Leaders of 27 EU Member States – without British Prime Minister Theresa May – met in Bratislava on 16 September for an informal meeting to discuss a range of items, including Brexit. Of course, the British Government has yet to notify the EU of the date that it wishes the process of leaving to start. It must formally notify the EU of its intention to withdraw from the Union. Only then can the EU commence negotiations and set about concluding a withdrawal agreement.
The Bratislava Declaration
Following the informal meeting, the leaders of the 27 EU Member States accepted a Bratislava Declaration, and a roadmap, which sets out objectives, and tentative timelines for the Union.[i] It is significant that the six-page declaration manages to specifically avoid using the words “Brexit” and “United Kingdom”. But it is quite clear that Brexit was the elephant in the room. Accordingly, the declaration states that
“Although one country has decided to leave, the EU remains indispensable for the rest of us. In the aftermath of the wars and deep divisions on our continent, the EU secured peace, democracy and enabled our countries to prosper. Many countries and regions outside still only strive for such achievements. We are determined to make a success of the EU with 27 Member States, building on this joint history”.
The declaration went on to state that:
“We need the EU not only to guarantee peace and democracy but also the security of our people. We need the EU to serve better their needs and wishes to live, study, work, move and prosper freely across our continent and benefit from the rich European cultural heritage. We need to improve the communication with each other – among Member States, with EU institutions, but most importantly with our citizens. We should inject more clarity into our decisions. Use clear and honest language. Focus on citizens’ expectations, with strong courage to challenge simplistic solutions of extreme or populist political forces”.
The Bratislava Roadmap
The roadmap that accompanies the declaration contains a list of specific measures designed to make a success of an EU of 27 Member States. The measures agreed by the President of the European Council, the Presidency of the Council and the Commission are set-out in work programme. The four headings of the work programme are:
Migration and external borders, with the objective of broadening EU consensus on long term migration policy and applying the principles of responsibility and solidarity;
Internal and external security, with the objective of doing everything necessary to support Member States in ensuring internal security and fighting terrorism;
External Security and Defence, with the objective of challenging geopolitical environment, strengthen EU cooperation on external security and defence, and
Economic and social development, youth, with the objective of
creating a promising economic future for all, safeguarding our way of life and providing better opportunities for Europe’s youth.
What is next?
It was some achievement to have gotten all 27 Member States to agree to the Bratislava Declaration and to the Roadmap. However, the real test of success will be seeing evidence of delivery on the promises made, including strengthening of the mechanisms for reviewing the implementation of decisions taken. The Roadmap admits that this will require “Loyal co-operation and communication of Member States and institutions”.
It is quite clear that the Bratislava Declaration and Roadmap is only the beginning of a process. The upcoming formal European Council meetings will allow for concrete follow-up on the listed themes. The Heads of the 27 States will meet informally again at the beginning of 2017 in Valletta, Malta. The March 2017 celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaties will bring together the Heads in Rome and will be used to round off the process launched in Bratislava, and will set out orientations for a common future for the 27 Member States.