VERSAILLES, France, March 11 (Reuters) – European Union leaders will say on Friday they want to cut their dependence on global suppliers of food, microprocessors, drugs, raw materials and digital technologies, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine added a new argument for the EU to be more self-reliant.
The 27-nation bloc has been considering how to become more independent in several strategic areas ever since the COVID-19 pandemic showed that a breakdown of global supply chains could leave the EU without access to pharmaceuticals or microchips.
The war in Ukraine only made that more clear, EU officials said, as Europe will now struggle to wean itself off Russian gas, oil, coal and raw materials and possibly find alternative suppliers of wheat.
“Confronted with growing instability, strategic competition and security threats, we decided to … take further decisive steps towards building our European sovereignty, reducing our dependencies,” a draft joint declaration of the leaders meeting in Versailles outside Paris, showed.
The declaration said the EU would reduce its dependence on imported critical raw materials through strategic partnerships, stockpiling, recycling and resource efficiency.
In semi-conductors the EU wants build its own factories and double its share of the global market to 20% by 2030, the draft said. Semi-conductors are now mainly bought from Taiwan and the United States.
The EU will also make more pharmaceuticals in the bloc rather than importing them from China, invest in research and development in the health sector and in digital technologies like artificial intelligence, Cloud and 5G mobile telephony deployment, the document said.
To become more independent in food, the EU will boost production of plant-based proteins, it said.
It said the leaders want to finance such policies through the European and national budgets, using public money to attract much bigger private investment. They also want to use the European Investment Bank, which is owned by EU governments, “to catalyse investments, including higher risk-financing for entrepreneurship and innovation.”
France and Italy have been pushing for the EU to agree to new joint debt issuance for the expected increased outlays, modelled on the EU’s 800 billion euros recovery fund, of which only 74 billion euros have been disbursed so far.
But others like Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries oppose that, arguing the EU should first use the cash already agreed before borrowing more.
The leaders will also declare that their fiscal policy will have to give them leeway for more spending on defence, investment and dealing with the negative economic effects of the war in Ukraine, the draft said.
- European Union leaders from some eastern members states called on Friday for a firmer promise that Ukraine will one day join the bloc, exposing fractures in its united front against Russia’s invasion.
As EU countries slapped sanctions on Russia and rallied support for Ukraine, Kyiv requested last month accelerated accession to the European Union, a complicated process that usually take years.
In response, EU leaders meeting early Friday morning at France’s Versailles chateau asked the European Commission to give its opinion on the request, saying in a joint declaration that “Ukraine belongs to our European family”.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, one of Kyiv’s most fervent backers during the crisis, said that he would have preferred stronger wording.
“I wish Ukraine gets the candidate status now… it was not possible today, but we will come back to this issue,” Nauseda told journalists as he arrived for a second day of talks focused on the economic fallout from the Ukraine crisis in EU countries.
Candidate status is usually granted only once the European Commission issues an opinion, which in the past has taken on average 15-18 months, and when EU governments have given unanimous support.
Slovenia’s Prime Minister Janez Jansa said that a large majority of EU leaders were in favour of sending a strong message to Ukraine that it would be granted membership eventually, and that more support would come with time.
“We are not there yet, I think we have to wait for the next summit where we will come to this because the situation on the ground will persuade us,” Jansa said.
Even after EU governments give the green light to a country getting candidate status, accession only comes after the country brings its laws into line with EU laws, which can take years and require lengthy technical negotiations.
“There’s an accession process and it has to be respected,” European Council President Charles Michel said.
- Ukraine should become part of the European Union, the leader of Germany’s governing Social Democrats told news magazine Der Spiegel in comments published on Friday.
EU leaders on Thursday condemned the “unspeakable suffering” Russia was inflicting on Ukraine but at a summit in France, they refused Kyiv’s appeal for rapid accession to the bloc and differed over the reach of sanctions against Moscow.
Klingbeil told Spiegel: “It is elementarily important that we offer proximity and security to the states that lie between us and Russia and that share our democratic and liberal values.”
