EU leaders commit to unity despite major divisions
SIBIU, Romania (AP) -- Leaders of European Union countries, minus Britain, committed Thursday to stick together "through thick and thin" to remain a key player in the world despite myriad problems facing the bloc.
"The world doesn't sleep," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "We have to be innovative. We have to be strong, we have to be united."
Amid Brexit negotiations that have preoccupied the bloc for the past two years and rifts over migration policy, the EU felt it needed a clarion call of unity and to reiterate its fundamental principles.
Britain is still nominally a member, but Prime Minister Theresa May remained in London, seeking a belated breakthrough to get the Brexit deal through the U.K. Parliament.
The other 27 nations are unhappy that May missed the original Brexit date, March 29. The departure date, now extended to October 31, means the bloc continues to be burdened by the drawn-out divorce talks.
In the Romanian president's hometown of Sibiu, leaders as disparate as French President Emmanuel Macron and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban found a 10-point list of generalities they could all get behind.
They vow to maintain strong democratic rule of law principles, which many say have come under pressure over the past years in nations from Hungary to Poland.
In what they call "the spirit of Sibiu," they promised to stick together as one in a global environment "to make the most of new trading opportunities and to jointly tackle global issues such as preserving our environment and fighting climate change."
But problems were already showing on environmental issues. When Macron was lauding a joint approach from nine nations on the topic, others, including Merkel, clearly stayed away from it because they thought it was based too much on traditional energy sources.
"We consider the path of betting on nuclear power to be completely wrong," said Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said. "We have to fight climate change but neither nuclear energy nor coal-fired power plants are the right way."
And disagreements also appeared over the five-yearly rite of picking new leaders, now that European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker are leaving later this year. It promises to be a mighty tussle.
Mark Rutte is seen by many as an early favorite to replace Tusk but the Dutch prime minister said on Thursday he was not a candidate. In the past, candidates who declared early faded quickly and never got the job they hoped for.
Juncker is also slated to leave in November and replacing him is expected to be more complicated, considering the results of the May 23-26 European elections must also be taken into account.
Frank Jordans contributed from Berlin