Leaders of the 27 member states remaining in the European Union after Britain’s planned exit discussed the bloc’s future at an informal summit in Brussels Friday, calling for unity in face of growing external and internal pressures.
The discussion centred mainly on a joint declaration that the 27 leaders want to issue later in March when they gather in the Italian capital to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, one of the founding documents of the EU.
The informal summit of the 27 leaders came on the heels of a bitter spat after EU leaders approved the re-election of European Council President Donald Tusk for a second term on Thursday despite objections by none other than Tusk’s native Poland.
The Polish government refused to support Tusk, a former Polish prime minister from the party that is currently in opposition, saying that he intervened in Poland’s internal affairs.
After the spat, EU leaders were eager to reaffirm their unity on Friday, especially with view to Britain’s impending official notification to leave the bloc and the upcoming anniversary of the creation of the EU.
“The unity of 27 is our most precious asset, and our highest priority,” Tusk said. “If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far, go together.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the EU “a unique model for economic strength and social security in the world,” while brushing aside suggestions of a possible schism between Poland and the other member states.
French President Francois Hollande said that Europe should be proud of its history and should not just be an economic power but also a political power that is of use to the world.
However, some of the fault lines currently diving the EU remained visible even as leaders reaffirmed their commitment to unity.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that Hungary took issue with a line in a draft declaration to be passed at the Rome summit that called for migration to be managed “humanely and effectively,” because it was against Hungary’s position on the issue.
“Our goal is not to bring migrants into Europe in an orderly manner, our goal is that migrants don’t come into Europe,” Orban told a press conference.
“We either don’t deal with the question of migration in this document … or if we do, our position should be noted, because there are some countries that do not want to let in migrants.”
During the discussion, Merkel also signalled her support for a so-called “multi-speed Europe” that would allow certain member states to cooperate more closely on certain areas without needing the consent of all other member states.
Such enhanced integration in certain policy areas could include security and defence cooperation and the creation of a European prosecutor, Merkel said, noting that such arrangements should not be considered exclusive allowing member states to join at any later point.
“I prefer two speeds than no speeds at all and at the moment, we are stuck,” said Xavier Bettel, prime minister of Luxembourg.