EU leaders to discuss Ukraine war, defense reforms

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The situation in Ukraine and the EU’s reforms in defense and energy will dominate the agenda of an EU leaders’ summit starting on Thursday afternoon.

The two-day informal gathering will take place in Versailles, hosted by the French government, which assumed the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union in January.

The EU heads of states and governments will discuss the humanitarian situation in Ukraine amid Russia’s war on its neighbor and measures to host refugees.

The leaders will also talk about proposals on additional sanctions against Russia, and EU experts “are still working on different tracks when it comes to trade or the names or additional banks,” a senior EU official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said.

At the same time, the expert confirmed that the EU finds the already imposed measures “quite effective” after the Russian ruble lost more than one-third of its value, credit agencies significantly downgraded Russian bonds, and many private companies decided to suspend their activities.

The EU has adopted so far four sanctions packages against Russia, targeting among others President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, oligarchs, and military officers, as well as excluding Russian and Belarusian banks from the international banking system SWIFT, and banning broadcasting activities of Sputnik and RT media outlets.

– Ukraine’s EU membership

Ukraine’s EU membership will be another important topic on the agenda that divides EU capitals.

One part of the countries – mostly eastern members – “want to move swiftly, another part of the leaders want to better have some distance” and a “proper discussion at a later stage whether Ukraine should join” the EU, the official said.

The common ground between the EU leaders is that all of them are “in favor of rapprochement,” the expert explained.

Another EU official said that the EU’s commitment towards Ukraine’s EU integration is well-reflected by the fact that the Council of the European Union – the EU institution representing member states – asked the European Commission to start working on an evaluation on Ukraine’s membership perspective only a week after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy presented the candidacy request while it took seven to nine months with other countries in the past.

– Defense, energy

The EU leaders are also expected to agree on increasing defense spending and strengthening military capabilities based on EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell’s proposal.

The document – officially called Strategic Compass – sets concrete proposals and timelines for reinforcing EU defense, such as setting up a swiftly deployable EU force of 5,000 troops, investing in industrial capabilities, and securing the bloc against cyberattacks.

The heads of state and government are also expected to give the green light for the European Commission’s plan on phasing out dependency on Russian gas.

The proposal aims to replace two-thirds of Russian gas imports until the end of the year by accelerating the bloc’s energy transition to renewables and diversifying the EU’s gas supply and completely stopping Russian imports by 2030.

The EU expert highlighted that “the transition will be very expensive” and EU leaders will also look into “how to optimize electricity market” to keep energy prices lower.

On Friday, Christine Lagarde, head of the European Central Bank, and Paschal Donohoe, president of the Eurogroup, will join the EU leaders to discuss the economic situation, including rising energy and food prices.

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