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Divided EU leaders struggle with post-Brexit vision

  • Published at 12:01 am September 18th, 2016
Divided EU leaders struggle with post-Brexit vision

European leaders, struggling to overcome an historic crisis following Britain’s vote to leave the EU, agreed on Friday to explore closer defence cooperation and boost security at their external borders, but could not hide deep divisions over refugees and economic policy.

Meeting in the Slovak capital with the British conspicuously absent, the 27 other EU members unveiled a six-month “road map” of measures designed to restore public confidence in Europe’s ailing common project.

But several leaders, including Italy’s Matteo Renzi and Hungary’s Viktor Orban, shattered the facade of unity as soon as the meeting ended, underscoring how divided the bloc remains after years of economic crisis, a record influx of migrants and a series of deadly attacks by Islamist militants.

“I’m not satisfied with the (summit) conclusions on growth or on immigration,” said Renzi, apparently miffed at being excluded from a joint news conference given by Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Francois Hollande at the end of the summit.

Orban criticised Merkel for refusing to agree to a ceiling on the number of migrants entering Europe, calling her welcoming stance towards refugees “self-destructive and naive”. Until the policy was corrected, the Hungarian premier said, a “suction effect” would continue to draw masses to Europe.

People who were in the summit room said that neither Orban nor Renzi had raised serious complaints with other leaders during the talks, which were described as cordial. “This is clearly about domestic politics,” one senior official said.

Franco-German couple

Hollande, standing alongside her, said the summit had demonstrated that the EU was capable of moving forward after the Brexit vote.

It was Germany and France that drove the bloc’s foundation on the ashes of World War Two. But the Franco-German “motor” has stalled in recent years, with Germany playing an increasingly dominant role and France struggling with a weak economy, and more recently, a string of deadly Islamist attacks.

But the deeply unpopular Hollande is widely expected to lose power in a presidential election next spring, and speculation is rife in Germany about whether Chancellor Merkel will decide to run for a fourth term at next year’s parliamentary election amid a fall in her popularity and infighting among her conservatives.

The leaders touched on the looming divorce negotiations with Britain only briefly, with European Council President Donald Tusk leading a discussion over lunch on a boat on the Danube.