With the coronavirus pandemic receding, the two-day meeting starting Thursday should have been devoted to optimistic discussions on the EU’s new economic growth and investment model.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade his neighbour turned everything upside down.
With European nations united in backing Ukraine’s resistance with unprecedented economic sanctions, three main topics now dominate the agenda: Ukraine’s application for fast-track EU membership; how to wean the bloc off its Russian energy dependency; and bolstering the region’s defence capabilities.
The EU has shown remarkable cohesion since the war started last month. It quickly adopted massive sanctions targeting Putin himself, Russia’s financial system and its high-maintenance oligarchs. It also took the unprecedented step of collectively supplying weapons to a country under attack.
The EU agreed to spend 450 million euros ($500 million) on buying weapons for Ukraine. Meanwhile, Germany said it would raise defence spending above 2% of gross domestic product — and broke with a long tradition of refusing to export weapons to conflict zones when it agreed to send anti-tank and air defence missiles to Ukraine.
“In stepping up European defense, we must find a consensus within the EU, that sometimes the best way of achieving peace is the willingness to use military strength,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said.
According to a draft of the summit’s conclusions obtained by The Associated Press, leaders will agree in Versailles that they “must bolster resolutely (their) investment in defense capabilities and innovative technologies,” and to continue efforts to make the EU “a stronger and more capable security provider.”
But two weeks into the war, divisions among leaders have started to surface on integrating Ukraine and severing energy ties with Moscow.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wants his country to quickly become an EU member, but an agreement on that point won’t be achieved this week, despite more prodding from Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
“This step would provide an enormous injection of hope to the Ukrainian people. In these dark times, we need this hope more than ever,” Kubela wrote in an opinion article in the Financial Times. “Leaders of the EU, it is your turn to make history.”
The Ukrainian fast-track bid has received warm support in Eastern European countries, but EU officials have stressed the process could take years, with unanimity among current members required to allow a newcomer in the club.
“This will not happen in the short term, because this is a whole process taking many years,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Wednesday.