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The EU at a crisis summit in Versailles to assert itself in the face of war

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The Heads of State of the European Union are meeting this Thursday afternoon in Versailles to discuss until tomorrow the coordinated response of the 27 to the war in Ukraine. The invasion launched by Vladimir Putin underlined the lack of European military capabilities, the 27 member states having greatly reduced their budgets since the end of the cold war.

The heads of state and government of the EU will try Thursday and Friday in Versailles to lay the foundations of a more sovereign Europe after the shock of the Russian invasion in Ukraine which exposed its weaknesses. The war started by Vladimir Putin underlined the lack of European military capabilities, the 27 member states having drastically reduced their budgets since the end of the cold war.

“This summit is that of the European surge, of European sovereignty”

It also highlighted the extreme dependence of the EU on gas imported from Russia which limits its ability to act against Moscow. Even if it has adopted an unprecedented package of sanctions, Europe continues to finance Russia through its energy purchases, which it is unable to do without in the very short term. This dependence also threatens its economy, which must consolidate after having already suffered the historic shock of the Covid-19 pandemic. “This summit is that of the European surge, of European sovereignty”, underlines one at the Elysée.

President Emmanuel Macron, campaigning for his re-election, and who holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, sees in the current crisis the confirmation of the theses he has been developing for several years. The leaders of the 27 member countries will meet at the Palace of Versailles from 4:30 p.m. Thursday and will begin with a discussion on defense and energy, before a working dinner on Ukraine. Friday will be devoted to strengthening the EU’s economic model, before a final press conference in the afternoon. “This is a decisive moment for Europe, a Europe that is losing its naivety,” said Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

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“Expressing the unity of Europe”

The summit should not give birth to decisions, but rather set political guidelines that will be implemented in the months to come. Ukraine’s membership of the European family should be reaffirmed, even if Kiev’s project to join the EU can only be envisaged in the long term. According to draft conclusions, the Twenty-Seven, which reaffirm the key role of NATO, will emphasize their desire to invest “more and better in military capabilities”, to promote industrial cooperation and joint purchases, while that a defense strategy should be published before the end of the month.

They will also examine the Commission’s plan to reduce dependence on Russian gas by two-thirds this year, but also to reduce imports of coal and oil from Russia, by diversifying suppliers and developing alternative energies such as renewables. or hydrogen. The strengthening of gas storage, but also “the optimization of the operation of the electricity market”, demanded by Spain and France, are also mentioned, as is a commitment to new urgent measures intended to cushion the impact of rising energy prices for European citizens. The liter of gasoline at more than 2 euros raises fears of social revolts of the “yellow vests” type.

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A joint loan to cushion the consequences of the war in Ukraine?

Beyond energy, Europe also intends to strengthen the production capacities of key components, such as electronic chips, the shortages of recent years having caused an electric shock. According to several European sources, France is also trying to persuade its partners to adopt a new recovery plan, on the model of the 800 billion euro fund implemented since last year to counter the effects of the pandemic.

This time it would be a joint loan to cushion the consequences of the war in Ukraine. But the subject “is not on the agenda,” said German Finance Minister Christian Lindner, reluctant to the idea of ​​​​a new pooling of debts, like several countries in northern Europe. However, the European Commission indicated last week that it could extend the suspension of its budgetary austerity rules in 2023 if necessary. An inventory of the economic impact of the war is planned for the spring. This “crisis summit” aims to “show the unity of Europe, it is essential”, believes Eric Maurice of the Robert Schuman Foundation, and it could “lay the foundations for an in-depth transformation of European policies “.

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