EU leaders agree more Russia sanctions, funds for Ukraine

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BRUSSELS, Dec 15 (Reuters) – European Union leaders wrapped up their last summit of 2022 with an agreement to provide 18 billion euros in financing to Ukraine next year and slap more sanctions on Russia as the bloc prepared to cap gas prices and prop up its industry.

Poland withdrew last-minute objections to a global minimum corporate tax, unblocking a whole package of linked agreements that includes the loan to Ukraine, invaded by Russia almost 10 months ago. 

“The next six months will demand even greater efforts from us,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told the 27 EU leaders gathered in Brussels, asking them for more support from air defences to energy equipment. 

His address – a regular guest appearance now at EU summits -tops a tumultuous year which saw the bloc close ranks to support Ukraine after Russia’s invasion, but also often struggle to agree how much pressure to put on Moscow. 

EU leaders also agreed a ninth package of sanctions against Russia for waging the war against Ukraine, diplomats said.

While the agreement must be formally finalised by diplomats on Friday, new sanctions would blacklist nearly 200 more people and bar investment in Russia’s mining industry, among others. 

The decision, which requires unanimity, came after EU Russia hawks Poland and Lithuania had warned that proposed exceptions for food security might in fact benefit Russian oligarchs in the fertilizer business.

‘NOT FOR SALE’

After much disagreement throughout the year, the bloc was also seemingly coming together on how to cap gas prices, and the leaders tasked their ministers with finalising the work on Monday.

With the heating reduced in EU buildings as part of measures to save energy, some leaders were seen shivering, wrapped in big shawls as they gathered to discuss their response to the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) – $430 billion worth of tax breaks for green energy.

Poorer EU countries want a coordinated response and warned richer member states like Germany against supporting their industries without showing solidarity with the rest of the bloc.

“Today we see that too often countries are trying to install schemes on their own. It looks a bit like a game of the deepest pocket,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said.

The summit tasked the EU executive Commission with making specific proposals early next year to prop up the bloc’s industry, while also preserving competition inside the bloc’s cherished single market of 450 million consumers. 

The summit, which also granted Bosnia and Herzegovina formal EU candidate status, was overshadowed by a corruption scandal rocking the European Parliament.

After Belgian prosecutors charged Eva Kaili, a Greek member of the EU chamber, and three others for accepting bribes from World Cup host Qatar, European Parliament chief Roberta Metsola said the assembly “is not for sale”.

She said the house would have an in-depth review of how it deals with third countries and reinforce whistleblower systems. 

Belgian police said it seized nearly 1.5 million euros in cash during raids related to the case, and released pictures of the loot including a black travel suitcase overflowing with 50 and 100 euro notes. Qatar and Kaili have denied any wrongdoing.

($1 = 0.9395 euros)

(Reporting by John Chalmers, Phil Blenkinsop, Gabriela Baczynska, Sabine Siebold, Jan Strupczewski, Benoit Van Overstraeten, Kate Abnett, Tassilo Hummel, Michel Rose, Bart Meijer; Writing by Ingrid Melander and Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Alexandra Hudson, William Maclean)

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