BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union leaders are gathering Thursday to weigh measures to tackle terrorism, closer defense ties and migration, convinced that anti-EU sentiment and support for populist parties are waning.
Ahead of the two-day meeting in Brussels, summit chairman Donald Tusk trumpeted the resurgence of the EU, even as Britain launched talks this week on leaving.
Tusk told the leaders in an invitation letter that after a series of election defeats for anti-migrant parties, notably in France, the EU is “slowly turning the corner.”
“We are witnessing the return of the EU rather as a solution, not a problem,” he wrote.
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French President Emmanuel Macron, attending his first summit, warned countries against defying Europe’s principles and values, as some eastern European states challenge the bloc’s refugee-sharing scheme, which was adopted with a legally binding majority vote.
“Europe is not a supermarket. Europe is a common destiny. It gets weaker when it allows its principles to be rejected. European countries that don’t respect the rules have to draw all the political consequences,” Macron said in an interview with eight European newspapers ahead of the summit.
Prior to these meetings, government leaders and heads of state usually meet in their political groupings to prepare. Macron is breaking with tradition and plans to hold talks with the leaders of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, most of whom have challenged the refugee plan.
On migration, the leaders will acknowledge the need to boost support and training for the coast guard in Libya — the main jumping-off point for people from Africa seeking better lives in Europe.
“Further efforts shall also be made to achieve real progress in return policy,” so that unauthorized migrants can be sent home in greater number and more efficiently, according to a draft of their final summit statement.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is also due to praise the good atmosphere at Monday’s Brexit talks, and explain how to protect the rights of citizens hit by Britain’s departure.
Britain is set to become the first country to leave the EU by late March 2019, but Tusk held out hopes Thursday that it might not come to pass.
Ahead of private talks with May Thursday, Tusk said he had been asked by British friends if he could see a way of Britain still staying in.
“I told them that in fact the EU was built on dreams that seemed impossible to achieve,” Tusk said.
“So who knows? You may say I am a dreamer but I’m not the only one,” he added, quoting John Lennon’s popular hit “Imagine.”
Relations with Russia are also on the summit menu. The leaders are not expected to raise any objections to prolong a number of sanctions against Moscow for destabilizing Ukraine.