ECOS By / October 25, 2022

Outcome of the European Council meeting of 20 – 21 October 2022

The European Council meeting began with the customary address by the President of the European Parliament.

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Written by Suzana Anghel.

At their 20-21 October 2002 meeting, European Union leaders focused on Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine, energy and the economy, as well as on external relations, paying specific attention to China. They reiterated the EU’s support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and confirmed EU political, financial, military and humanitarian support to Ukraine. On energy, EU leaders agreed that the Council and the European Commission will ‘urgently submit concrete decisions’ on energy-related measures, including a gas price cap, an issue that still divides the Member States. The EU leaders also discussed means to protect critical infrastructure. During their exchange on external relations, EU leaders held a strategic discussion on relations with China, without adopting conclusions; discussed the preparation of the EU-ASEAN Commemorative Summit; took stock of the preparation of the upcoming United Nations-led summits on climate change and biodiversity; and condemned Iran’s human rights breaches. For the seventh time in a row, the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, addressed the European Council, stressing ‘terror must lose. Ukraine and all of Europe must win’. The European Parliament President, Roberta Metsola, addressed the leaders, noting that Ukraine is defending Europe and that ‘real peace can only come with justice – with a Tribunal to look into war crimes, perpetrators and restitution’.

1. Background

The European Council meeting began with the customary address by the President of the European Parliament. Roberta Metsola referred to reservations expressed regarding re-opening the EU multiannual financial framework (MFF). She stressed that a revision was needed ‘to respond to crises or to finance new priorities’ and underlined that ‘the MFF needed to be future-proofed with in-built flexibility’ to finance new priorities. President Metsola also drew attention to Moldova, stressing that it needs EU assistance, at a time when it is confronted with the ‘economic, humanitarian, energy or even political’ consequences of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

The meeting’s topics – Ukraine, energy and the economy – showed continuity with the informal European Council meeting held in Prague on 7 October 2022, and the next regular meeting on 15‑16 December 2022, as announced in the indicative 2022 Leaders’ Agenda. The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, called the meeting ‘fruitful’, underlining that the EU leaders ‘have this conviction that when [they] meet together [they] can increase [their] influence and have genuine constructive impact’. He announced a summit with Latin American and Caribbean countries for 2023, under the Spanish rotating presidency of the Council of the EU.

EU leaders offered Mario Draghi, the outgoing Prime Minister of Italy, a round of applause, whilst President Michel praised him for his ‘concise, brief and powerful style’.

2. European Council meeting

Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine

EU leaders reiterated the Union’s ‘full support for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity’. They recalled their statement of 30 September 2022, condemning Russia’s illegal annexation of the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia, and confirmed that the EU would never recognise this, just as it has not recognised the annexation of Crimea, Russia having ‘no legitimate basis for any action on the territory of Ukraine’. The EU leaders condemned the recent drone attacks ‘targeting civilians and civilian objects and infrastructure in Kyiv and across Ukraine’ and expressed support for the International Atomic Energy Agency in its efforts to maintain the safety and security of the Ukrainian nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia.

Addressing EU leaders by video-conference, President Zelenskyy stressed that a third of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure had been destroyed as a result of Russia’s attacks using Iranian combat drones, depleting Ukraine’s ability to export energy. He underlined that the IRIS‑T system provided by Germany protects both Ukrainians and Europeans, and urged transatlantic partners to supply more such systems ‘to create a truly reliable air shield’.

The EU leaders noted Ukraine’s ‘readiness for a just peace’ and again noted its right to defend itself, to liberate all illegally occupied territories and to re-establish its territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders. Justice and accountability for war crimes were among the key issues discussed by the EU leaders. Several Member States, including Lithuania and Estonia, supported the creation of a special tribunal for war crimes committed in Ukraine, whist the EU institutions are ‘to explore options so that full accountability can be ensured’.

Reconstruction will be at the centre of the International Expert Conference hosted by the German Presidency of the G7 in Berlin on 25 October 2022. Leaders invited the Commission to present legally valid options for funding Ukraine’s reconstruction, including by using frozen Russian assets.

