It was a big surprise to see an institutional crisis unfold this week, with the harsh and undiplomatic reaction of Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos to a letter by Council President Donald Tusk. But this glitch aside, one has to praise the leaders of the EU countries for their unity over three other difficult issues.
This summit will roll over the sanctions on Russia, imposed in response to the annexation of Crimea. Although this is a difficult decision, which has economic downsides for many EU members, there is no doubt that EU leaders will extend them for another six months.
Sanctions could be phased out or lifted in case of progress in the implementation of the Minsk agreement.
In theory, any EU country, even the smallest, could wreck the sanctions by dangling a veto. Mostly for internal policy reasons, several countries have made noises to indicate that they are against the sanctions: Italy, Slovakia and Hungary more than others, while Bulgaria’s parliament on one occasion was very close to voting down the common EU decision.
EU countries stood united in the face of the decision by US President Donald Trump to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. And they rebuffed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s suggestion that Europe should follow the US in moving its embassies there.
This happened despite expectations from the Israeli side that several Eastern European countries would align with the US position.
Last but not least, the 27 stood united in the first phase of the Brexit talks, despite expectations from London that this unity would be paper-thin.
In particular, Commission negotiator Michel Barnier was able to stay in command despite some attempts to start talks on parallel tracks and at higher levels. Theresa May understood Juncker’s stern message that she should not attempt to go over the Frenchman’s head.
This unity will be equally important in the next phase but more difficult to achieve. As one diplomat said, for some countries aviation or exchange of goods, or financial services may be more important than for others.
But no matter how tedious and difficult the process will be, there is hope and expectation that EU countries will be able to keep that spirit.
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Look out for…
EU leaders discuss Brexit after British PM Theresa May suffered defeat as remainers MPs defected.
Views are the author’s