What should be discussed at Bratislava summit?

What should be discussed, and why, to move the EU forward? And BTW, in your opinion, is it even possible to move the EU forward (whatever it means)? It seems that security in various forms is one of the topics which may somehow bring EU members states together and will be prominently discussed also on the upcoming informal EU summit in Bratislava. Read few comments.

Welvome to Bratislava. Credit: Andrej Matisak

Welcome to Bratislava. Credit: Andrej Matisak

Erik Jones, Professor of European Studies and International Political Economy, Director of European and Eurasian Studies, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University

Europe’s heads of state and government face a real dilemma.  They want to attract support for European integration from the people of Europe and they also want to show the outside world that the European Union remains a major source of dynamism and innovation.  So the question is how best to achieve those two goals.  Should they propose a new project that will attract everyone’s attention or should they try to come up with some ‘vision’ that explains why Europe still matters.

They seem to be going down the project route.  The Five Presidents’ Report includes a number of new ‘unions’ – fiscal, financial, political, etc.  Now German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande are adding a defense union into the mix.  These projects attract a lot of attention, but usually from the wrong people.  They are attractive to policy experts who debate what institutions should be built and which are not required; how to combine efforts at the member state and EU level; where priority should be given; and how all the pieces interact.  I am one of those policy wonks (for lack of a better term) and I really enjoy those conversations.  The problem is that the same conversations bore most ‘normal’ people who don’t spend their time imagining new intergovernmental and supranational arrangements and who see all this activity as a distraction from serious efforts to address slow economic performance, high unemployment, mass migration, and all the rest.  By the same token, most people outside Europe take new initiatives with a healthy dose of cynicism.  They pay more attention to Europe’s failures at the moment than to its successes; they do not want to repeat mistakes Europeans have already made.  And they wonder how you can build new projects on such shaky foundations.

The problem is that most European leaders distrust the ‘vision’ route.  They all remember a time – mostly from schoolbooks – when Europe was about ‘Franco-German reconciliation’, ‘the end of world war’ and ‘moving beyond the nation state’.  Those were great slogans in the late 1940s and early 1950s that could be used to justify elite policy activity in the face of a largely disinterested but believing public.  The rest of the world was as cynical then as it is today but Europeans proved them wrong.  Each time Europe was relaunched there was another slogan.  Some of these visions of Europe were more successful and some less.  We can all remember times when European integration was less than dynamic and we can remember times when it really captured the imagination.  The 1992 project was a highpoint.  My colleague in Baltimore Nicolas Jabko has looked closely at how the Commission used the language of the market to capture the imagination.  That was the genius of European Commission President Jacques Delors and his team.  That genius did not extend to monetary union, which was in many ways more scary than a true ‘internal market’ even if for the wrong reasons.  (I could go into that in greater detail if you are interested).  The point to remember is that the 1992 project was a highpoint in terms of vision, popular support, and global anticipation for what Europe could become.  That enthusiasm peaked with the negotiation of the Maastricht Treaty and then collapsed during the Maastricht ratification process.  I suspect that is why so many politicians are wary of the ‘vision’ thing.  They know that it cannot last forever and the hangover after the party is a painful one.

For what it is worth, I think Europe’s heads of state and government need to go down the ‘vision’ route in Bratislava.  Europe doesn’t need a ‘project’ at the moment.  It already has too many projects that are half-built and in need of attention.  The Brexit negotiations are going to be absorbing as well.  And let’s not forget all those real-world concerns about slow growth, unemployment, and migration that ‘normal’ people find so important.  There is also the turmoil – both real and potential – in Europe’s wider neighborhood; that is not to mention the real sense of unease that is being generated by the US presidential elections.  No single project can address all these concerns: at worst it will provoke an unnecessary controversy; at best it will just get lost in the mix.

