The European Union summit in Bratislava failed to offer any clear leadership over how the EU can restructure itself in order to meet the challenges it faces. The group’s leaders need to do much better if they are to reignite popular enthusiasm across the continent at a time when they face attacks that they have failed to deliver economic security for all their members and have failed in the political arena as well. The UK’s decision to leave the EU is not the defining issue of the moment, but it creates a dangerous precedent that the EU leaders need to deal with.
The EU’s most serious problem is how to achieve the greater economic and fiscal unity that would better underpin the euro as a global currency, while also developing an economic policy that would make European goods more competitive in the global market. Instead the summit got lost in bitter disagreements over a variety of other issues that are urgent to some of the EU members, but not to all. For example, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi refused to join a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande over their refusal to do more to boost the ailing economies of Mediterranean EU members like Italy, Spain and Portugal, not to mention Greece that remains under such onerous loans from the EU that even the IMF has said are untenable.
EU states are still bitterly divided on how to handle the millions of refugees who are seeking a stable future as they flee war-torn former states like Libya and Syria. Merkel has led the way on an more open policy but anti-immigrant fervour whipped up by nationalist demagogues has made consensus to this difficult to achieve, particularly when right-wing leaders like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speak out viciously against the refugees, condemning the EU’s migration policy as “self-destructive and naive”.
And others like the French failed to help tackle the major issues that the EU faces and instead took advantage of losing Britain’s continual block on new EU integration to come up with a plan to create an EU military operations headquarters. This is despite military matters being one of the EU’s least important areas where it has consistently failed, along with its faltering presence in foreign affairs.
At a time like this the EU would be better focused on sorting out its existing problems.