EU Summit — Heads of states and governments of the 27 EU member countries gather for a group photo call at the Bratislava castle during the Bratislava EU summit. Credit EPA
By Peter Foster, Europe Editor, Bratislava and James Rothwell
16 September 2016 • 1:45pm
–27 European leaders arrive in Bratislava for a “brutally honest” summit on the EU’s future
–Britain was not invited as it has voted to leave the European Union
–EU facing “battle for survival” and “existential crisis” – Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker
–EU officials: UK will abandon Brexit if we make negotiations hard enough
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has warned that the EU in “critical condition” as her counterparts scrambled to come with a solution to what its most senior official described as an “existential crisis” following the Brexit vote.
“We are in a critical situation. We have to show with our actions that we can get better,” said Mrs Merkel at Bratislava Castle, where the summit is being held.
It comes as the President of the European Council has urged EU leaders to take a “sober” look at the crises facing the bloc as they gather in Bratislava for the first summit to be held since the Brexit vote.
Viktor Orban, Hungary’s far-right Prime Minister, said he would submit his own proposals on behalf of eastern European countries such as Poland and Austria.
“The V4 countries are preparing a (text), and we will submit this … as a joint Visegrad Four proposal to the European Council, this will be an important moment in the life of these four countries,” he said in a radio interview on Friday morning.
The atmosphere is decidedly sober after Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, warned that the EU needed a “brutally” honest assessment of what to do in the wake of the Brexit vote.
“We haven’t come to Bratislava to comfort each other, or even worse to deny the real challenges we face,” he said ahead of the summit.
The flags of member states are placed on display before an EU summit at Bratislava Castle in Bratislava on Friday Credit: AP
“In this particular moment in the history of our community after the vote in the UK the only thing that makes sense is to have a sober and brutally honest assessment of the situation.”
The ambitions of the Bratislava summit can be summed up in three words: unity, unity and unity. This is tricky since as Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council has discovered on his recent whistle-stop tours of EU capitals, unity is in very short supply.
And it emerged on Thursday that senior figures in the EU told the Telegraph they believed that Britain will give up on Brexit if they make negotiations as tough as possible.
British officials are fighting to stop Europe adopting a no-compromise position in talks in the hope that the UK will change its mind about leaving the bloc.
This belief is fuelling the hardline message on issues like freedom of movement that have emerged from Berlin, Paris and Brussels in recent weeks.
More than five senior EU figures interviewed by The Telegraph this week expressed doubts that Britain would go through with Brexit when confronted by the “reality of the bureaucratic nightmare” and the “insane act of economic self-harm”, as they referred to Brexit.
One senior British official involved in the set-up for the coming negotiations said the EU elite “seem to think the game is to make us change our minds”.
This stance has left representatives fighting to explain to European leaders how “dangerous” a game they were playing, and how “unlikely” it was to succeed.
Up the Danube without a paddle
AFP has this curious tale from onboard the SS Project Europe…and it appears that not all is well.
The EU’s leaders met without Britain at a summit in Bratislava on Friday to chart a course for the future – but found their own journey plans scuppered by a lack of water in the River Danube.
Low river levels on the famed waterway meant Slovak authorities had to cancel a visit to a museum by the 27 leaders that was meant to be the highlight of a special river cruise on a luxury ship.
Instead the prime ministers and presidents were left to cruise aimlessly up and down the Danube during a two-hour working lunch to discuss relations with Britain once it jumps ship from the European Union.
“Due to the extremely low water level of the Danube River, we won’t be able to take a short break at the Danubiana (art museum),” Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico told journalists.
“Instead, the ship will turn around there, and we’ll continue by sailing back to Bratislava.” The Dutch-founded Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum is in Cunovo, close to the border between Slovakia, Austria, and Hungary. But the leaders couldn’t feel too blue as they were lucky to get their Danube cruise at all, after water levels rose overnight, officials said.
“Today from 7:00 am local time cruising was restored on the Bratislava part of Danube,” Pavel Machava, of the Slovak Water Management Enterprise, told AFP. Slovak authorities have rented the Regina Danubia vessel, built in 1992 and described as a “floating festive and congress hall on the Danube”, for the working lunch.
There’s a metaphor in this somewhere.
Analysis: What do the V4 want?
The Visegrad states – Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic – have released a statement to the Bratislava Summit. They dwell on a few key pet points on free movement, migration and clipping the wings of Jean-Claude Juncker’s European Commission, but they’ve avoided anything like the full-blown row that some feared earlier in the week. The Commission softening its line on migration quotas and the impact of more integrated EU defence on the Nato relationship has done the trick.
Less Brussels, more power to national parliaments: It is necessary to strengthen the role of national parliaments underlining respect for the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. By means of this, the Union will be better equipped to deliver legislation and actions that have added value for the European citizens
Stop ignoring the little guys It is necessary to work out a solution that will enable all countries to feel comfortable in the EU. For this reason, the Visegrad Countries insist that the European integration is a common project and all negotiations should therefore be inclusive and open to all Member States.
