BRUSSELS, Belgium, Mar 10 – EU leaders sought Friday to patch up deep divisions over the bloc’s post-Brexit future, a day after an unseemly spat with Warsaw over President Donald Tusk’s re-election underscored a lack of unity.
The Brussels meeting held without British Prime Minister Theresa May aims to draft a declaration that leaders hope to unveil with great fanfare at a summit in Rome later this month to mark the EU’s 60th birthday.
But unity is at a premium as the EU enters its seventh decade as big guns like France and Germany squabble with eastern countries over how the bloc should function when Britain pulls out.
Paris and Berlin favour a “multi-speed Europe” in which some member states can deepen integration faster than others but Eastern nations, led by Poland, oppose it for fear of being locked out and left behind.
European leaders have stressed the need to pull together as the European Union comes to terms with Britain’s seismic decision to leave the bloc, as well as a more assertive Russia and a less friendly United States.
According to a draft of the proposals seen by AFP, the EU 27 will “work together to promote the common good on the understanding that some of us can move closer, further and faster in some areas, keeping the door open to those who want to join later.”
The EU will be “an undivided and indivisible” union that “acts together whenever possible” the document said.
The wording clearly prioritises a “multi-speed” Europe and could spark further anger from countries like Poland who are loathe to see EU heavyweights go it alone.
The push to forge a more collective future for Europe was overshadowed by the clash with Poland over Tusk’s re-election as head of the European Council, which groups the bloc’s political leaders.
Most of the 28 leaders Britain still being a member had hoped to push through Polish ex-premier Tusk’s re-election on Thursday with a minimum of fuss so they could concentrate on a host of other challenges.
Instead, they ran into outright opposition from the staunchly eurosceptic Polish government which cast the only no vote against 27 in favour.
Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo accused her EU partners of setting a “dangerous precedent” by railroading their pick over the opinion of the candidate’s home government.
Szydlo, whose right-wing eurosceptic Law and Justice party has nursed a long and bitter enmity with the centrist Tusk, blocked the summit’s final statement in response.
“It’s not acceptable that one member says ‘I don’t want that’, and then the other 27 are paralysed,” said Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel as he arrived for the talks Friday.
Britain’s May, who left Brussels after the first day of the summit, said she wanted to “get on with” leaving the European Union and her fellow EU leaders agreed.
The EU summit was May’s last before her self-imposed deadline to trigger the Article 50 withdrawal process by the end of March