EU leaders discuss future of Europe at Romania summit

Leaders of 27 EU member states are meeting in the Romanian city of Sibiu to discuss the bloc's future course after Britain's departure. They have announced a special summit at the end of May to assess the elections.

European leaders stressed the continued solidarity of the European Union at a summit in Romania as the bloc faces a range of challenges threatening to divide it.

The summit in Sibiu comes some two weeks before European parliamentary elections that have been overshadowed by concerns over Britain's fraught efforts to leave the bloc and the resurgence of nationalist forces across the continent.

At their meeting on Thursday, the leaders agreed to hold a meeting on May 28 to assess the European election outcome, and start the process of choosing a new head of the Commission.

Read more: Which way is Europe heading?

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Conflict Zone | 15.05.2019

The Debate: Which way is Europe heading?

Looking to the future

The agenda of the summit includes:

  • drawing up a "Sibiu Declaration" with 10 commitments to values such as democracy, rule of law and justice;
  • formulating a strategic agenda for the next five years that is to be ratified at a June summit;
  • discussion of a proposal from eight countries to make the EU net-greenhouse gas neutral by 2050;
  • debate on proposals from Austria to reduce the size of the European Commission;
  • discussion about who is to take top jobs in the EU for the next five years.

    Candidates for European Commission president

    Manfred Weber (EPP)

    The center-right European People's Party (EPP) — the largest faction in the European Parliament — has picked Manfred Weber, its German parliamentary party leader. He has the backing of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Though considered the front-runner, Weber is little known on the international stage, and his language skills are considered poor.

    Candidates for European Commission president

    Frans Timmermans (S&D)

    Frans Timmermans, the European Commission's first vice president, will lead the campaign for the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats (S&D). Weber's main rival promises to bring the bloc closer to ordinary voters at a time when Britain's looming exit is one factor behind the nationalist movements across the EU.

    Candidates for European Commission president

    Margrethe Vestager (ALDE)

    Margrethe Vestager, 51, is one of seven lead candidates for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats. As the current EU commissioner for competition, the Danish MEP has taken on corporations like Apple, Amazon and Google parent Alphabet. It's also been said that she served as the inspiration for the main character in Borgen, a Danish series where a woman becomes Denmark's first female leader.

    Candidates for European Commission president

    Jan Zahradil (ECR)

    The third-largest group in the EU Parliament, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), has just one candidate: Jan Zahradil, chairman of the Czech ECR delegation. Zahradil, 65, is affectionately known as "Forrest Gump" for cycling from Prague to Strasbourg for a session of the European Parliament and for once running 1,300 kilometers (about 800 miles) across the Czech Republic for charity.

    Candidates for European Commission president

    Ska Keller (Greens/EFA)

    The Greens/EFA is the seventh largest group in European Parliament, so the German is a long shot to become European Commission president. The Greens have proposed a job share, with two candidates serving for two-and-a-half years each. The most favorite to join Keller is Dutch lawmaker Bas Eickhout.

    Candidates for European Commission president

    Violeta Tomic and Nico Cue (GUE/NGL)

    The EU's left-wing groups will be headed by Spanish trade unionist Nico Cue and Violeta Tomic (at left). Tomic is a deputy in Slovenia's National Assembly, best known as a TV presenter and actress. She entered into politics in 2014 and has been an advocate for LGBT rights and stronger citizens' rights in Europe. Cue grew up in Belgium after his family was forced to flee Franco's Soain.

'Together is better'

Ahead of the summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the summit would stress the importance of cooperation.

"We will ... agree a declaration which will make clear that, regardless of our political differences, we all believe ... that acting together is better." She also called on the EU to be innovative, strong and unified.

French President Emmanuel Macron, in his turn, called for a "European renaissance." He picked out three key issues for discussion at the summit: agreement on climate protection, border protection measures and building "a new social and economic model of growth" that included investment in artificial intelligence and digital technology.

Macron also warned against a return to nationalism.

'Big on the big things'

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he hoped Europe would channel its energy toward "a few important issues, like the internal market, migration, climate."

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"Big on the big things, small on the small things," he added.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras emphasized the need for a European Commission president who supported "the fundamental ideas of the European Union, which are solidarity, democracy, social cohesion."

"We need a president who will be against neo-liberalism, against austerity and, of course, against this xenophobic approach of some of the extreme right," Tsipras said, saying he would not support German politician Manfred Weber, one of the possible contenders for the position as the candidate of the center-right European People's Party (EPP) 

Read more: Manfred Weber: Merkel's pick to head European Commission

Brexit-free summit

Brussels officials said the discussions would not include the topic of Brexit, which has dogged EU meetings for several years.

"If they stay, they stay. If they go, they go," said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in reference to Britain's tortuous efforts to organize its departure.

British Prime Minister Teresa May is not scheduled to attend the summit.

Read more: EU youth want their say in European Parliament vote

List of challenges: The future of the EU will go "well beyond Brexit," Juncker impressed. And the bloc is indeed facing several key challenges. Industrial policy in the face of Chinese growth and US tariffs, a reform to asylum laws, meeting climate goals and the future of the euro are all issues where the (currently) 28-member union must find common ground.

tj/rt (AFP, dpa)

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