Written by Suzana Elena Anghel.
On 30 and 31 May 2022, EU Heads of State or Government will meet for the fourth time since the outbreak of Russia’s war on Ukraine, to discuss developments in and support for the invaded country. Three other inter-connected topics – security and defence, energy and food security – will also be on the agenda. EU leaders are expected to take stock of the defence investment gaps analysis presented by the European Commission and the High Representative/Vice President of the Commission (HR/VP), Josep Borrell, and to give further guidelines. Their debate on energy could be a heated one as Member States agree on the main principle – cutting off the EU’s dependency on Russian fossil fuels – but disagree on the method and pace. With respect to food security, EU leaders are expected to consider the disruptive impact of Russia’s war on Ukraine on food supply chains and on prices in the EU and its neighbourhood.
On 10-11 March 2022 in Versailles, the French President, Emmanuel Macron, announced that the EU leaders would meet in the course of May 2022 to follow up on their Versailles agenda. As is traditionally the case, the meeting will open with an address by the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola. Subsequently, the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, will again join the meeting by video-link. In preparation for the special meeting of 30-31 May, for which conclusions are due to be issued, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, met with several of his colleagues, including Emmanuel Macron and the Polish Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki. Such bilateral meetings allow President Michel ‘to prepare the ground’ and work towards building consensus.
European Council meeting
Russia’s war on Ukraine
This meeting of EU Heads of State or Government will be the fourth since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The leaders are expected to reaffirm their solidarity, support and assistance to Ukraine and its people, to support Ukraine’s territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders, and to call, once again, on Russia to comply with international law and cease hostilities. Enlargement will most probably not be discussed, as the topic is expected to come up for discussion at their meeting of 23-24 June 2022. The EU leaders have constantly expressed their support to Ukraine’s European aspirations and choice, a key political message, which is much anticipated today given rising sensitivities in Kyiv following President Macron’s proposal of a ‘European political community’. Sanctions will be another unity-testing issue for the European Council, as several leaders have called for more bold action, including an ambitious ban on fossil fuels.
President Michel pointed to the global consequences of Russia’s war on Ukraine, stressing that it has led ‘to one of the biggest refugee crises since World War Two, to rising food and energy prices’. Visiting Moldova, he praised the efforts of frontline countries to cope with the influx of refugees. Visiting Odesa on Europe Day, he praised the Ukrainian people’s courage, telling them: ‘You are not alone. We stand with you’.
Security and defence
EU leaders are expected to give further guidelines for the deepening of European defence cooperation, based on the joint communication on the defence investment gaps analysis prepared, at their request, by the European Commission and the HR/VP. The analysis stresses the negative effect of ‘years of defence underspending, which has led to an accumulation of gaps and shortfalls in the collective military inventories as well as reduced industrial production capacity’. It distinguishes between short-term actions, including replenishing, replacing and reinforcing capabilities, and medium- to long-term action, which requires the development of the next generation of air, land and maritime weaponry as well as of ‘space-based earth observation and critical enables’, which would make the EU fit to address, in cooperation with partners in NATO, growing multifaceted threats. It also praises the decisions of EU Member States to increase defence spending and calls for a coordinated approach to avoid repeating ‘past mistakes’, including duplication and waste. Several countries, including Germany, Lithuania and Poland have announced an increase in their defence spending, up to or beyond 2 % of GDP.
A new ‘short-term EU instrument to reinforce defence industrial capacities through joint procurement’, benefiting from EU financial support by up to €500 million from 2022 to 2024, could be introduced, and would require the speedy approval of the co-legislators. Furthermore, the European Defence Fund, currently allocated €8 billion under the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), could have its budget strengthened at the forthcoming mid-term review of the MFF. When addressing the informal meeting of EU leaders in Versailles, President Metsola stressed that the EU ‘must go beyond the European Defence Fund and make the EU budget work for our security and defence policy whenever it adds value’.
The Commission and the HR/VP have invited the European Council to endorse the recommendations put forward in the defence investment gaps analysis. It remains to be seen how the European Council will proceed. Faced with a similar request in 2019 regarding a joint communication on EU-China relations, EU leaders decided to choose which recommendations they wished to endorse.
EU leaders have committed to phasing out the Union’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels, and tasked the Commission with presenting an ambitious plan by May 2022. In its RePower EU plan the Commission has put forward several actions, including energy saving, supply diversification, and means to accelerate Europe’s clean energy transition, as well as ways to combine energy infrastructure investments and reforms. The plan gives a glimpse of the investments required to enable the EU to end its dependency on Russian fossil fuels, but fails to confirm a date by which the Union would completely phase out Russian fossil fuels. At the Versailles summit, the Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, indicated 2027 as target date.
The energy debate is likely once again to be heated, as the degree of dependency on Russian fossil fuels differs greatly across Member States (see Figure 1). Lithuania, which has built the necessary infrastructure in recent years, announced it is now free of Russian gas imports. Other Member States, including Estonia, will stop Russian gas imports by the end of 2022. Certain EU countries, such as Hungary, continue to be highly dependent on Russian gas and oil imports, and have thus far opposed a ban on Russian oil imports.
Russia’s war on Ukraine is disrupting global food markets, with the two countries being the main exporters of cereals, and Ukraine also dominating sunflower oil exports. EU leaders included food security in their Versailles agenda and considered the topic at their meeting of 24-25 March 2022, focusing on food affordability and security. The former is of direct interest to the EU, as global market prices will continue to rise affecting EU consumers’ purchasing ability. The latter poses a broader security concern in the EU’s neighbourhood, which could experience further unrest as a result of supply chain disruption.
Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘Outlook for the special European Council meeting of 30-31 May 2022‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.