European Union leaders meeting in Romania on Thursday will hammer home their goal of staying united “through thick and thin” after the turmoil of Brexit and will have their first go at assigning the bloc’s most powerful jobs.
The leaders of all members except Britain meet on Europe Day in the town of Sibiu, which has German and Hungarian roots, 15 years after the EU’s expansion east finally consigned the Iron Curtain that had divided Europe since World War Two to history.
While rich in symbolism, the summit will be short on substance – a reflection of how the EU has been engulfed by problems and divisions that are now playing out ahead of European Parliament elections on May 23-26.
The bloc is divided over issues ranging from migration to democratic standards, grappling with Brexit and a wave of populism, and faces external challenges from China to Russia to the United States. It is also lagging behind on challenges from climate change to cyber security.
But the 27 leaders will sign off on a declaration promising to “defend one Europe”, “stay united, through thick and thin” and “always look for joint solutions”, according to a draft seen by Reuters.
Deepening euro zone cooperation, developing artificial intelligence capabilities and promoting a transition to more environmentally friendly policies are among more than a dozen “strategic agenda” points they will discuss for 2019-2024, although no decisions will be taken.
TOP JOBS UP FOR GRABS
More interesting could be the informal discussions on appointing new people to the EU’s most powerful roles at the helm of the European Council, which brings together national leaders, the executive European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Central Bank and the joint diplomatic service.
All five posts are up for grabs later this year and the outgoing European Parliament has already named its picks for the Commission job, including a conservative German, Manfred Weber, and a Dutch socialist, Frans Timmermans.
The national leaders, however, want to control the process and promise no automatic endorsement.
Party politics, geographic representation, policy priorities as well as the candidates’ personal profiles all play a role in the choice, which took three summits and three summer months of horse-trading to conclude last time round.
Hungary’s eurosceptic Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Monday said he would not support Weber. But while desirable for smooth future cooperation, no formal unanimity is required and Orban opposed the nomination of the current head of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, in 2014.
Other names in the hat include Brexit negotiator Frenchman Michel Barnier, or Margrethe Vestager, Denmark’s current member of the European Commission, who imposed hefty fines on global tech giants Google and Apple.
Many in the EU expect another summit on May 28, two days after the European Parliament vote to let the national leaders and outgoing senior officials discuss the results and agree on their next steps.