Europe’s leaders need to step back and ask what this project means.  They should pick a value that is a real priority.  At the end of the second world war, that value was peace and reconciliation.  In the 1960s, it was autonomy.  In the 1970s, it was democracy and stability.  In the 1980s, it was prosperity and competitiveness.  The 1990s flirted with too many themes; the 2000s started trying to bring Europe closer to the people and then ended up doing exactly the opposite.  So I think they need to think hard about what the people want right now and how Europe can help them reach that objective.  I think the answer is going to be equality.  Europe is about making sure every country (nation, people) has the opportunity to succeed and no country (nation, people) is left behind.  Europe’s leaders should commit to that objective.  They should explain how it connects really popular, push-button issues like roaming charges and corporate taxation, to the much wider array of European measures to protect consumers, promote market competition, stabilize banks, tackle migration, and project European values abroad.  To make this work, though, they are going to have to really sell the message.  Europe is about equality.  And then they are going to have to learn what it means to ‘walk the walk’ and act in a manner that is consistent with that message.  That is likely to require repatriating some powers back to the member states.  It is also going to mean making exceptions for small countries as well as large ones.  And it is going to mean applying discretion judiciously rather than applying the rules strictly even when they obviously put one or more member states at a disadvantage.  To do all of this, Europe will have to move forward and backwards at the same time.  It will be a complicated dance.  But the difference between that ‘visionary’ future and the vision-less present is that the European people will know why they are doing things and they will have a good intuitive understand of when things are not working properly and when Europe is truly a success.

The rest of the world will have a better appreciation of what Europe is as well.  And they will be able to talk about European success and failure in the same transparent language.  But if you want to build up credibility, that is how things have to be.  Europe has to achieve what it sets out to do and the rest of the world has to be able to understand what that is and why it is important.  If Europe’s heads of state and government go  down this vision route, then ‘Europe’ will be the ‘project’.  It will not be a new project.  We don’t need creativity at the moment.  We need commitment.  And a Europe that promotes equality every country (nation, people) has the opportunity to succeed and no country (nation, people) is left behind is something worth fighting for – not just in Europe and not just for Europeans, but elsewhere as well.

Christian Schweiger, Senior Lecturer in Government, Department of Politics, Durham University

In my view the EU should focus on regrouping in the face of the forthcoming exit of the UK from the EU. Before they can actually look at developing individual policy areas such as defence and security and also asylum and immigration policy further the remaining EU-27 need to be clear about the post-Brexit leadership calibration. It is obvious that Germany is overburdened with determining an inclusive and comprehensive agenda which is supported by the rest of the EU. It therefore is in urgent need of working partners to determine the EU’s post-Brexit policy agenda and also a long-term vision on the purpose of the EU and the eurozone. In this respect the summit offers an unique opportunity to consult the CEE countries, especially the V4 who are currently standing united in their opposition to Germany’s leadership on the migration crisis. The Bratislava summit should act as a forum for an open and inclusive dialogue between the EU-27 on how to overcome the political stalemate on managing the migration problem, including the controversial deal with Turkey. The summit should also consider the future of the eurozone and urgently address the deepening economic and social divisions between the core and the periphery in the EU.

It is obvious that the five remaining largest member states (Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Poland) will have a crucial role in forming working partnerships to determine the EU’s future policy agenda in the EU-27. The problem with this is that France, Italy and Spain are currently economically and politically weak, with France constantly weakening, Spain being embroiled in ongoing political turmoil and the prospect of Italy sliding back into it from a period of relative stability under Renzi after the constitutional referendum this autumn.

This makes Poland’s role ever more crucial. Poland could potentially act as a bridge between the interests of Western and Central-Eastern Europe, especially with regard to migration and overall security. After Brexit Poland (in cooperation with the V4 countries) also has a crucial role to play in pushing forward the deepening of the EU’s defence and security capabilities. This however demands the political willingness to engage constructively. I currently do not detect this in the Szydlo government and also not in Hungary, which will weaken Poland’s and the V4’s position in the EU. Moreover a Polish leadership role, most likely in the context of a strengthened Weimar Triangle, would also demand that Germany shows the willingness to listen to and accept the different Central-Eastern European perspectives on the migration crisis and other strategic issues. This is unlikely to happen as long as Merkel is chancellor, who has shown very little understanding of the CEE position. Merkel also seems to not be able to grasp the importance of Poland and the rest of the CEE region (especially the V4) as close political and economic partners for Germany.

