Written by Ralf Drachenberg.
The June 2022 European Council meeting marked a potentially historic moment: EU leaders granted Ukraine and Moldova candidate status and also confirmed Georgia’s European perspective. Although highly anticipated, this major step was neither obvious nor uncontroversial, as for the first time it concerned a country still at war, generating intense discussions both within the European Council and with partner countries. On Ukraine, EU leaders took stock of the situation in the country, confirmed their commitment to increased military support and financial assistance, and called on like-minded partners to align with EU sanctions. Regarding relations with non-EU partners in Europe, the European Council had its first strategic discussion on the ‘European political community’ concept (EPC), with a possible first EPC summit to take place under the upcoming Czech Presidency. Turkey’s assertiveness in the eastern Mediterranean and the Belarus people’s right to ‘free and fair elections’ were also discussed.
On other topics, however, not least on the Conference on the Future of Europe, the results were underwhelming, as EU leaders took no concrete follow-up decision, simply leaving it to each EU institution to do so within its own sphere of competence. Moreover, no breakthrough was possible regarding the Western Balkans – neither at the leaders’ meeting nor at the European Council itself.
The last component of the two days of meetings saw a Euro Summit in inclusive format. EU leaders discussed two major issues, the current economic situation, notably the rise in prices of energy, food and commodities, and the EU’s financial architecture, reiterating their commitment to the completion of the banking and capital markets unions.
1. General aspects
The European Council meeting began with the customary address by the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, who had also attended the Western Balkans Leaders’ Meeting the same morning. She stressed that ‘this is a moment where we must remain together. It is a moment we did not choose, but one that we have no choice but to meet’. Her intervention was followed by a discussion in which at least 10 EU Heads of State or Government took part, indicating that the interest in and quality of the exchanges with the President of the Parliament continue to increase.
The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, addressed the European Council once again (remotely), reaffirming that Ukraine was capable of becoming a fully fledged member of the European Union.
The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, did not use the opportunity of this meeting to update the indicative Leaders’ Agenda. It was last updated in December 2021, and covered the period up to March 2022.
On the suggestion of the Prime Minister of Italy, Mario Draghi, the organisation of another special European Council meeting, either before or just after the summer break, and dedicated to economic issues, was debated within the European Council, with varying opinions expressed on the idea.
2. European Council meeting
EU leaders held a first exchange of views on French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal to launch a ‘European political community’ (EPC), and will revert to the subject at one of their forthcoming meetings. The aim of the EPC would be to ‘strengthen the stability and security of the European continent’ and ‘offer a platform for political coordination’ with ‘all European countries with whom we have close relations’, with meetings taking place at leaders’ level. While stressing that the Western Balkan countries had reacted ‘rather in a positive and favourable way’ to the EPC concept, Charles Michel – and the European Council conclusions – strongly underlined that the EPC was not seen as an alternative to enlargement, so reassuring those countries that had expressed concerns prior to the meeting.
EU leaders discussed Russia’s war on Ukraine once again, reaffirming the latter’s legitimate right to defend itself, its territorial integrity and its sovereignty. They deplored the attacks targeting the civilian population and infrastructure, and called on Russia to ‘immediately and unconditionally withdraw all its troops and military equipment from the entire territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders’. The European Council reconfirmed the EU’s staunch support for Ukraine, and discussed humanitarian, financial, economic, social and military aid. As regards financial assistance, European leaders took note of the fact that the European Commission would be presenting a proposal for macro-financial assistance of up to €9 billion, which they had green-lighted at their meeting on 30-31 May 2022. On military support, they confirmed the EU’s commitment, and called on the Council to ‘swiftly work on a further increase of military support’. Since the start of the war, the EU has committed €2 billion under the European Peace Facility.
EU leaders stressed that international humanitarian law ‘must be respected’, reiterated their demand that Russia allow the immediate return of Ukrainians, in particular children abducted to Russia, and stressed that war crimes will be prosecuted and punished. No further sanctions were agreed, the focus being put on implementation and avoidance of circumvention. The EU leaders agreed that the sanctions had mounted pressure on Russia, calling on like-minded partners to align with the EU sanctions, and on the Council to finalise the ‘decision adding the violation of Union restrictive measures to the list of EU crimes’. The European Council also strongly emphasised that, by weaponising food in its war against Ukraine, Russia was solely responsible for the current food crisis, and reiterated its call on Russia to cease these detrimental activities. In recent speeches, Charles Michel had clearly underlined that food security issues were not caused by EU sanctions, but rather by Russia ‘stealing grain, blockading ports’ and targeting agricultural resources. A central point in the discussion concerned how to get millions of tonnes of Ukrainian grain out of the country. To this end, EU leaders signalled their support for solidarity lanes and for the UN’s attempts to unblock exports through an agreement on secure corridors between Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. In order to respond effectively to global food security concerns, the European Council also called on the Commission and the Member States to increase their support for developing countries with supply chain issues, help them develop their manufacturing capacities, and hasten the delivery of relevant initiatives from the EU-African Union Summit.
Main message of the President of the European Parliament: Roberta Metsola warned against ‘war fatigue’ fuelled by inflation and disinformation. She stressed that the EU needed ‘to break free from Russian energy’, start preparing the next sanctions package, push back against false food security narratives, and avoid new ‘iron curtains and spheres of influence’. She expressed her support for an expansion of solidarity lanes, and stressed that Russia was responsible for any impending food crisis.
