Donald Trump casts a long shadow over EU Malta summit

Plans for multi-speed Europe challenge Ireland to consider what kind of union we want

 

Donald Trump casts a long shadow. Even an EU summit in Malta on Friday preoccupied with the flow of migrants from Libya and with Brexit, could not escape debating the malign impact of the new force on the global stage. François Hollande, France’s outgoing president, led criticism, calling it “unacceptable” for Trump to applaud Brexit and to forecast the break-up of the EU.

Lithuania’s president Dalia Grybauskaite poured cold water on UK prime minister Theresa May’s suggestion Britain could be a link to Washington. Europe did not need a “bridge”, she said, adding, presumably ironically, that the EU could communicate with Trump on Twitter.

Hollande’s anger was reflected in criticism of the likely US nomination of eurosceptic businessman Ted Malloch as ambassdor. The US should pick an envoy who believes in Europe, Hollande said, echoing feelings of many of the 28, although Ireland is among those that will not seek to block the appointment. Malloch, who has yet to be officially proposed, in an interview with Bloomberg TV on Friday encouraged member- states to hold referendums similar to the UK’s. The EU “is an overly complex fairly bloated bureaucratic organisation,” Malloch argued. “Its ambitions have basically overstepped its capabilities, so the question really is what the European member states want to see for that European Union.”

Precisely that question was on the agenda for the weekend informal meeting, although responses were not remotely what Malloch was suggesting. Life after Brexit and the need to revitalise the union are part of the discussions about a new agenda of reform and integration likely to be unveiled at a Rome summit in March to mark the 60th anniversary of the Rome treaties. Despite concern in some states, Ireland included, that voters have little appetite for such discussions, others see further integration as an imperative.

Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel after the summit endorsed the idea of a so-called “multispeed Europe”. The last few years, she said, showed “that there will be an EU with different speeds, that not everyone will take part in the same levels of integration”. Hollande said he thought that the Rome statement could mention “several speeds” as a possible way forward. And in a paper offering proposals for the Rome declaration, the Benelux neighbours said “different paths of integration and enhanced co-operation could provide for effective responses to challenges that affect member states in different ways”.

Such discussions represent important challenges for Ireland which will want, inasmuch as it can, to be part of the innermost cores of membership in an inevitable multi-speed future. It is crucial that, along with preparations being made for the challenges of Brexit, our policy class begins to consider the shape of the EU we would like.

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