When it comes to military support, EU leaders noted that the Union will conduct an EU military assistance mission, aimed at training Ukrainian armed forces. Given that Ukraine is a country at war, the mission will be conducted on EU soil, a first for a common security and defence policy mission. Over €10 billion has been allocated from the European Peace Facility (EPF) to cover common costs. The EU leaders also noted that an additional €500 million in EU military assistance was agreed in the Council, increasing the total provided to Ukraine since the start of the war to €3.1 billion. This amount represents nearly 55 % of the entire EPF envelope planned to 2027.  

As regards economic and financial assistance, the EU Heads of State or Government called for the rapid disbursement of the remaining €3 billion in macro-financial assistance. They invited the Commission and the Council to work on ‘a more structural solution for providing assistance to Ukraine’. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen underlined that ‘it is important for Ukraine to have a predictable and stable flow of income’, stressing that Ukraine needed between €3 and €4 billion per month for its basic needs, which the EU, the United States and the international financial instructions could cover. She confirmed that the EU’s contribution could be around €1.5 billion a month in 2023, with the disbursement mechanism still to be developed by the Ministers of Finance. The EU leaders also stressed that existing mechanisms – the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with Ukraine – facilitated access to the single market and should be implemented in full. With Ukraine recently granted candidate country status, President Michel stressed the need for the EU ‘to act to ensure that this is a credible and strong perspective for Ukraine’

In view of the coming winter, humanitarian aid was also discussed. President von der Leyen underlined that more than 11 million people were internally displaced in Ukraine and that the EU would provide €175 million for their basic needs, as well as several emergency shelters.

The EU leaders discussed the support to Russia of Belarus and Iran. They confirmed the Union’s readiness to introduce additional sanctions targeting Belarus and called on the regime to stop allowing the Russian military to wage war on Ukraine from Belarusian territory. They condemned Iran’s military support for Russia, and welcomed the sanctions on individuals and entities over the delivery of Iranian combat drones to Russia, adopted by the Council on 20 October 2022. Although no further sanctions targeting Russia have been agreed for now, EU leaders recalled that the existing sanctions should be implemented in close cooperation with international partners, and explored means to ‘increase collective pressure on Russia’ to end the war.  

Moreover, EU leaders stressed that a common approach to granting visas to Russian applicants was paramount and welcomed the reviewed guidelines issued by the European Commission.

Main message of the President of the European Parliament:President Metsola stressed that Russia’s strikes against Ukrainian civilian infrastructure require sanctions to be stepped up, military support increased, and efforts redoubled to ensure war crimes do not remain unpunished.

Food availability and affordability

Although not envisaged in Charles Michel’s invitation letter, EU leaders discussed, as anticipated in the EPRS outlook, the issue of global food security, which has been negatively impacted by Russia’s war on Ukraine. EU countries are not at risk of food shortages, however higher food prices (e.g. the price of bread in the EU was 18 % higher on average in August 2022 than a year earlier), are affecting EU consumers, who are simultaneously facing high energy prices and inflation. The European Council notably dismissed the false narrative according to which EU sanctions against Russia were contributing to global food insecurity, by reiterating that ‘EU sanctions against Russia do not prohibit the export of agricultural and food products’.

EU leaders restated their support for EU-Ukraine solidarity lanes and highlighted the important role the initiative plays in enabling Ukrainian crop, agricultural and fertiliser exports. The European Council called for improved solidarity lane efficiency, which would not only contribute to global food security, but also offer an alternative to exporting via ports at a time when Russia is warning it may not extend the Black Sea grain initiative, the extension of which EU leaders had also advocated.

Energy and the economy

In his invitation letter, President Michel anticipated that the energy debate would be ‘the focal point’ of the meeting, stressing that work needed to be intensified on the three lines of action already discussed informally at the Prague European Council meeting: 1) reduced energy demand; 2) greater security of supply; and 3) reduced prices. During the Tripartite Social Summit preceding the European Council meeting, he had warned against ‘national-only approaches’ to the energy crisis, considering them a mistake which would ‘endanger our single market, which benefits us all’.

