EU Summit to Defuse Migrant Tension, Set Brexit Countdown
AFP - European leaders will gather Wednesday for a summit to put summer tensions over migration behind them and to set up the last stretch of talks for a Brexit deal.
The European Union's top officials face intense pressure in the coming weeks to seal a divorce deal and a plan for future ties with Britain to avert a chaotic exit in March.
In effect, the Salzburg gathering has become the first in an expected series of three summits in successive months to finalise London and Brussels' break-up.
EU negotiator Michel Barnier insisted Tuesday that the long-planned October 18 summit in Brussels remains the "moment of truth" for his team and his British counterpart.
But he appeared to tacitly accept that more talks would follow, when he said of October: "We will see if an accord is within reach and we'll see if the Irish issue is solved."
By "Irish issue" the French official meant efforts to ensure that Britain's decision to leave the union does not result in the reimposition of a "hard border" between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
British Prime Minister Theresa May will brief her 27 EU counterparts on the state of the Brexit talks at a dinner hosted by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz on Wednesday.
The leaders will then meet without May on Thursday to discuss the hurdles to a deal and a parallel statement on future relations with Britain.
Diplomats expect little headway in Salzburg as both sides act cautiously before May's divided Conservative Party begins its annual conference on September 30.
Officials said that 80 percent of the divorce settlement is agreed, but that progress must be made quickly on Ireland and on the parallel political statement that will lay out a blueprint for future relations.
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