Written by Suzana Anghel.
On 20 and 21 October 2022, EU Heads of State or Government will meet for a formal European Council dedicated to Ukraine, energy and the economy – three interlinked topics that have been permanently on the European Council agenda since Russia launched its war on Ukraine. EU leaders are expected to condemn Russia’s further escalation of the conflict and recent attacks on civilians and infrastructure across Ukraine; condemn the sham referendums in four Ukrainian regions; consider the deepening food crisis; and explore ways to protect critical infrastructure after the Nord Stream pipelines sabotage. On energy, the European Council meeting is expected to agree on new strategic guidelines, with discussion on means of reducing gas prices, price-caps or alternative approaches – an issue on which Member States have diverging views – likely to be rather heated. EU leaders will also discuss climate change and biodiversity protection ahead of the main annual events on these topics led by the United Nations (UN). Moreover, leaders will hold a debate on China and prepare for the December 2022 summit between the EU and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The European Council meeting will open with the traditional exchange of views with the European Parliament’s President, Roberta Metsola.
European Council agenda points
In September 2022, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, released the new Indicative Leaders’ Agenda 2022, which offers a much-awaited overview of the meetings and agendas of EU leaders until December 2022. This is the third Leaders’ Agenda presented by Michel since he became President in December 2019. The topics outlined for the October 2022 meeting are: i) Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine, ii) energy, iii) the economy, iv|) climate change, and v) external relations.
European Council meeting
Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine
EU leaders will discuss the situation in Ukraine for the seventh time since Russia began its war. They are expected to condemn the recent massive Russian missile strikes against civilians and energy infrastructure, and deliberate on the dramatic deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. They will most probably reaffirm the EU’s political, military, humanitarian and financial assistance to Ukraine. At the informal European Council meeting of 7 October 2022, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stressed that ‘Team Europe’ (the EU and the Member States) had pledged €19 billion (military aid excluded). Of this amount, €9 billion is EU macro-financial assistance, €3 billion of which remains to be disbursed. In an attempt to make financial support to Ukraine sustainable, the Commission could propose a ‘more structural solution’ by granting Ukraine €1.5 billion per month in 2023 in the form of grants or loans – an aspect still awaiting clarification. As for military aid, the EU has provided €2.5 billion from the European Peace Facility. The Foreign Affairs Council of 17 October 2022 agreed an additional tranche of €500 million. Agreement was also reached on establishing the new EU Military Assistance Mission for Ukraine, benefiting from an envelope of €106.7 million for common costs.
EU leaders will most likely once again condemn war crimes perpetrated against Ukrainians; reiterate that those responsible will be held accountable; and deplore Russia’s continued breach of international law. They will most probably recall their statement of 30 September 2022, in which they condemned the sham referendums organised by Russia in the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia and stressed that the EU would not recognise their illegal annexation. On 12 October 2022, the UN General Assembly adopted (with 143 votes in favour, 5 votes against, and 35 abstentions) a resolution condemning Russia’s ‘attempted illegal annexation’, and demanding ‘the immediate reversal of the annexation declaration’. In line with past conclusions and in coordination with the G7 leaders, EU leaders will most likely once more call on Russia to withdraw its troops and equipment from Ukraine, while reaffirming EU support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, including its right to self-defence enshrined in the UN Charter and international law.
Since February 2022, the EU has adopted eight packages of sanctions to put pressure on the Russian regime and diminish its ability to wage war on Ukraine. EU leaders might wish to explore ways to step up pressure, although it is unlikely that additional sanctions will be agreed at this meeting.
EU leaders might also focus on Ukraine’s reconstruction, another topic they have discussed regularly. The Commission, in cooperation with the government of Ukraine, the World Bank and other international partners, has estimated reconstruction and recovery costs in Ukraine to amount to €349 billion, a figure that will grow as the war continues. Funding of Ukraine’s reconstruction will be a key issue in the forthcoming international conference hosted by the German G7 Presidency in Berlin on 25 October 2022.
EU leaders could focus again on food security, at a time when the food crisis is deepening, impacting on supply chains, trade in agricultural products, and prices of food and fertilisers. The EU has introduced ‘solidarity lanes‘, facilitating Ukrainian food and fertiliser exports. In July 2022, it welcomed the UN Black Sea Grain initiative, and has since backed its implementation, while favouring the deal’s expansion and extension.
The recent sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines has put the spotlight on the importance of protecting critical infrastructure, a topic EU leaders will likely discuss. Earlier this year, the co-legislators reached a political agreement on the proposed directive on the resilience of critical entities.
Following discussions held at the Prague informal European Council meeting of 7 October 2022, EU leaders are expected to consider energy demand reduction measures; gas storage capacities and possible sharing in the event of shortages; joint energy purchasing on international markets; and other means of reducing gas prices. In particular, they will discuss a possible cap on gas prices – a measure requested by a majority of Member States (17), but opposed by Germany and the Netherlands. The two countries prefer to combine the EU’s purchasing power and bolster the existing EU energy platform to ensure that EU countries are ‘no longer in a position that they have to accept any price’. An informal Council meeting of EU energy ministers, held in Prague on 11-12 October 2022, brought ‘some progress‘ on common measures to reduce energy prices. However, while the Commission is expected to favour voluntary price reductions through negotiations with gas-exporting countries in proposals to be unveiled aheadof the 20-21 October meeting, it will be up to the European Council to find a compromise acceptable for all Member States.
Russia’s war on Ukraine has accelerated the rise in energy prices, already visible in the months preceding the war, when Russia was using energy as a weapon. This led to EU inflation figures quadrupling during the past 15 months, from 2.5 % in July 2021 to 10 % in September 2022. EU leaders are expected to build on the their discussion held at the informal European Council meeting of 7 October 2022, when President Michel recognised that the increase in energy prices induces ‘huge pressure on households, on families, on business, and for economic development within the EU’. Leaders could consider how to strengthen and preserve jointly both the single market and European economies’ resilience.
Climate change and biodiversity
EU leaders will take stock of the preparations for the November 2022 UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Sharm el-Sheikh, where the EU is expected to call on its international partners to make more ambitious commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions further. Leaders are also likely to consider the preparatory work conducted in view of the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal, where a landmark agreement to safeguard nature is expected.
EU leaders will discuss relations with Asia in preparation for the December 2022 EU–ASEAN summit. ASEAN is at the centre of the EU’s strategy for cooperation with the Indo-Pacific region, where the EU is committed to supporting sustainable development, democracy and the rule of law. The European Council will hold a strategic debate on relations with China, a topic last discussed in March 2022, when EU leaders focused on China’s stance regarding Russia’s war on Ukraine. In light of the Commission proposal to grant Bosnia and Herzegovina candidate country status, and EU leaders’ commitment in this respect, leaders could consider conferring that status on the country at one of their remaining meetings this year.
Read this ‘at a glance’ note on ‘Outlook for the European Council meeting on 20 – 21 October 2022‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.