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At the top, leaders see EU reshaped by Russia’s war – POLITICO


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VERSAILLES, France — War has returned to Europe and the continent will never be the same, EU heads of state and government said on Friday. But as the leaders gathered for a summit at the Palace of Versailles, they struggled to adjust to their frightening new reality.

On the one hand, they admitted that many old rules now need to be rewritten – for example, to accommodate unprecedented new military spending.

“Two weeks ago we woke up to a different Europe in a different world,” said European Council President Charles Michel.

At the same time, many leaders clung to old tribal instincts, with frugal countries reluctant to take on new common debts and Western countries hesitant to admit new members to the East, including war-torn Ukraine. .

Perhaps most contradictory was the insistence by some leaders, including the host of the summit, French President Emmanuel Macron, that Europe itself is not at war, even though they have recognized that Russia had invaded Ukraine precisely because of Kiev’s westward trajectory towards the EU, insisted that they strengthen military support and agreed to impose new punitive sanctions on Moscow .

“Russia’s choice under President Putin was to bring war back to Europe,” Macron said at the summit’s closing press conference. “Russia’s unprecedented violence against Ukraine and its people is a tragic turning point in our history.”

But pressed by a reporter on the EU’s inability to stop the conflict, Macron said: “There is a war on the ground, but we are not at war.” He added: “You are absolutely right to say that we have no response in the theater of war, which was triggered by Russian aggression, because we are not there in the theater of war. “.

Although Macron and other leaders said Putin’s invasion permanently reshaped Europe’s security architecture, they also admitted that EU countries were not at all ready to adopt a new posture and to assert their power to stop incidents such as the bombing of a maternity ward in Mariupol, which may constitute war crimes.

“We have our way of responding to the atrocious aggression shown by Putin,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, announcing a fourth round of international sanctions against Russia. “And we will be determined and forceful in the response.”

Determined and energetic, perhaps, but also a bit chaotic and disorganized.

Michel, together with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, announced a proposal to increase the EU’s contribution to military support to Ukraine by an additional €500 million through an off-budget fund called the European Peace Facility. Both men gave the impression that the leaders had approved the plan.

This was, however, contradicted by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who said no decision had been made. An aide to Michel later conceded the proposal was “on the table” but would still require formal EU Council approval, with a decision possibly next week.

The two-day summit at the ornate palace on the outskirts of Paris was originally intended to be an opportunity to start rethinking EU debt and deficit rules, with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, former head of the European Central Bank, at the center of the effort with Macron.

Instead, with the agenda rewritten by the war, the summit repeatedly featured EU leaders struggling to recover with Ukraine under bombardment and more than 2 million refugees who had already fled the country.

Leaders grappled with soaring energy prices and the potential disruption in the supply of key raw materials, including agricultural products, which could lead to food shortages around the world.

But heads of state and government also spent nearly five hours debating Ukraine’s request for fast-track approval of its EU membership application, even though such a fast-track process does not technically exist. not. The leaders finally agreed on a strong and symbolically important statement of support.

They noted that Ukraine’s candidacy had already been submitted to the Commission for consideration with unprecedented speed, beginning a years-long bureaucratic process, and pledged to do everything possible to bring Ukraine closer to EU in the meantime.

“In the meantime and without delay,” the leaders said, “we will further strengthen our ties and deepen our partnership to help Ukraine pursue its European path.” Ukraine belongs to our European family. At Friday’s press conference, von der Leyen made it clear: “We paved the way towards us for Ukraine.”

During the summit, leaders also agreed to try to end Europe’s dependence on Russian energy, although there were substantial disagreements over how quickly this would happen. could be achieved and whether the objective could be achieved without raising costs for citizens and businesses.

“We agreed to gradually reduce our dependence on Russian imports of gas, oil and coal,” the leaders said in the final statement, in which they also instructed the European Commission to draw up a plan. on energy targets by the end of May.

Some leaders of southern EU countries, including Draghi, used the summit to push for new joint borrowing, modeled on the historic joint debt program of the EU’s bailout and economic recovery plan in the event of coronavirus pandemic. Draghi said the war had created “the need for a reconsideration of the entire regulatory apparatus which is justified by this emergency situation. We find this argument on the Stability Pact, we find it on the laws on State aid, we find it on the standards of agricultural products that can be imported, we find it on the electricity market.

However, Rutte and the leaders of other traditional frugal countries were quick to resist proposals for greater common debt.

“The Netherlands is not in favor of Eurobonds or the issuance of joint debt,” Rutte said after the summit, noting that it would be better to redirect funds from the post-pandemic recovery plan first. of the EU which have not yet been spent.

Overall, EU officials and diplomats said EU countries were fairly united in the need to respond forcefully to Russia’s warmongering and disagreements exposed at the summit were part of regular exchanges. between national capitals with a range of different interests and sensibilities. .

“There is a widespread and shared sense of urgency,” said a senior official from a northern EU country. “The issues are very complex and therefore a simple ‘we are united’ is not enough.”

Macron and other leaders noted the dramatic change in positions taken by some member countries in the weeks following Russia’s attack on Ukraine, including Germany’s decision to supply arms and increase its own national military expenditure.

“Germany decided just over 10 days ago to make historic investments,” Macron said. “Denmark has also made a historic choice to submit to its people in a few months the possibility of returning to the European security and defense project.” He added: “As you can see, everywhere on our Continent, historic choices are being made, which mark a major turning point. We have to organize this at European level to build this common defense capability.

It remains to be seen whether, in fact, the EU will manage to organize itself once and for all around a common security and defense strategy.

Von der Leyen, at the summit’s closing press conference, called for an investigation into possible Russian war crimes, including the bombing of a maternity hospital in the southern Ukrainian town of Mariupol – east of the country.

“Indeed it is excruciating, it is excruciating,” she said. “This bombing of the maternity ward, for example. And I think there needs to be investigations into the issue of war crimes. Therefore, it needs to be reflected and recorded, soberly.

“We are on day 15 of this horrible war,” von der Leyen added, noting that the EU had done its part to inflict economic damage on Russia with harsh sanctions. “You see that the ruble is in free fall. It lost more than 50% against the euro. You see there are skyrocketing interest rates in Russia. You see inflation skyrocketing. Rating agencies now classify Russian bonds as obsolete, and recession hits the country. It’s in 15 days.

Macron said he believed the summit helped leaders come to terms with the important choices they face in the face of Russia’s military aggression.

“Today we Europeans on the ground are not at war,” he said. “But we also have to do our part and have the courage to take historic decisions, to take responsibility for the fact that defending democracy and our values ​​has a cost, that making these choices of independence has a cost and that implies that we sometimes question dogmas that we had had for many years…the ways we organized things and the habits we had.

He continued: “And I think I can say that the discussions yesterday and today have led to an awareness among Europeans here in Versailles to move forward in this direction.”

Maïa de La Baume, Lili Bayer, Giorgio Leali and Suzanne Lynch contributed to the report.




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William

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