Macron hosts EU leaders for talks on Ukraine crisis in Versailles
European Union leaders gather in Versailles for a two-day summit starting Thursday on how to tackle Russia’s invasion of Ukraine amid calls from Kyiv for a fast-track to join the European bloc.
European Union leaders will seek on Thursday to find ways to urgently address the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and carefully tell Kyiv that joining the bloc is still years away.
The meeting at Versailles was set to be the climax of France’s six-month presidency, but President Emmanuel Macron will instead lead a crisis summit to respond to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal upheaval of decades of stability in Europe.
The Ukraine war and EU energy supplies will dominate the two-day meeting, as leaders sit down to dine in the palace’s Hall of Mirrors where the Western Allies drew a new map of Europe in 1919 after World War I.
The draft closing statement of the two-day meeting stated that “the Russian war of aggression constitutes a fundamental transformation in European history.”
Leaders will recognize “how the EU can live up to its responsibilities in this new reality, protecting our citizens, values, democracies, and our European model.”
27 heads of state and government meet as fighting rages for a 15th day in Ukraine, with more than two million refugees fleeing mainly to Poland but also to countries across Europe.
The heart-wrenching feud has seen support in the European Union balloon for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, but leaders are expected to use the talks to stress that quick membership is impossible.
“We want to express moral support for President Zelensky and show that they are part of the European family,” a senior EU diplomat involved in preparing for the summit told reporters.
“But let’s not start a process that will take years and find ways to really help Ukraine in the near term,” the diplomat added.
The “biggest issue” Even before the war, Macron’s ambition to hold the summit in the best place in France was to pave the way for strengthening Europe’s standing on the world stage.
The issue took an even more dangerous turn with Russia’s war on the bloc’s eastern edge, and leaders had to explore ways to boost Europe’s self-reliance in a starkly more dangerous world, particularly in the field of energy.
“I think energy is the biggest issue on leaders’ minds right now,” said a European source closely familiar with the matter.
The conflict saw a massive rise in energy prices, threatened the economy and sparked an urgent debate about where Europeans could turn to gas and oil.
The European Union imports about 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia with Germany, Europe’s largest economy, and is particularly dependent on energy flow, along with Italy and many Central European countries.
About a quarter of the EU’s oil imports come from Russia.
Europe’s dependence on Russian energy even caused the first rift in the united Western response to Putin’s aggression, as the European Union this week moved away from the US and Britain ban on Russian oil imports.
According to the meeting’s closing statement, the 27 leaders will cautiously agree to “phasing out” the bloc’s dependence on Russian gas, oil and coal.
EU leaders will also try to move forward the ways in which Europe can gain independence in highly sensitive sectors, including semiconductors, food production and most notably defence.
Collective security in the EU is mainly handled by the US-led NATO, but France, the EU’s largest military power, would like the bloc to play a bigger role.
Since Russia’s war against its pro-EU neighbor, bloc members have approved a total of half a billion euros in defense aid to Ukraine.
Berlin grossly violated established orthodoxy when it announced that it would allocate €100 billion for national defence.
The leaders were expected to say, in light of the challenges, “We have to invest more and better in defensive capabilities and innovative technologies.”
© Graphic Studio France Media Monde (AFP)
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