On 9 May, EU leaders gathered in Sibiu, Romania, to discuss the European Union’s future after Brexit. European heads of state and government agreed on 10 commitments related to the future of the bloc that will help the EU live up to the responsibility of making the EU stronger and its future brighter. Theresa May’s absence alleviated the fears that, once again, a European summit would be dominated by the Brexit issue.
The summit was supposed to be a grand symbolic gesture to demonstrate the EU is still standing after the first-ever departure of one of its members. The Sibiu Declaration reflects this symbolic nature by speaking in lofty terms on the EU’s future, highlighting that European leaders will “defend one Europe”, “stay united through thick and thin”, “always look for joint solutions”, “deliver where it matters most”, etc. More interestingly, however, is that leaders were also invited to have a first discussion in Sibiu on Donald Tusk’s draft Strategic Agenda for 2019-2024 which outlines in more detail the direction different EU policies should go in the next mandate. Mentioning the protection of citizens and freedoms, the development of a European economic base, a greener, fairer and more inclusive future and the promotion of Europe’s interests and values in the world, the Strategic Agenda is the document that will set the European agenda for the next five years. The declaration itself appears to be a mix of generic points and aspirations that clash with the everyday reality of the EU.
European leaders also discussed the process of how to elect the future President of the European Commission. Several leaders, spearheaded by French President Emmanuel Macron, declared that they are not obliged to follow the Spitzenkandidaten system, by which the lead candidate of the party with the most seats gets elected as next Commission President. Angela Merkel, on the other hand, again emphasized her support for Manfred Weber, the EPP’s Spitzenkandidat. The power play between different European leaders is therefore expected to lead to difficult negotiations on who will fill the EU’s top jobs, most importantly the Presidency of the European Commission.
With regard to digitalization, the declaration states that EU leaders will “always uphold the principle of fairness, whether it be in the labor market, in welfare, in the economy or in the digital transformation.”