In conclusion I therefore fear that the Bratislava summit will make little progress beyond the current status quo. It is most likely that the summit will be overshadowed by discussions about Brexit and possibly also Turkey. I would also expect Merkel to continue with the tendency to engage in intensive transgovernmental negotiations with only a selected group of member states outside of the collective forum of the Council. She has done this during the eurozone crisis and again more recently in preparation of the Turkey deal which was secretly negotiated in a backroom deal with the Dutch and the Turkish government. This style of leadership, which presents these policy deals as ‘without alternative’ is unlikely to instil a spirit of collective responsibility in the EU and will continue to cement Germany’s semi-hegemony over the EU. If the EU fails to move towards a more inclusive and transparent form of collective leadership and governance it will witness a substantial rise in euroscepticism in the member states, even beyond the current levels.

What really concerns me in this respect is that neither Merkel nor her allies in the EU, such as Luxembourg’s foreign minister Asselborn, seem to understand the extent of the EU’s crisis and the consequential need to regroup on an inclusive basis. The persistent threats to punish the CEE countries for their refusal of refugee quotas which have emerged from within Merkel’s government, are in line with Asselborn’s call earlier today for the expulsion of Hungary from the EU. The Asselborns within the EU fail to grasp that the EU’s deepening international divisions and its dwindling public legitimacy cannot be resolved on the basis of elitist and patronizing enforcement of so-called common liberal values. The EU-27 post-Brexit needs to regroup and rebuild its legitimacy and public trust on the basis of a comprehensive and open dialogue which takes into account the diversity of national interests and opens the EU’s governance towards greater transparency and public engagement. This will be the major test for the Bratislava summit and it remains to be seen if it can set the EU on the right course.

Carolin RügerProfessur für Europaforschung und Internationale Beziehungen, Institut für Politikwissenschaft und Soziologie, Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

Security will definitely be one of the hot topics and buzz words during the Bratislava informal summit. One the one hand, this is due to the fact that the looming Brexit opened a window of opportunity to advance in certain matters that had been blocked by the UK, for example a permanent military headquarters. On the other hand, security related topics like terrorism now top the list of most important issues facing the EU in the eyes of its citizens (according to opinion polls). If this security related debate will move the EU forward depends on the question if the heads of state and government will be ready, this time, to walk the talk. The EU does not need more papers and fuzzy ideas about stronger cooperation in security matters. It is all about delivering now.

Another item that should top the agenda are economy stimulating measures. (Youth) unemployment may not be in the headlines at the moment, but this does not mean it has ceased to exist.

In my opinion, a third and very important item should be solidarity. This fundamental principle is the bedrock of European integration and relates to almost each and every EU policy. Unfortunately, it seems to be forgotten at the moment. Heads of State and Government should recall solidarity – not only when meeting in Bratislava, but also when getting back home to their national electorates. It is easy to be European while being among other Europeans, but it is more important to keep European solidarity in mind as a national leader.

Nick Wright, Teaching Fellow in EU Politics, University College London

Obviously to some extent it is a matter of waiting for the Brexit negotiations to begin as these are going to over-shadow everything for the next few years, not least in security. The EU’s financial resources, for example, will be significantly affected by the absence of the UK’s membership costs which will have a direct impact on the resources available for everything, including those policy initiatives that come under the wider banner of ‘security’. But that is further down the line.

The reality, though, is that the EU faces the same range of highly complex issues as it did before the 23rd June – it’s just that it will have another complicated these. The Eurozone crisis and the structural weaknesses and lack of competitiveness especially in the so-called ‘periphery’ states; the refugee and migration crisis and the lack of solidarity between member states as regards dealing with issues at the border; Syria; Russia; and of course the rise of populist Eurosceptic political parties. None of this is new: but a renewed resolve to deal with it is essential.

