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EU leaders gather at summit to bolster post-Brexit union

The 27 leaders, who are meeting without British Prime Minister Theresa May, hope their daylong talks in the Slovak capital will provide the broad outlines of a new “Bratislava roadmap” that should lead to a new-look EU by next spring.

The EU has been rocked by Britain’s decision in a referendum in June to leave the EU and is assessing the fallout on its future. Despite the result, Britain is still a member of the 28-country bloc and will in all likelihood remain so for at least two years to come. To leave the EU, May will have to trigger a two-year departure timetable and she hasn’t done it yet.

Top of the agenda is how to heighten security and better defense cooperation, secure external borders to deal with chaotic immigration and come through on measures to get the vast ranks of unemployed youth in Europe back to work.

Added urgency comes from the fact that countries like France and Germany hold elections next year where far-right and populist parties are seeking to exploit uncertainty generated by Britain’s decision to become the first country to walk out of the EU.

Slovak Prime Minister — and summit co-host — Robert Fico said that “we all want to show unity and we all want to show that this is a unique project and we need to continue.”

France and Germany have been the EU’s driving forces since its inception over half a century ago, and they are cooperating intensely to get the project back on track ahead of a summit in the Italian capital next March, which will mark the 60th anniversary of the EU’s founding Treaty of Rome.

“We are in a critical situation,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

“I hope that Bratislava stands for the fact that we want to work together, and we want the problems that there are in Europe to be solved,”

She immediately threw her country’s economic weight behind the planned reset.

“We have to show through actions that we can make it better,” she said. French President Francois Hollande said the “Bratislava roadmap” consists of three simple themes to help restore the confidence of citizens in the European project.

“Protection, which is to say security; the preparation of the future, which means being able to be a great power on the global scale in terms of the economy and creating employment; and lastly to give hope to youth.”

Hollande is under intense pressure to come with some success as he is trailing in the polls ahead of next May’s French presidential elections. His far-right opponent from the National Front, Marine Le Pen, has already said she will call for an in-out referendum on EU membership if she wins.

Divisions Have Emerged

The weeks preceding the Bratislava summit have seen an endless array of regional meetings of government leaders on how the EU should be run in the future. Divisions have emerged along geographical or ideological lines, or a mix of both.

The refugee emergency has been specifically divisive. Countries in the east — Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and others — have openly opposed proposed solutions coming out of EU headquarters Brussels and even defied the wishes of their neighbors.