A summit will be hosted in Bratislava in which Britain won’t participate. Ever since Britain expressed their plans to leave the EU, the things started to change within the European Union.
However, concrete negotiation strategies with the United Kingdom will not be discussed in Bratislava, since London has not yet exited the EU by employing Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
The meeting is being held in Slovakia, which holds the position of EU chairman according to rotation. Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico has stated that the summit will diagnose the “state of health of the EU” after the victory of Eurosceptics in the UK referendum and “prescribe treatment for its illnesses.”
EU leaders have set before themselves the task of “restoring a sense of political unity” in the run up to the Rome Summit in March 2017 dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the European Community – the forerunner of the EU.
Although the summit has been called “informal,” it undoubtedly reflects a new balance of power in the European Union due not only to the Brexit vote, but also formed by the resistance of a number of countries to the policies of Brussels and Berlin. Judging by everything, the agenda will be dramatically changed under pressure from the countries of Southern Europe who demand an easing of the EU’s financial policy, as well as the countries of Central Europe, including the Visegrad Group, who are concerned by the European Union’s too liberal migration policies.
The summit is taking place amidst Europe’s political and financial crisis, and the questions posed at the meeting will be quite unpleasant for the cautious and inert European bureaucrats. These circumstances explain Germany’s desire to reduce tension and avoid critical topics such as Brexit, the migrant crisis, and the rise of right-populist movements.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has already stated that the topic of Brexit will not dominate the day’s agenda in Bratislava, but that “other priorities” will be discussed.
Merkel also remarked that the Bratislava meeting will not be a “summit for big decisions,” as EU leaders will merely determine the program of action for the coming months.
But whether this will happen is in fact unclear. The countries of Southern and Central Europe clearly demonstrate a disobedience towards Brussels and Berlin.
The summit of Mediterranean EU countries (Greece, Italy, France, Spain, Cyprus, and Malta, also joined by Portugal) that was held in Athens on September 9th adopted the so-called “Athens Declaration,” which contains Southern Europe’s demands to Berlin and Brussels. If the fine words about European unity and solidarity are ignored, then the declaration’s essence is its call for an end to the “dogmatic economic regime” and practically abandoning the “Stability and Growth Pact” which is the basis of the European Union’s financial policy that sets strict criteria on budget deficits and public debt.
In other words, debt-ridded Southern Europe, which has ironically been dubbed ClubMed (the name of a tourist agency) is demanding that austerity measures be abandoned and money be spent at the expense of the wealthy countries of Northern Europe. This was explicitly stated by the prime ministers of Greece and Italy, Alexis Tsipras and Matteo Renzi. Their call was de facto supported by French President Francois Hollande.
This is essentially an anti-German position. Hollande already earlier proposed creating a “financial government” for the EU which would assume the debts of all of its members. However, such a “socialization of debts” is unacceptable for Germany and the more efficient EU economies.
Naturally, the Athens Declaration drew severe criticism from the European Commission and leading German politicians. The German Social-Democrat and vice president of the European Parliament, Markus Ferber, expressed the concern that Southern European countries want to form a “coalition of redistributors” who will undermine the financial stability of Europe.
In Ferber’s opinion, the main danger is that, following the UK’s exit from the EU, the southern countries will acquire a veto power in the European Union and push their initiatives.
In turn, European Commissioner Gunther Oettinger has expressed that the Athens summit deepened the rift between the countries with budget deficits and those who have successfully resolved financial problems.
Observers believe that Southern Europe’s “attack” on the “Stability Pact” will begin with special force in January, when Malta will assume the role of EU chair for 6 months.
The Visegrad Group (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland) have declared their particular positions in Bratislava. Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo stated ahead of the summit that the EU should become “closer to its citizens.” Observers see in this a ring of populism and nationalism.
National-populist leaders in Central and Eastern Europe, primarily in Hungary and Poland, believe that Brexit demonstrated the need to toughen positions on migrants and human rights. They have called to “correct the mistakes of the past.”
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban straightforwardly called the EU “rich but weak.” On October 2nd, Hungary will hold a referendum on introducing quotas for migrants and, in the case of a success, will bury the EU’s plans to resettle migrants throughout member countries. This referendum could jeopardize the EU’s main principle – freedom of movement.
Politicians in Brussels and Eurozone countries will have to recognize the drama of the current situation and take appropriate measures before it is too late. But, as experience shows, the leadership of the European Union and EU member states still lack political will and strong leaders capable of making tough decisions.
Angela Merkel, who previously played the role of the informal leader, has practically become a “lame duck” because of her unpopular migration policies. Therefore, the “informal” EU summit in Bratislava could become yet another chatting parlor after which the European crisis will only continue to develop according to its own logic.