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28/09/2016

Bratislava summit to focus on security

Global Europe

Bratislava summit to focus on security

Bratislava's Presburg Castle will host the EU27 on 16 September.

[Guillaume Speurt/Flickr]

The informal Bratislava summit of the 27 heads of state and government of the post-Brexit EU will focus mostly on internal and external security, a senior diplomat told Brussels journalists today (2 September).

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the official revealed the state of play of the summit, which will take place in the Slovak capital on 16 September, two days after Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s ‘State of the Union’ speech in the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Initially, the Slovak Presidency tagged the Bratislava summit as intended to kick off the discussion on the future of EU following Brexit. The summit is “informal”, because the UK has not yet left the Union, but its prime minister is not invited.

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An EU summit without the UK prime minister on 16 September in Bratislava will kick off the discussion on the future of EU following Brexit, EU leaders decided today (29 June).

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No formal discussion regarding Brexit is expected, because the UK has not triggered Article 50 by this date, opening the process of divorce negotiations, expected to last two years.

Shuttle diplomacy

During the shuttle diplomacy aimed at preparing the Bratislava summit, “Brexit proper” was not discussed very much, the diplomat said, referring to the consultations led by Council President Donald Tusk and the various meetings organised in the last weeks by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande and Italian PM Matteo Renzi.

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European Council President Donald Tusk met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel over dinner in Berlin yesterday (18 August). This is a first step in a series of trips to EU countries in preparation for the 16 September Bratislava informal summit on the future of the EU, following Brexit.

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'Big Three' leaders insist EU not finished after Brexit

The leaders of Italy, France and Germany insisted Monday (22 August) that Britain’s shock decision to quit the European Union would not kill the bloc. Merkel suggested she could be flexible over EU budget rules, as Rome grapples to kickstart its stalling economy.

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Leaders will meet in the Bratislava castle for a morning session, will have lunch in another location, possibly a boat in the Danube, and will return to the castle for an afternoon session. The summit is expected to end at 18:30. The outcome of the summit will be a statement by Council President Donald Tusk, not summit conclusions, as this is not a formal gathering of the Union’s leaders.

“I feel there is a kind of convergence that the core [of the Bratislava summit] should be around the concept of security,” the diplomat said. He explained that security was understood in the broaded sense – internal, external, which includes fight against terrorism, protection of borders, but also energy and economic security.

Opinion polls across Europe have clearly shown that for citizens, fight against terrorism and security as such were the most important issues, the diplomat said. He added that the economic issues, which until a couple of years took centre stage, were no longer the main concern of the people.

The diplomat acknowledged that some countries would try to bring additional issues, namely Germany would push for the digital agenda, and France for the youth employment agenda. But he added that overall there was little appetite to go deeply in issues other than security.

The beginning of a process

It appears that the Bratislava summit would be the start a process of informal discussions between EU leaders outside Brussels. Another such summit may be held under the Maltese presidency in February, followed by a summit next March in Rome.

Asked if the summit would discuss the issue of creating a European army, as some Eastern European countries recently asked for, the diplomat said he didn’t believe such a thing would ever happen.

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Eastern EU countries on Friday (26 August) pushed for the bloc to create a joint army as they met with Germany for talks on sketching Europe’s post-Brexit future.

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“Maybe they don’t know what they are talking about,” said the official, in reference to the premiers of the Czech Republic and Hungary, who raised the issue.

Asked if the Bratislava summit would discuss the shift of powers within the Union, as was initially anticipated, the diplomat said he didn’t expect it to happen.

Slovakia advocates returning EU power to capitals

Speaking to Brussels journalists on a press trip to Bratislava, the Slovak premier, and his foreign minister, shed light on their ambitions for steering the Union for the next six months, and laying the groundwork for a rethink of the EU, following the shock of the UK referendum.

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The discussion should not be about “more” or “less” Europe, he said.

The official gave negative replies, when asked if the issue of the controversial pipeline project Nord Stream 2, or TTIP, could be discussed.

Regarding the EU-Turkey deal and the possible consequences in the event of failure, he said this should be discussed at the level of foreign ministers meeting in Bratislava today.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is in Brussels to iron out issues in preparation for the summit. A meeting at the Sherpa level will take place on 12 September, and the Coreper ambassadors will give a final touch to the draft Statement on 14 September.