#SibiuSummit – Road to Sibiu is paved with good intentions

| May 9, 2019

Ahead of the informal summit of the EU-27 in Sibiu, Romania, President Juncker outlined his policy recommendation for how Europe could shape its future in an uncertain world.  The president announced that his proposals would create a more protective, competitive, fair, sustainable and influential Europe. What’s not to like, writes Catherine Feore? 

Juncker also used the opportunity to defend his own record and show that Europe is still delivering despite a dumpy five years. The continued aftermath of the eurozone crisis, the various migration challenges in the Eastern and then Western Mediterranean and the accompanying failure of solidarity among member states, showed that European unity is experiencing deep fissures.

European leaders will be looking at the European election results to see how deep the fissures run. Juncker reminded us that the elections were the largest transnationals in the world. He asked voters to ask themselves what would the European landscape be like in the next few years if people chose to vote for extremist parties.

The informal Council will present a Sibiu Declaration, but the main discussions will focus on the EU’s strategic agenda to 2024. The declaration will be a sign of unity and confidence in the future of the EU.

Strategic Agenda

The Sibius meeting will allow heads of government to have their first discussion on the EU’s Strategic Agenda. The agenda has for main headings, broadly: protecting citizens and freedoms; building  a greener and fairer future; the economic future; and, promoting Europe’s interests in the world.  Discussions will be divided into two parts, one on the external dimension and one on the internal dimension.

Donald Tusk’s note says that after Brexit the EU was concentrating on illegal migration, security and the EUs uncertain economic future. The President Council suggests that the EU has been successful in these areas with illegal migration down by 98%, stronger checks at the external borders and more people in jobs than ever before.

It is not anticipated that an agreement will be reached, but the Sibiu meeting will set the groundwork for an agreement in June.


There will also be a pre-emptive discussion on various appointments. A senior European Council official said that there would be no automaticity in the selection of the next president of the European Commission. The heads of government had already agreed at the beginning of 2018 that they would return to the European Council taking the lead, but following appropriate consultation with the European Parliament.

Given the new found prominence given to the ‘Spitzenkandidat’ process, with debates on several forums between prospective presidents it is hard to see how the European Council cannot acknowledge this process. Apart from all else, each head of government will have participated in the selection of their candidate through their political party.

EU Reporter asked President Juncker about whether he thought the Spitzenkandidat process could be derailed. Juncker replied that as they tried to do it (derail) the process the last time and did not succeed, “they will not succeed this time”.

Tusk is keen, above all else, to avoid the difficulties of the last process of selection which took three months and three summits to resolve. President Juncker was opposed by the then British Prime Minister David Cameron, who was desperate to make a futile show of strength to British voters and the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who was already leaning the edge of the European Peoples’ Party from which he has now been suspended. Indeed, Tusk may be trying to stop this problem in advance by meeting with Orbán, who announced this week that he will no longer be supporting the EPP’s Spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber.

The way around any impasse could be found in the area in which the EU is the unacknowledged world leader, ‘horse trading’. The president of the European Commission is not the only seat that is up for grabs, there is also president of the Council (Tusk’s post), the EU High Representative (currently held by Mogherini), the president of the European Parliament (Tajani) and the president of the European Central Bank (Draghi).

Treaty Change

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said recently in an interview with Germany’s Deutsche Welle that he thought that the current treaties had reached their limits and that leaders should face up to the need for treaty change.

President Juncker said he was not against treaty change, but said a lot could be done under the current treaties if the will was there, adding that sometimes you have imperfect treaties and they can be transformed if the will of those who are supposed to apply them is total, but you can have perfect treaties and if the will to apply them is not there they turn into imperfect treaties. He suggested to only do treaty change when it was needed.

Sibiu may not set the world on fire, but it’s a chance for the EU-27 leaders to lift their eyes off the ground and look at the horizon. The EU exists as a result of mutual interests and shared values. Even some of Europe’s most hostile governments seek European solutions. Salvini wants more European joint action and burden sharing when it comes to migration. Orbán needs Europe’s regional funds which account for over 50% of Hungary’s inward investment. Italy, Hungary, Poland and every other EU country would have a meagre future outside the arms of its largest trade partner.

At the same time external challenges are manifold, from Donald Trump’s bully-boy tactics in trade and tepid support for NATO partners, China’s state-sponsored capitalism and the need to take a new approach to Africa. No one state can address these challenges by itself in any sort of meaningful way. Europe has to work.


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Category: A Frontpage, Economy, EU, EU, European Commission, European Parliament, Politics, World

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