The EU needs to get back to what it should be good at: effective policy measures to achieve common and shared objectives that benefit all states. This may not be sexy, but this is the point of the EU and if it can start delivering again – and be seen to do so – public discontent may start to diminish. But this also requires clear political leadership from the heads of government who need to show they understand and have ideas that are progressive but realistic. This sounds like a tall order, I know, but the tone of this summit needs to be one of unity and focus. If member states start going back down nationalist/unilateral pathways, we will be in trouble.

There are practical measures related, for example, to CSDP and the possibility of closer cooperation on an operational HQ for example. I think we may start to see some practical advances in this area, not least because the EU faces a significant challenge on its eastern border in how Russia is behaving.

Is it possible to move the EU forward? Yes, of course. And this could be the surprise ‘silver lining’ from the British referendum. This has sent a wake-up call across the Brussels institutions and the other member states. A big player is leaving in large part because its political leaders failed to communicate effectively to its electorate what the benefits of EU membership have been. If it can happen in the UK, it could happen elsewhere and fragmentation is something they will all want to avoid as this could mean the end of the whole integration project.

I would not be surprised if we start to see in the coming months a more focused and determined European Council and Council of Ministers which will make very clear to the Commission who will be in the driving seat for the coming years. The mood in the Council Secretariat, for example, has been very much that Brexit will not be controlled from the Berlaymont but from Justus Lipsius.

Expect some plain speaking behind the closed doors.

Tomasz Grosse, Professor of European Studies, Warsaw University

The EU Summit in Bratislava will put a premium on unity. EU leaders will search for the lowest common denominator to show they are not divided. But proposals for EU reforms are conflicting, which does not bode well for the summit conclusions.

Chancellor Merkel is going to deepen cooperation in the field of security and defense. This is a way she wants to strengthen European integration and increase geopolitical influence of Berlin in Europe, including in Central Europe. This project is also to develop EU system of military procurement to increase the market for the largest European defense companies, including German.

Are these goals in line with the expectations of the smaller countries, especially from Central Europe? It is doubtful whether the new EU defense policy could contribute to the goals that are important for the countries of this region. The development of EU defense policy will not be rather a remedy for the threat from the East, and especially the risk of an escalation of Ukraine-Russian conflict. This policy will also not protect Europe’s borders to the influx of immigrants, because this area regulates quite different EU policy, which has been unable to work out a remedy for the crisis for months.

In that case, what is the sense of strengthening the EU defense policy, especially from the Central Europe’s point of view?

Miguel Otero-Iglesias, Senior Analyst, Elcano Royal Institute

The Security and Defence Union is long overdue in the European Union. There are so many transnational threats that a transnational approach is warranted in fields such as EU external borders, asylum procedures, cyber-espionage, anti-terrorist intelligence, de-radicalisation best practices, and of course a European defence/peace-keeping task force of at least 5000 men and women which can intervene swiftly if not in all corners of the world at least in the immediate neighbourhood of the EU. Is this type of further defence and security integration possible and necessary. Both. The US will not continue to be of security guarantor for ever, at some point we will need to stand on our own feet.

Fabian ZuleegChief Economist, European Policy Centre

The main function of the Bratislava summit is to signal that the EU27 can continue to make progress, even without the UK. Given the unprecedented challenges to the EU integration process, a display of unity will be crucial. Security is seen as an area where some progress is possible and it is high on the list of concerns of citizens. However, it remains to be seen how concrete the decisions are going to be and whether there is subsequent implementation.

Alexandros Apostolides, Chairperson, Assistant Professor, Economic History, European University of Cyprus

In a strange way, at least from here in Cyprus, security is less of an issue, but efforts to reform the whole European project seems more urgent. Banking is still shaky and seems to favor larger nation states,with relaxation of rules for reporting non performing loans and other issues. How the interests of nations will be safeguarded in the upcoming BREXIT negotiations should be higher in the agenda than it is. Finally we are almost eight years into the crisis, and we have no clear policy of what is the way out.

Ultimately I am not expecting much as the current batch of politicians are too timid to do what is required: a comprehensive treaty change that integrates new powers for the EU and reigns in arbitrary nature (i.e. bail ins) while safeguarding national rights on some issues to ensure the eurosceptic crowd is held at bay.

I am not expecting much.


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