In view of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the prospects of EU accession would have to be boosted, he said.
“Negotiations with Northern Macedonia and Albania should start promptly. And Ukraine should also become part of the European Union,” Klingbeil said.
Klingbeil’s Social Democrats (SPD) are the largest party in Germany’s ruling coalition, led by SPD Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
- A large majority of EU leaders support sending a strong message to Ukraine that it will be granted membership in the European Union eventually, Slovenia’s Prime Minister Janez Jansa said on Friday.
“Not tomorrow, off course, tomorrow they (Ukraine) can just become candidate,” he said as he arrived for the second day of a meeting with his European counterparts at Versailles.
- The European Union will not impose sanctions on Russian gas or oil, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in a video posted on his Facebook page on Friday, amid a summit of EU leaders in France.
“The most important issue for us has been settled in a favourable way: there won’t be sanctions that would apply to gas or oil, so Hungary’s energy supply is secure in the upcoming period,” Orban added.
European Union leaders on Thursday condemned the “unspeakable suffering” Russia was inflicting on Ukraine but at a summit in France they refused Kyiv’s appeal for rapid accession to the bloc and differed over the reach of sanctions against Moscow.
The Russian invasion – the biggest assault on a European state since World War Two – has upended Europe’s security order and spurred EU capitals into rethinking what the bloc should stand for, its economic, defence and energy policies.
The EU was swift in imposing sweeping sanctions and offering political and humanitarian support to Ukraine, as well as some arms supplies, in the days after Russia attacked on Feb.24.
However, cracks have appeared in the bloc’s united front, from its reaction to Kyiv’s demand for an accelerated membership of the wealthy club to how fast it can wean itself off Russian fossil fuels and how best to shape an economic response.
“Nobody entered the European Union overnight,” Croatia Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said as talks among the 27 national leaders ended at wee hours on Friday.
The leaders chairman, Charles Michel said in a show of sympathy and moral support: “Ukraine belongs to the European family.”
But others made clear Ukraine would not be allowed to join hastily, something Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has sought and which has some support from Ukraine’s neighbours on the EU’s eastern flank.
“There is no fast-track process,” said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, a prominent opponent of EU enlargement, while adding the bloc would continue deepening ties with Kyiv.
Nor could the door to accession be closed, said French President Emmanuel Macron.
“Can we open a membership procedure with a country at war? I don’t think so. Can we shut the door and say: ‘never’? It would be unfair. Can we forget about the balance points in that region? Let’s be cautious.”
Joining the EU is a process that usually takes years and requires meeting strict criteria from economic stability to rooting out corruption to respecting liberal human rights.
RUSSIAN OIL AND GAS
Russia’s invasion, which Moscow calls a special military operation, has shattered Europe’s post-war security order that emerged from the ashes of World War Two and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
More than 2 million people have fled the country, thousands of civilians have been killed, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops laid siege to several Ukrainian cities.
“It is a war crime,” Roberta Metsola, president of the European Parliament, told the leaders.
Some EU leaders pushed for tougher sanctions that would hit Russia’s oil and gas industries even if that meant repercussions for those European nations reliant on Russian fossil fuels.
Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins, whose country shares a border with Russia, said cutting off Russian oil and gas would be the most effective way to get Putin to the negotiating table.
“We should go much further and much faster,” Karins said.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz did not comment on whether the bloc should ban Russian oil imports, which Berlin has ruled out so far. Russia supplies about a third of Germany’s gas and crude requirements.
But the EU should stop using Russian fossil fuels by 2027, von der Leyen said, adding she would propose a roadmap for that in mid-May.
The leaders resume at 0900 GMT on Friday to consider policy to tackle defence and energy spendingrelated to the war in Ukraine. Divisions have emerged over the possibility of a new joint EU debt issuance, advocated by countries like France and Italy but opposed by Germany, the Netherlands and others.
“The war in Ukraine is an immense trauma… But it is also most definitely something which is going to lead us to completely redefine the structure of Europe,” said Macron.
Photo – Présidence française du Conseil de l’Union européenne