Gathering in Romania was originally intended to show bloc moving on after Brexit.
EU leaders will agree in Romania next week on 10 commitments related to the future of the bloc, according to a draft declaration seen by POLITICO.
The leaders will meet on Thursday in the city of Sibiu for a summit that was meant to plot out the future of the EU after Brexit. Although Britain has yet to depart, British Prime Minister Theresa May is not expected to attend so the EU’s other leaders can still imagine a London-free future.
The gathering will also discuss the outline of a Strategic Agenda, drawn up by European Council President Donald Tusk, stretching to 2024.
In addition, diplomats say, the summit will be an opportunity to discuss who should get a range of top EU jobs up for grabs following the European Parliament election later this month, although that issue is not officially on the agenda.
According to the draft declaration, leaders will “unanimously agree on 10 commitments,” which appear to be a mix of good intentions, generic points and some aspirations that clash with the everyday reality of the EU.
The draft also pledges that Europe will be big on big issues and small on small ones.
Leaders will declare that “we will defend one Europe — from East to West, from North to South” because “there is no place for divisions that work against our collective interest.”
Another commitment is that “we will stay united, through thick and thin” pledging that “we will show each other solidarity in times of need and we will always stand together” and also that “we can and we will speak with one voice.”
Turning those commitments into reality would require major change in the EU. The issue of solidarity, for example, became highly contentious during the 2015 migration crisis when countries like Hungary and Poland refused to take in refugees under an EU-wide relocation scheme.
Speaking with one voice has often proved problematic for the EU, especially on foreign policy, on topics ranging from Venezuela through Libya to the Western Balkans.
The leaders will also commit to “continue to protect our way of life, democracy and the rule of law” and to “uphold our shared values and principles.” However, the EU institutions have started disciplinary proceedings against both Hungary and Poland, accusing them of putting those values at risk.
The draft also pledges that Europe will be big on big issues and small on small ones — an approach leaders have already indicated in the Rome Declaration two years ago.
Tusk’s Strategic Agenda, also seen by POLITICO, includes issues on which EU leaders have long struggled to reach agreement, such as reforming EU asylum policy, as well as generic commitments to “ensure fair and effective taxation” and “ensure fair competition.”
Not all diplomats were keen to have a grand declaration ahead of the May 23-26 European Parliament election. “The last thing I would like is a declaration full of empty rhetoric just before the elections, it would be a boon for the populists,” complained one senior diplomat.