Another summit is upon us this week, and it’s Brexit time again. Another summit wasted on squaring the circle of the UK’s indecisiveness. Cynics might say that surely, EU leaders could put their time to better use.
To be fair, if it wasn’t Brexit, it would have been something else. A problem always comes along, like migration, Trump or Russia. And they are all legitimate issues that deserve attention.
But when will the leaders find the time to sit down and think about strategic, long-term issues, issues that tend to end up under the carpet or fall by the wayside?
European leaders, within and without the EU institutions, have conveniently forgotten the attempts to replace the EU’s treaties with a European constitution. It was rejected by the Dutch and French voters in 2005 and substituted by the Treaty of Lisbon. Perhaps it’s time to revisit the issue, but appetite doesn’t seem to be there.
Does anyone still remember Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker’s five possible scenarios for Europe? It was all the rage in the spring of 2017 but it hasn’t really been followed up. The Future EU Summit in Sibiu on May 9 is the last chance to see how serious the exercise was. At least for this Commission.
Another bit of soul-searching was launched in France, the Citizens’ Initiative, and the meagre results were recently presented to the French government.
Those findings will also be shared with the EU leaders at the Summit, where they will hear generalities such as that their citizens highly regard the EU’s common values and interests, and would prefer a higher level of environmental and social ambition.
In the big-wide world out there, the EU is struggling to find its global role, ride out the trade wars that are threatening to disrupt our rules-based system, and keep Russia’s activities firmly on its radar, if not in check. Not to mention the growing global competition. The world has moved on in the past 20 years. The EU, not so much.
A strategic question worth asking is whether the Union should now focus on its internal problems and divisions or perhaps boldly project itself into the future. Or both.
The issue of further enlargement will never again jump to the top of the agenda – that train left 15 years ago – but it cannot be perpetually postponed. The Western Balkans will either join or it won’t. In which case, we risk seeing renewed tensions and a growing influence of Moscow and Bejing.
Perhaps a good signal would be to invite them, or at least the frontrunners like Montenegro and Serbia, to the roundtable where the future of Europe is discussed.
And then, at some point, the Union also needs to decide how far its expansion should go, striking a balance between its own and Russia’ geopolitical interests.
But if the leaders keep hopping from one pressing issue to another, with some footwork done by the Commission in the meantime, chances are we will always miss the big picture.
by Alexandra Brzozowski
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Look out for…
After Brexit breakfast in the Netherlands and lunch in Germany, British PM Theresa May will touch ground in Brussels later this evening to meet with Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and Council boss Donald Tusk.
Views are the author’s