Di­plo­matic marathon kicks off to rein­vent Europe af­ter Brexit

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

French, Ger­man and Ital­ian lead­ers met on Mon­day n the is­land of Ven­totene near Naples, open­ing a se­ries of marathon di­plo­matic talks on the fu­ture of Europe. The Franco-Ger­man cou­ple hopes to re­vive the EU project with a new po­lit­i­cal roadmap, EurAc­tiv has learned.

Talks on the fu­ture of Europe are lin­ing up ahead of an in­for­mal Euro­pean sum­mit in Bratislava on Septem­ber 16, which will take place with­out the UK.

Cen­tre-left lead­ers will meet on Thurs­day, Au­gust 25, in Saint-Cloud, and on Au­gust 31 French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande meets Euro­pean Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk, also in Paris. Hol­lande and Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel will gather again on Septem­ber 2 for a din­ner in Switzer­land. And Greek Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras will greet the lead­ers of South­ern Europe, in­clud­ing France, on Septem­ber 9, in Athens. The ob­jec­tive of this di­plo­matic marathon is to find new po­lit­i­cal mo­men­tum for the EU’s 27 re­main­ing mem­bers af­ter Bri­tain’s shock de­ci­sion to leave the bloc in a ref­er­en­dum last June.

Tusk has him­self em­barked on a Euro­pean tour to sound out the po­lit­i­cal mood in Europe ahead of the Bratislava sum­mit.

Di­verg­ing views on se­cu­rity, bor­ders

Se­cu­rity has been iden­ti­fied as the

first po­lit­i­cal ob­jec­tive. In a sym­bolic move, the Ital­ian, French and Ger­man lead­ers met for din­ner on Mon­day evening on the Garibaldi air­craft car­rier. The Ital­ian ship is first and fore­most a mil­i­tary ves­sel, but may also serve other pur­poses, like res­cu­ing mi­grants in the Mediter­ranean. While there is a shared will to fight ter­ror­ism, Europe is di­vided be­tween East­ern Euro­pean EU mem­bers who want to keep their bor­ders shut and the big EU coun­tries who want to re­gain con­trol of the Schen­gen zone by step­ping up con­trols at the bloc’s ex­ter­nal bor­ders.

The French-Ital­ian-Ger­man trio wants to ac­cel­er­ate the set­ting up of a Euro­pean coast guard, which should com­mence op­er­a­tions to­wards the end of the year. France is ex­pected to con­trib­ute 170 peo­ple to this new body man­aged by Fron­tex.

Paris also sup­ports the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion’s ETIAS project to in­tro­duce a sys­tem of paid visas for non-Euro­peans on the model of Amer­ica’s ESTA sys­tem. Such a scheme would al­low bet­ter screen­ing for peo­ple seek­ing to en­ter the EU ter­ri­tory, sup­port­ers say.

De­fence

De­fence pol­icy is the sec­ond pri­or­ity iden­ti­fied by the Ven­totene meet­ing.

For the EU’s found­ing coun­tries, in­ter­est around de­fence pol­icy has in­ten­si­fied fol­low­ing Bri­tain’s de­ci­sion to leave the bloc.

“With­out the UK, we are los­ing some mil­i­tary ca­pac­ity,” said a source close to the French Pres­i­dent. “We have to bounce back in this area and re­in­force”.

Un­til the UK’s de­ci­sion to leave, Europe’s strate­gic au­ton­omy was not re­ally an is­sue for France, which re­lied on its own arse­nal cou­pled with a strong co­op­er­a­tion with Bri­tain. In­deed, the UK has Europe’s sec­ond big­gest army af­ter France and its de­par­ture from the EU is leav­ing holes in the bloc’s de­fence arse­nal. Paris and Ber­lin would like to see more in­vest­ment in re­search and are mulling a ded­i­cated in­vest­ment scheme for com­mon de­fence projects.

Eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion

Ini­tia­tives to re­launch eco­nomic growth only come as a third pri­or­ity for the French and Ger­man lead­ers, with em­pha­sis there placed on in­vest­ment in dig­i­tal, clean en­ergy and sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture.

But progress on the euro­zone’s po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion was not ex­pected to progress at the Ven­totene meet­ing, de­spite calls by Fran­cois Hol­lande af­ter the Brexit vote to push for so­cial and fis­cal har­mon­i­sa­tion in the sin­gle cur­rency bloc.

In­deed, any har­mon­i­sa­tion in this area would en­tail lev­el­ling the play­ing field on ul­tra-sen­si­tive top­ics like pen­sions or the min­i­mum wage, which would al­most in­evitably in­volve low­er­ing the bar in a coun­try like France where so­cial con­tri­bu­tions are among the high­est in the world. This does not ap­pear to be a tan­gi­ble so­lu­tion ahead the Pres­i­den­tial elec­tions

next year.

Dou­bling the Juncker plan?

This leaves the Franco-Ger­man-Ital­ian trio with the op­tion to strengthen the Euro­pean Fund for Strate­gic In­vest­ment (EFSI), also known as the Juncker Plan.

Hol­lande said on his Bastille Day speech that he wanted to see fund­ing for EFSI dou­bled, an idea that should gain trac­tion among sev­eral lead­ers in Bratislava. If EFSI has worked well ac­cord­ing to the Com­mis­sion, the Juncker plan also helped iden­tify un­met in­vest­ment needs, there­fore cre­at­ing de­mand. But it has also in­creased in­equal­i­ties, which is one of its per­verse ef­fects. With more ma­ture and bet­ter projects pre­sented, North­ern Euro­pean coun­tries were the first to ben­e­fit, with France, the UK and Ger­many round­ing up the bulk of EFSI money. Mediter­ranean coun­tries and East­ern Europe, mean­while, lagged be­hind.

An­other re­frain of­ten re­peated, the 27 should in­sist in Bratislava on the im­por­tance of youth. Yet in prac­tice, EU ac­tion in this area is far from sat­is­fac­tory. The Euro­pean Youth Guar­an­tee Scheme that aims to of­fer young peo­ple un­der 25 an in­tern­ship, train­ing or job within six months, is for ex­am­ple not funded for 2016. Here again, the EU stum­bles due to a lack of re­sources, while its very sur­vival lies pri­mar­ily on young peo­ple’s ad­her­ence to the com­mon project.

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