EU leaders gather in the Romanian city of Sibiu this week to talk about the future of Europe but what kind of chat will be off limits over coffee and cake?
The big meet-up has been on the cards for quite some time and has regularly been billed as the big refresh for a UK-less EU; an opportunity to right the ship and get it back on course.
But the Union is not free of Albion yet, so whether the Sibiu summit will live up to its hype is very much up in the air. What is certain is that the ‘B’ word will not be welcome when the leaders gather on Thursday. [Note that Theresa May won’t be among them this time].
Many of us in Brussels have been laid low by Brexit for several months, and now diplomats are adamant that the malaise will not infect the Sibiu talks.
Western EU states are generally keen to use the summit for its intended purpose, a deep dive into issues like single & digital market integration, climate change, social justice and so on, but what the Central and Eastern countries will do is still unclear.
For example, Dutch PM Mark Rutte wants to talk about how the European Commission does things, not what it does, rather than using up more pre-election time to go over the same ground about current challenges, be it Brexit, migration or populism.
Sibiu is, after all, Europe’s chance to offer up the closest thing possible to a joint manifesto before the elections. The Council priorities only come out after the May vote so a hard-hitting declaration could be a real statement ahead of the still-difficult-to-call poll.
The Commission published its contribution to the debate last week and the content has been widely acknowledged, if not welcomed.
A significant number of Europeans have been found to make their minds up about who to vote for only in the last month or even weeks of the election campaign, so a big eleventh-hour statement is not without its merits.
Brexit won’t be the only topic absent from the official Sibiu agenda. Brussels is rumour-milling itself into a frenzy over who might be the next presidents of the various EU institutions but the candidates for the top jobs will only be discussed informally in Romania.
Those informal chats will probably also broach the subject of whether extra summits will be needed to dole out the plumb positions or whether it’ll all be handled in one bumper session in June.
If diplomats and leaders don’t steel themselves, the Future of Europe summit might end up being just another brainstorm about our current ailments.
(Prediction: Jean-Claude Juncker will at some point joke that people from Sibiu and Luxembourg speak the same language. Trust me.)
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Views are the author’s
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]