “strong concerns our partners have on migration and security and assured them that Ireland will continue to contribute to the response to the migration crisis”. The Taoiseach also stated that the Irish government would engage in the further development of the Common Security and Defence Policy in support of international peace and security, as provided for in the EU treaties.
And then, Trump
The result of the US Presidential Election has added a new variable into the mix.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s statement on the US result highlights the history and fundamental significance of the European Union as a community of values:
“Germany and America are connected by values of democracy, freedom and respect for the law and the dignity of man, independent of origin, skin colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views. I offer the next President of the United States close cooperation on the basis of these values.”
This insight may point to the thrust of the German input to the ‘period of reflection’ called for by the Bratislava Process.
Future of Bratislava
It remains to be seen the extent to which the Bratislava Declaration and Roadmap will be transformed into concrete proposals in the coming months. Given the dissatisfaction with The European Union often cited by far-right or populist parties gaining popularity in various Member States, it would be wise if concrete proposals were not only formed but were also seen to change the lives of ordinary Europeans for the better. In this atmosphere of political change and anger, Europe does not have time to search for a vision. It must deliver one.