EU membership applications of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia
The European Council took the important decision to grant candidate country status to Ukraine and Moldova, and to offer a European perspective to Georgia. The three countries’ progress towards membership would be subject to conditionality. However, only Georgia still needs to first fulfil certain conditions set by the European Commission in its opinion issued in response to the membership applications. Prior to the summit, Roberta Metsola and Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas had issued a joint opinion piece, in which they stressed that a clear message to Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia would give ‘hope’ and show ‘a strong signal of belief in shared European values’. Just before the summit started, the European Parliament adopted a resolution supporting candidate country status for Ukraine and Moldova and Georgia, by a majority of 529 votes.
EU leaders noted that enlargement was a merit-based process and that each country’s progress would be assessed individually against the Copenhagen criteria, albeit also with respect to the ‘EU’s capacity to absorb new members’ – a criterion that clouds clarity on the final outcome
Main message of the President of the European Parliament: Roberta Metsola stressed that it ‘would have been a historically wrong decision not to grant candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova today, or give a clear perspective to Georgia’.
Prior to the European Council meeting, EU and Western Balkan leaders met for a leaders’ meeting, which some Balkan leaders had even threatened to boycott. Given the disappointment expressed by Western Balkan countries on the lack of progress on their membership applications, no declaration was adopted. Their criticism even prompted Charles Michel to adjust the order of the agenda points at the European Council, initiating a roundtable discussion on the Western Balkans ahead of that on the membership application of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.
The High Representative/Vice President of the European Commission Josep Borrell stated that ‘we are not where we should be with the Western Balkans’. In that context, he stressed the importance of rethinking the decision-making process and pointed to the failure of the unanimity rule.
The European Council conclusions expressed ‘full and unequivocal commitment to the EU membership perspective of the Western Balkans’, recalled the ‘reversible and merit-based’ principle of the revised enlargement methodology, stressed the importance of reforms and of an independent judiciary, and called for the fight against corruption to continue. However, EU leaders also felt the need to clarify the ‘status’ of three applicant countries: North Macedonia, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, giving an encouraging tone to the conclusions. The EU leaders called ‘for a swift resolution’ of the dispute between Bulgaria and North Macedonia, ‘so that accession negotiations could be opened without delay’. The French Presidency presented a proposal, which received the backing ‘in extremis’ of the Bulgarian parliament on 24 June 2022; it now requires the approval of North Macedonia to enable a breakthrough. EU leaders also called urgently for ‘tangible progress’ to be made on resolving outstanding disputes, particularly in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue on normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo, which is a prerequisite for progress on Serbia’s accession process. The European Council had a long discussion on Bosnia and Herzegovina. Welcoming the political agreement of 12 June 2022, EU leaders indicated that they would be ready to grant candidate country status as soon as the 14 priorities identified in the Commission’s opinion had been implemented, notably the long overdue constitutional and electoral reform.
Main message of the President of the European Parliament: Roberta Metsola called for the launch of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia and for Kosovo to be granted visa liberalisation. She stressed that the Western Balkan countries ‘need to see hope lead to results’.
Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE)
Discussions on the follow-up to the Conference on the Future of Europe were rather short and the results were underwhelming. The European Council only ‘took note’ of the CoFoE proposals. While calling for ‘an effective follow-up ‘, they did not provide concrete guidelines in this respect, just stating that each EU institution should do this ‘within their own sphere of competences’, rather than doing it jointly among the EU institutions. EU Heads of State or Government also noted the importance of ensuring that citizens are informed of the follow-up to the proposals made in the report. The president of France, Emmanuel Macron, indicated that the European Council would continue with its debate on this issue.
Main message of the President of the European Parliament: Roberta Metsola told the EU Heads of State or Government to be ambitious and to enhance the Union’s capacity to act in vital areas such as health, energy, defence and fundamental values. She stressed that the Parliament’s views, as expressed in its two resolutions, should not be ignored. She reiterated the Parliament’s desire to hold a convention, which would ‘keep the conversation on our EU project going’. Ms Metsola also confirmed Parliament’s readiness to face the challenges jointly with the other EU institutions and Member States.
As anticipated in the EPRS outlook for the meeting, EU leaders generally endorsed the integrated country-specific recommendations. They welcomed the fulfilment by Croatia of all the convergence criteria to join the euro area, endorsed the Commission’s proposal that Croatia should adopt the euro on 1 January 2023, and invited the Council to adopt the relevant Commission proposals swiftly.
Given the reluctance of certain EU Member States towards market intervention at EU level, EU leaders reiterated their call on the Commission to explore with international partners ways of curbing rising energy prices, including the feasibility of introducing temporary price caps where appropriate. Faced with Russia’s weaponisation of gas, the European Council invited the Commission to pursue its efforts to secure energy supply at affordable prices.
3. Euro Summit
EU leaders also held a Euro Summit meeting in inclusive format, with all 27 Member States participating, as well as the President of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, and the President of the Eurogroup, Pascal Donohoe. They discussed the current economic situation in the EU, notably rising inflation, which as Charles Michel stated, is ‘a major concern for all of us’. He underlined that ‘Russia’s war of aggression is pushing up the price of energy, food and commodities, and that all of this has a direct impact on our citizens and businesses’. EU leaders agreed to coordinate their economic responses to the rising cost of living closely. In their statement, EU leaders reiterated their commitment to completing banking union, with future steps to follow, and called for efforts to deepen the capitals market union to be stepped up.
Read this briefing on ‘Outcome of the meetings of EU leaders on 23-24 June 2022‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.
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