At the meeting, EU leaders reiterated that ‘Russia bears the sole responsibility for the current energy and economic crises’. They underlined the importance of European unity and coordination in tackling energy and fighting its weaponisation by Russia. EU leaders reached an ‘agreement on energy’, which, in the words of Charles Michel, provides ‘a framework together with a list of measures’, which must now be fine-tuned [and made] ready’ by the European Commission and energy ministers. The roadmap includes a ‘temporary EU framework to cap the price of gas in electricity generation’, ‘improvements to the functioning of energy markets’, ‘energy solidarity measures in case of gas supply disruptions at national, regional or Union level’, as well as measures for energy savings. EU leaders underlined the weight that EU Member States represent collectively on the gas market and the key role of the EU energy platform (open to countries in the Western Balkans as well as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia), in pooling demand and facilitating joint procurement of gas and hydrogen.

President Michel called the Prague meeting ‘a stepping stone’, since it facilitated the much-needed preparatory work. He stressed that EU unity was visible in the conclusions, as Member States commit to act together on lowering prices, security of supply and on reducing demand, and mentioned that EU leaders hoped for a gradual implementation of the agreement. On the second day of the meeting, President Michel underlined that the energy agreement had had an immediate effect on the markets, observable through a fall in prices.

President von der Leyen confirmed that EU leaders had given the European Commission a clear roadmap on energy, and stressed that the agreed joint purchasing of gas would increase the EU’s market power. She also confirmed that the Commission would review State aid rules by prolonging the Temporary Crisis Framework, allowing Member States to support companies, and that almost €40 billion would be made available to support vulnerable households and businesses.

The European Council, which will continue to work on (‘remain seized of’) the energy file, committed to supporting the coordination of energy policy responses whilst stressing the importance of accelerating investment in renewables, infrastructure, interconnection, and storage. It called on the European Commission ‘to speed up work on the structural reform of the electricity market’ and expressed its support for the development of a full, sovereign and climate neutral energy Union.

Main message of the President of the European Parliament:President Metsola stressed that the EU ‘needs to lower [energy] prices to help return to solid economic growth everywhere’. She warned against high interest rates, stressing that in such a case the ‘Next Generation EU debt repayment will wipe out the budget’s entire crisis response capacity and start eating into the EU programmes’.

Critical infrastructure

The EU leaders expressed their unity and determination to respond to disruption of critical infrastructure, and condemned the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines. They agreed that the resilience of critical infrastructure was key to the EU and the Member States, requiring their joint cooperation. They also underlined the importance of rapid decision-making, recalling that the European Commission had proposed a recommendation on a coordinated Union approach to strengthening the resilience of critical infrastructure, which awaits the Council’s approval.

External relations

A strategic discussion took place on relations with China. President Michel stressed that the discussion was highly important, regardless of the absence of written conclusions. The EU leaders took stock of the systemic differences – on democracy, the rule of law and human rights – which distinguish the EU from China, and confirmed their agreement on introducing ‘more reciprocity’ in the EU’s relations with China, including on economic issues and climate change.

The EU leaders prepared for the EU-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Commemorative Summit to take place on 14 December 2022, expressing the hope that it would allow for a deepening of the EU’s strategic partnership with ASEAN.

Taking stock of preparations for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP27 – in Sharm el-Sheikh from 6 to 18 November 2022) and for the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15 – in Montreal from 7 to 19 December 2022), EU leaders underlined the urgency of climate action and the importance of protecting biodiversity.

EU leaders welcomed the sanctions imposed on 17 October 2022, on those Iranian entities and individuals responsible for the death of Mahsa Amini and for the violent repression of the peaceful protests which have followed her death, calling on the regime to end its human rights violations.

Read this briefing on ‘Outcome of the European Council meeting of 20 – 21 October 2022‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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