Mr Tusk has called for “a brutally honest” debate to diagnose where the union has erred in its handling of the migration crisis and the pressures of globalisation. Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras took up his invitation by warning that Europe “should not continue sleepwalking in the wrong direction”.
Others were more upbeat. Xavier Bettel, Luxembourg’s prime minister, said any sense of “existential crisis” was partly because “we just forget that 90 per cent of Europe is working”. “We should find solutions. But we should not blame Europe for everything,” he said.
Few leaders commented on Britain’s exit. “I think it is unfortunate to have a summit without Britain as they are still a member,” said Mr Rutte. “If they decide to leave [and formally notify the EU], then we’ll talk about it.”
What made Bratislava different was that this was not just for public show. Even in the privacy of the summit chamber, that congenial spirit largely held fast. Not present, of course, was British prime minister Theresa May. A difficult negotiation on UK exit terms is in prospect, but this was not the day for it.
... “Just imagine we had no EU,” said Lars Lokke Rasmussen, the Danish premier. “We have no alternative.” “Why are we so pessimistic?” asked Boyko Borisov, the Bulgarian prime minister, a former karate champion. “The EU is a wonderful creation.”
“There is no better place than the EU to live in,” gushed Portugal’s prime minister.
...the overtures were knocked back, with the EU side sticking to the mantra that there will be “no negotiation without notification” of formal Article 50 divorce talks.
“They are testing, testing, testing,” said one senior EU diplomat. “And we are saying no.”
Another said: “We talk to the Brits all the time, but we will not talk about [free movement]. No way.”
The lack of dialogue — even at informal level — is frustrating the British, who had hoped EU leaders gathering in Bratislava on Friday would use the opportunity to discuss their goals for post-Brexit relations. At present Brexit is only one of several discussion points at the leaders’ lunch, hosted on a Danube riverboat.
In his State of the Union speech on Wednesday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he had never seen Europe’s leaders so fractured, or so inwardly focused, which underscores how difficult it will be to achieve even limited goals in coming weeks and months.
“Never before have I seen such little common ground between our member states, so few areas where they agree to work together,” he said. “Never before have I seen national governments so weakened by the forces of populism and paralyzed by the risk of defeat in the next elections.”
The absence of the U.K. and its new prime minister, Theresa May, imposes limitations on the summit: nothing that is said or done will be legally binding, making it little more than a high-level public relations exercise.
In Brussels, officials worked aggressively to set modest expectations, portraying it as the start of a post-Brexit reassessment [...]
Donald Tusk: We will never allow uncontrolled flow of refugees again. Extra personnel will guard Bulgaria's border with Turkey.— Jan Zilinsky (@janzilinsky) September 16, 2016
Alexander Stubb: Europe’s survival depends on its leaders’ defence of democracy - FT.com: "focus on the basics. The legitimacy of the EU rests on its ability to obtain results. Economic growth, job creation and security are top of the list. If one of these is seen to be weak, the whole union suffers."