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EU summit to focus on Brexit but UK's not invited

The U.K. may not be in the room but it'll still be the biggest topic of conversation when other European Union (EU) heads of state and government gather in the Slovakian capital of Bratislava on Friday.

Ahead of the meeting, Donald Tusk, the head of the European Council, sent out a "Bratislava letter" to leaders – essentially, a nine-point plan detailing how the 27 leaders and ministers attending the summit should approach the topic of Brexit and the reasons behind it: Fragmentation, populism and euroskepticism.

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Calling the summit a "particularly historic moment," Tusk shared "some personal reflections" ahead of the meeting that give an insight into how EU leaders might treat the U.K. in forthcoming negotiations over a post-Brexit relationship.

"I think it is important that we make an honest assessment of the current situation to provide the best possible basis for building our future together," Tusk said.

Here's Tusk's nine recommendations for EU leaders to consider ahead of the summit:

1) Dealing with the U.K.

"In this respect, our position should remain clear and unambiguous ("No negotiations without notification"). The Treaty provisions drawn up in case of an EU exit protect the interests of the Union. Our objective in the future negotiations should be, on the one hand, to establish the best possible relations with the UK; on the other hand, however, we should stick to the Treaty and be coolheaded, consistent, and fully united as well as firm in insisting on a balance of rights and obligations. If we do so, there will be no room for doubt that it is a good thing to be a member of the Union," Tusk said.

2) Ask yourself why Brexit happened

"While waiting for the U.K. government to trigger negotiations, we should diagnose the state and the prospects of a post-Brexit EU," Tusk said.

"It would be a fatal error to assume that the negative result in the U.K. referendum represents a specifically British issue," he said, adding that the vote represented "a desperate attempt to answer the questions that millions of Europeans ask themselves daily, questions about the very essence of politics."

"People in Europe want to know if the political elites are capable of restoring control over events and processes which overwhelm, disorientate, and sometimes terrify them," Tusk said.

3) Migrant crisis was 'tipping point'

"The migration crisis was the tipping point," for the Brexit vote, Tusk said.

Illegal migrants sit on the dock at the Tripoli port after 117 migrants of African origin, including six pregnant women, were rescued by two coast guard boats off the coast of Libya on June 7, 2016.
Mahmud Turkia | AFP | Getty Images

"Last year's chaos on our borders, new images every day of hundreds of thousands of people moving across our continent without any control, created a feeling of threat among many Europeans, " Tusk said.

"They had to wait too long for action to bring the situation under control (and) the lack of rapid action and of a uniform European strategy have weakened citizens' trust in their governments, the institutions and in the wider establishment, already undermined since the financial crisis. Rebuilding this trust has become an urgent necessity, which Brexit has demonstrated very clearly."

4) The fight against terrorism

Following several high profile terrorist attacks in Europe in the last few years, Tusk warned that it was "equally important to combat terrorism effectively."

In principle we all agree, and yet there are still too many practical and legislative obstacles. Someone must give back to Europeans their sense of security…We can and must do more together."

5) We must put European interests first

EU leaders needed to better protect the "economic and social interests" of citizens, Tusk said.

"It is obvious that free trade and global competition lie in the interest of Europeans, but it is equally obvious that they pose significant and often unprecedented challenges," he wrote.

"This is why, while we continue to work on future trade deals, we must guarantee and reassure our citizens and European companies that we are above all representing and protecting their interests in this process."

6) We have to offer a better future

"Bringing back the feeling of security and order, the trust of EU citizens in their political leadership as well as rebuilding the reputation of the Union as a synonym of protection and stability, are all crucial and indispensable, but they are insufficient," Tusk said.

Riot policemen are seen through smoke, after minor scale clashes during a protest in Athens on May 8, 2016.
Kostas Pikoulas/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

"Bratislava should therefore also provide a road map for other equally important endeavors (such as economic and social development, jobs and opportunities for the young, the single market, the digital agenda and investments)," he said.

7) Change your 'business as usual' attitude

Faced with challenging times, Tusk warned EU leaders that complacency was not an option.

"Following Brexit, business as usual is not an option. We can either come out of this crisis weaker and conflicted, or stronger and more united," Tusk said.

"We will not, however, change the European Union into a single state. Therefore, it will be crucial for the Member States to better cooperate among one another, to bring our forces together in the Union."

8) Avoid the 'more Europe' trap

Amid the doom and gloom facing Europe, Tusk said there was still "ample room" for "real optimism."

EyesWideOpen | Getty Images

"Critical diagnosis must be at its source. We need to do everything not to let it degenerate into a blame game, so futile and so typical of recent years, or a bidding competition for best-sounding slogans, such as "better Europe", "less Europe" or "more Europe". After all, someone might eventually cut it short with "no more Europe"," Tusk warned.

9) 'Rise to the challenge' or face the consequences

Concluding his letter of recommendations to leaders, Tusk offered his final thoughts on the necessity of simple but fundamental changes: "We do not have to change everything if we want things to stay as they are. We must rectify a number of things in order to preserve what is best. For that to succeed we need readiness to take several difficult, yet in fact simple decisions. This is not about new treaties or procedural changes. What we need is a strong political will and imagination. The time has come to rise to the challenge. In fact, there is no other way," he concluded.

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