EU defence co-operation, if you must, but Nato first We should strengthen practical cooperation in defense to give it more substance without duplicating NATO and implement without delay the Global Strategy with particular focus on making the key elements of Common Security and Defense Policy truly functional. The December European Council should decide on implementation plan in this respect.
Free movement is why we joined Effective EU needs to improve the communication of the benefits of the single market and genuine potential of its four freedoms, including free movement of people. The single market is a project of integration, which benefits all EU countries…This is however taken today for granted…it is necessary to inform more effectively the public opinion about the positive outcomes of the Internal Market meanwhile improving the enforcement of its rules to eradicate intra-EU protectionism.
Merkel: EU in critical condition, cannot be fixed in one summit
Speaking to reporters earlier, Mrs Merkel said: “We are in a critical situation. We have to show with our actions that we can get better.”
The bloc must step up its efforts “in the domain of security, internal and external security, the fight against terrorism, the cooperation in the field of defence,” she said.
She warned that one summit was not going to solve all of the EU’s problems.
Angela Merkel arriving at the summit
As summit kicks off, Hollande issues warning over defence
France can take the lead in European defence cooperation, but cannot do it all on its own, French President Francois Hollande has told AFP, as EU leaders held crunch post-Brexit talks.
“France is making the main effort on European defence but it cannot be alone and does not want to be alone,” Hollande said as he went into the summit in Bratislava with security top of the agenda.
Hollande, whose country will be the bloc’s top military power after Britain’s departure, has joined forces with Germany to push the idea of a “more active” defence policy to restore confidence shaken by terror attacks, the migrant crisis and globalisation.
Hollande said France wanted to work with its partners to assure Europe’s defence, in line with the alliances it has, namely with the United States in NATO.
But at the same time, Europe was ready to stand on its own two feet if need be, he said, apparently referring to remarks by US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump that in a crisis the US-led alliance might think of its own interests first before its NATO commitments.
“Let everyone know that if the United States chooses to draw back, Europe must be able to defend itself,” Hollande said.
Lonely man Schulz
Martin Schulz, the leader of the European Parliament, has no role in the summit in Bratislava – despite being one of the EU’s most senior officials.
Nonetheless, he has travelled all the way to Slovakia and is holding his own press conference “across the river” according to MLex’s Matthew Holehouse.
Bulgaria to ask for 160m euros to help police its border
The deputy prime minister of Bulgaria has asked for 160 million euros in aid from the European Commission to protect its borders and stem the flow of migration into the country.
He is expected to raise the issue at the summit today.
Bulgaria, which is the EU’s poorest country, has built a fence and posted soldiers at the border but says it needs more support from the EU to control who is coming in.
Why are they in Bratislava?
Excellent question. It is because Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU – so it is the natural place to host the remaining EU27.
Also because Bratislava is not Brussels, and there is constituency in Europe that wants to reduce the power of the European Commission in the EU decision-making apparatus and return more control back to the EU capitals, who operate collectively via the European Council.
And since Britain hasn’t left yet and is entitled to attend all EU meeting – except the ones where the EU27 are discussing how to negotiate with the UK over Brexit – it was felt better to meet in a relatively neutral venue.
Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico arrives for the European Union summit- the first one since Britain voted to quit Credit: YVES HERMAN
Good morning, Mrs Merkel
Those looking for Wifi at Bratislava Castle apparently have two options to choose from.
And one of them appears to be courtesy of the German Chancellor…
Out comes the red carpet…
The Slovakians are drumming up a proper welcome for EU leaders this morning (Bratislava is the Slovakian capital, for those asleep at the back) and as such have got a nice, regal, crimson carpet for them walk over before they get to the castle’s front door.
Britain, of course, is absent from this summit as it voted to leave the bloc. Are they trying to make us feel jealous?
Soldiers prepare the red carpet before an EU summit at Bratislava Castle in Bratislava
Soldiers prepare the red carpet before an EU summit at Bratislava Castle in Bratislava Credit: Reuters
Luxembourg PM says Europe the ‘solution’ not the problem
Bettel Xavier, the prime minister of Luxembourg, is putting on a brave face ahead of the summit.
He told reporters on the steps that Europe was “the solution,” not the problem.
And in a briefing earlier, he said: “We tend to forget that 90% of the EU instruments work perfectly.”
EU Bratislava Summit, September 16, 2016
EU army here already?
Reporters waiting outside Bratislava Castle for the arrival of EU leaders this morning did a double take when an army appeared to march up the front steps.
They are in fact Slovakian ceremonial troops marching past the castle – but with their blue tunics and bright yellow lapels they bear a striking resemblance to what an EU army uniform may look like.
The EU’s proposal to create a united European army is hugely controversial and was said to be a major turn-off for voters during the EU referendum in Britain.
Tags: Angela Merkel, Austria, Bettel Xavier, Bratislava, Brexit, Britain, Britain's departure, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, EU, EU facing battle for survival, EU in Critical Condition, EU in existential crisis, European defence, European Union, France, free movement, free movement of people, Germany, Hollande, Hungary's Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, Merkel, open borders, poland, prime minister of Luxembourg, Slovakia, Viktor Orban, Visegrad Four