The Brief, powered by The International Bromine Council (BSEF) – The futility of summitry

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter

Having long been billed as the ‘make or break’ Brexit summit, Wednesday’s European Council shin-dig turned out to be a complete waste of time.

Theresa May made it clear that she was not going to offer anything new, though many of the EU-27 were still disappointed when that turned out to be true on Wednesday night.

And that was only the start. Leaders were kept in the Council’s egg-shaped building for a euro summit to discuss budgetary supervision and then the Asia-Europe Meeting. The only people who can have genuinely enjoyed the week were Brussels’ restauranteurs.

To summit veterans, the endless series of futile and, frankly, tedious leaders’ meetings on Brexit is eerily reminiscent of the Greek debt crisis – during which hacks were forced to write an almost identical story nearly every week for about four years.

So it is with the Brexit process. Oak trees grow more quickly than the Brexit talks have progressed.

The lesson is that politics by summit doesn’t work any more. Europe has been blessed by desperately few leaders of substance in the past decade. Most are weak and highly reactive to the demands of domestic lawmakers and public opinion.

Back in 2012 and 2013, other eurozone countries, particularly the north Europeans, couldn’t comprehend the fact that the Greek governments couldn’t get bail-out deals passed at home that had been painfully agreed in Brussels. If a deal had been struck at a summit, then it must be so, right?

Wrong, and the same sense of disconnect between the manoeuvres in Brussels and at home exists with Brexit.

The EU-27 and Michel Barnier’s Commission team may be almost entirely focused on the Irish border question, but the fact is that whether Mrs May can cobble together a compromise on the Irish backstop – a 21st century equivalent of the Schleswig-Holstein conundrum – and secure a deal in Brussels, is frankly neither here nor there if she can’t get support for it at home.

The chances of her being able to get that deal backed by the UK Parliament looks very slim. Her ministers know this and are now trying to ensure that, despite having promised MPs a ‘meaningful’ vote on the deal, MPs will only get a ‘take it or leave it’ vote.

Their hope is that this will dissuade MPs from voting it down, which would effectively end May’s government and, probably, lead to another election.

This correspondent believes that keeping Britain in the customs union is the only option that will command a majority in the House of Commons. Unfortunately, for Mrs May at least, neither she nor her bitterly divided Conservative party could survive that.

Greece went through five elections and four prime ministers between 2009 and 2015. What’s the betting that the UK will have matched that dubious record by 2021?


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The Roundup

By Alexandra Brzozowski

At the ASEM summit, with around 50 global leaders in attendance, the EU spearheaded multilateralism as European leaders sought to build support from Asia in defence of free trade and the fight against climate change, to counter the growing US protectionism.

On the sidelines, Council President Tusk gave the gala dinner a Polish touch, had time for a quick chat with British PM May that left gesture interpreters guessing and gave Commission chief Juncker’s cabinet chief a telling off in public.

Speaking of: In the latest Brexit update, the thorny Irish border issue could sink the negotiations on Britain’s exit, EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said.

Visas for visitors from Britain after Brexit? “Fake news!” insisted French President Macron, scoffing at the idea and criticizing British inability to reach a Brexit agreement.

EU leaders agreed to impose sanctions to stiffen their response to cyberattacks and to rush through new curbs on online campaigning by political parties to protect next year’s European election from interference. Here you can find a little road map in understanding Russia’s cyber actors.

The US is making a number of steps in the right direction in order to fall in line with the EU-US privacy shield agreement, EU officials said.

Italy’s ‘unprecedented’ breach of fiscal rules clouded the euro summit this week as Italy’s prime minister insisted that there is no room to change Rome’s ‘beautiful’ budget.

Progressive forces must stand up to the rise of far-right movements by building a social Europe, and the run-up to the EU elections provides a “historic window of opportunity”, leftist leader Gregor Gysi told EURACTIV in an interview.

Meanwhile, German FDP European elections frontrunner, Nicola Beer, says that Europe needs a two-speed, project-related Europe.

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s most recognisable landmark and the best example of unfinished architecture in Europe, has agreed to pay a hefty fine after operating without a building permit for well over a century.

Russia is not amused with the situation around Macedonia. It’s foreign ministry issued a communiqué blasting what it called “roughest interference” by the US and leading EU states in pushing through the Skopje parliament the Macedonia-Greece name dispute agreement.

Look out for…

The Polish local elections take place on Sunday, where Poland’s ruling nationalist face a key test as it gears up for EU and legislative elections next year. Here’s a local Green candidate to watch.

Views are the author’s

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