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EU plans for life after Brexit and the tussle for top jobs at Sibiu summit

François Lenoir, Reuters | People wait for the start of the informal meeting of European Union leaders in Sibiu, Romania, on May 9, 2019.

European leaders met in Transylvania on Thursday to launch a scramble for the top jobs in Brussels and sketch out a future without Britain, the ghost at their summit debate.

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European leaders revealed a guiding statement of principles for a post-Brexit future on Thursday, promising a "new Union of 27 ready to embrace its future as one."

Britain, the missing 28th EU member, has yet to complete its divorce from the bloc but the other leaders were determined that their summit in the Romanian town of Sibiu would set a five-year agenda for the future.

With European Parliamentary elections due in just over two weeks and a new EU leadership team to be named before he end of the year, the 27 leaders did not make detailed commitments.

But "The Sibiu Declaration" underlined their joint commitment that Britain's departure would not trigger a rush for the exits.

The 10 key points are:

- We will defend one Europe, from East to West, from North to South

- We will stay united, through thick and thin

- We will always look for joint solutions

- We will continue to protect our way of life, democracy and the rule of law

- We will deliver where it matters most

- We will always uphold the principle of fairness

- We will give ourselves the means to match our ambitions

- We will safeguard the future for the next generations of Europeans

- We will protect our citizens and keep them safe

- Europe will be a responsible global leader

After issuing the declaration, the leaders began talks on a second document that will not be finalised in Sibiu but will represent a more detailed strategic agenda.

New strategic agenda

There will also be an outline “strategic agenda”, prepared by EU Council president and summit host Donald Tusk, which will be discussed in more detail so that the leaders can ratify the plan at their June summit.

“This is quite a challenge to agree, two weeks before the EP elections,” the official admitted, noting that the leaders also represent the warring conservative, socialist, liberal and populist camps vying for seats in the European Parliament later this month.

Many of the leaders have their own priorities. France’s President Emmanuel Macron is pushing an ambitious environmental agenda, while Hungary’s Viktor Orban is feuding with his colleagues over immigration.

“It’s never been seen as a summit for epic decisions, but on the road from Sibiu the leaders will define a new strategic agenda for the EU until 2024,” the senior European official told reporters.

The other main issue on the table, and which has gripped discussions in the Brussels corridors of power, is the five-yearly renewal of the top EU jobs.

Immediately after the May 23-26 parliamentary elections, leaders will begin haggling over who gets to lead the European Commission, the bloc’s executive, and the European Council, which represents national leaders.

They will also have an eye on the presidency of the European Central Bank and plum Brussels roles such as that of High Representative for foreign policy.

Five years ago, it took three months and three summits to dole out the jobs in an opaque diplomatic process, and Tusk hopes to accelerate matters this time by laying down the ground rules in Sibiu on Thursday.

Extraordinary meeting

Juncker’s replacement at the commission will be the most difficult to agree, amid a tug of war between the Brussels institutions and member states over the candidacy process.

Political groups in the European Parliament have chosen so-called “spitzenkandidats”, or lead candidates, to head their campaigns and many want the eventual head of the biggest faction that emerges from the poll to get the top job.

The EU Treaty, however, states that member state leaders must agree on a candidate after appropriate consultations and that only afterwards will he or she be approved by the incoming parliament.

It is widely expected that Tusk will announce on Thursday in Sibiu a plan to hold an extraordinary EU summit on May 28, two days after the elections, to start the process of deciding on a candidate.

An EU official told AFP in Brussels that they expect some leaders, such as Macron, to use this meeting to try to “kill the spitzenkandidat” and take charge of the process.

But Juncker, the former Luxembourg premier who was himself appointed after being the candidate of the conservative EPP grouping, dismissed the leaders’ efforts to sideline parliament.

“They tried to do it last time and they won’t succeed next time,” he said Tuesday.

(AFP)

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