Leaders stress strategic agenda and “ten commitments” for Europe at Sibiu Summit
The EU Summit in Sibiu, Romania, on 9 May was planned as the first post-Brexit meeting of the 27 EU member states. European leaders wanted the summit to focus on the future of Europe after UK’s departure. In the midst of chaos and uncertainties that surround the Brexit process, the summit went ahead without the British.
The theme for this summit is “Europe’s place in the world”. EU Council president Donald Tusk has highlighted 4 pillars that make up the “strategic agenda” to be adopted in June after the May elections. These are 1) protecting citizens and freedoms, 2) developing European model of economic base for the future, 3) building a greener, fairer and more inclusive future, and 4) promoting Europe’s interests and values in the world.
The summit concluded with all EU27 leaders adopting the Sibiu Declaration containing “ten commitments for Europe” calling for everything from defence and solidarity to the rule of law and the EU’s role on the global stage. The declaration outlines “broad strokes on what the EU should focus on in the coming years” and vows that the EU will act where it matters.
In an opinion piece in Euronews before the summit, Radu Magdin, former advisor to Prime Ministers of Romania and Moldova, comments that EU27 wants to move forward in a unified way but has faltered due to technocratic leadership. He believed that the successful future of Europe is a “combination of European and national identities and pride, driven by a clear agenda and political determination”.
In another op-ed, Stephanie Pfeifer, CEO of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC), also called on the EU leaders to send strong, long-term signals to investors about how it will fulfil the Paris Agreement goals. The key objective is for the EU to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Pfeifer say investors look to policy makers to have a framework to carry out the action; this requires a long term vision and holistic strategy that spans across sectors and requires various industries to play a fair role.
During the summit, it was reported that while the leaders stressed the need for unity, differences arise with regards to the system in choosing the Commission president – the so called Spitzenkandidat or lead candidate system”. President Emmanuel Macron declared that he felt no obligation to follow this system and Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel added that his voters has no clue who’s the Spitzenkandidat.
This Sibiu Summit was seen as a trial run for the June European Council, and President of the Commission, Juncker added that he was glad to have hold this Summit even if “the initial purpose of moving past Brexit was not realized”.
Future of Europe is the main topic of second European election debate
On Thursday (2 May), the leading candidates for EU Commission President clashed in a second debate held in Florence. The divisive topic of the common European Union Army put Manfred Weber (European People’s Party) and Guy Verhofstadt (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe ) on one side approving the endeavor while Frans Timmermans (Socialists and Democrats) and Ska Keller (The Green Party) was on the opposite end. Timmermans put the focus on economic cooperation instead and said a common army would not materialise anytime soon.
Weber, being the front runner, was the main target of the onslaught by other candidates. Timmermans attacked his rival’s connection to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán while the others associated Weber’s policies with austerity measures. However, Orbán himself has withdrawn his support of Weber’s candidacy for Commission president due to Weber’s renouncing Fidesz’s support. This came after a split in the centre-right EPP group, which has frozen Fidesz’ membership due to Orbán’s criticism of current Commission President Jean Claude Juncker.
The importance of climate change and environmental policy was also emphasized at the debate. Keller stressed that the future of the planet and young generations was at stake, referencing the environmental activism of young people in the EU. Weber bluntly stated that only a few on the far right will deny the need for climate policy while stressing the need for EU to work with China and USA.
The candidates differed on their vision for the future of Europe but this topic is also set to divide EU leaders past the elections and producing the winning candidate for president. A discussion of the “top job in EU” –Commission presidency– was also held at the EU summit in Sibiu, Romania.
On Wednesday (8 May), the UK government officially announced that it will take part in the May European elections as it is not possible to pass the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) before May 23. It is also said that the Conservatives, who are expected to win little more than 10 percent of the vote, would not be launching a campaign.This signals that little fruition has come out of the cross party talks so far but Prime Minister May has spoken of completing the withdrawal process by 30 June in order to avoid UK MEPs taking their seats in the European Parliament.
Contrary to the government’s stance, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage wants to take a seat in the new European Parliament. Farage, whose party is currently leading the polls in Britain, believes that if they win enough support in the elections, they will have “democratic legitimacy” to support Brexit. He wants to ensure that UK does leave the EU by the extended deadline of 31 October.
Meanwhile in France, Nathalie Loiseau is “campaigning to play a key role in the European Parliament” which could mean heading up a new political group with La République En Marche (LREM) party and the ALDE or becoming president of the Parliament. This is in line with Verhofstadt’s declaration at the debate that ALDE will dissolve to create “a new group, a global group, a pro-European centrist group”.
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