Sep 14, 2016
The EU Commission president was frank about the challenges facing the bloc.
"I believe the next 12 months are decisive if we want to reunite our union, if we want to overcome the divisions between East and West, which have opened up in recent months," he said.
Those divisions threaten to overshadow the informal meeting of EU heads of state scheduled Friday in Bratislava.
"Some of these issues between member states of the EU are existential, they're not simply a matter of personalities. They are about the construction of the European Union," said Stephen Booth.
Eastern member states, including Slovakia, have resisted Brussels' plans for a compulsory quota system to resettle refugees across the EU. The dispute escalated this week when Luxembourg's foreign minister said Hungary should be expelled from the bloc for its hardline stance on the refugee crisis, which included erecting a border fence to keep out migrants.
"I am urging the Slovak presidency to bridge the divergences and differences between those who are reluctant to integrate refugees in their societies and those who are convinced, as I am, that the fair share in the relocation and resettlement is of the essence," said the EU President..
But the divergences between east and west go beyond the refugee crisis, says analyst Stephen Booth.
"Particularly after the Brexit vote, the eastern European member states talk much more about sort of transferring power away from the institutions. But I think some of the dynamics aren't just between east and west. They are actually between the Brussels institutions, their view of what the EU might and should look like, and an increasing desire from all member states to sort of have a much more intergovernmental approach," he said.
The Brexit vote still dominates debate in the EU, but in seeking a common cause to unify a fractured union. UK proposed stronger military cooperation.
"We must have a European headquarters. We must also organize ourselves to work toward a common military force and this should be in complement with NATO. More European defense in Europe doesn't mean less transatlantic solidarity," said the EU President.
A common European Union military force was something Britain had long resisted, but its influence is already diminished. Britain went to have a seat at the table of Friday summit.