EU moves ahead faster on new future than on Brexit talks

Twenty-seven European Union nations, excluding Britain, will be coming up with clear options on a more tightly knit future for themselves even before they will allow divorce negotiations with the U.K. to move toward brokering a new relationship.

EU Council President Donald Tusk said Friday he would be presenting “a political agenda in two weeks’ time,” after EU vision statements in recent weeks from French President Emmanuel Macron, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and others on how to the reform the bloc.

That will be just days before the next EU summit, which is expected to reject for now British demands to start negotiating on the country’s future links with the bloc alongside the current talks on how to make the cleanest Brexit possible.

Officials said Tusk will be given the job of reconciling Macron’s vision of how the EU should embrace a joint budget, a shared military and harmonized taxes to stay globally relevant with those ideas of EU nations that might not want to grow too closer too quickly.

Tusk said he would seek “real solutions to real problems” and stressed the need to make progress “step-by-step, issue-by-issue.”

Macron said the EU had to seize the moment of having an improved economy and increased confidence in the bloc to push through reforms before European elections in 2019.

“2018 is a year of opportunity for Europeans,” he said. “In 5 or 10 years, it will be too late.”

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte warned, however, not to set the bar too high, since changes in the bloc of half a billion people have always been tough to achieve.

“Under-promise and over-deliver,” Rutte said. “Don’t promise an elephant and see a mouse show up.”

The collegial atmosphere was bolstered by a non-confrontational dinner Thursday night for EU leaders, where few of the usual east-west or north-south fissures spoiled the mood, officials said.

The goodwill has not extended to the issue of Brexit over the past months.

EU leaders at their Oct. 19-20 summit have to say whether “sufficient progress” has been achieved on divorce issues with Britain — citizens’ rights, the Irish border and a financial settlement — to grant the U.K. its wish to start talking about a new trade deal with the EU.

Juncker said it will take “a miracle” for there to be sufficient progress by then, despite a round of negotiations in Brussels this week that ended with some progress.

Other EU leaders sounded a similar tone. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said despite “a better vibe and a better mood coming out of the negotiations” he questioned whether the time was right to move on to trade issues with Britain.

“It’s still very evident that there’s more work to be done,” he said.

For the past week, though, British Prime Minister Theresa May has sounded more conciliatory. In Estonia, she guaranteed her country’s commitment to security even though the nation is leaving the bloc.

May visited troops in Estonia close to the Russian border on Friday and said “the United Kingdom is unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security.”

“We will continue to offer aid and assistance to EU member states that are the victims of armed aggression, terrorism and natural or man-made disasters,” she vowed.

She also proposed a “new security partnership” to weather the divorce when her country leaves the bloc in March 2019.
Source: Associated Press

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