Friday, January 27

EU leaders announce intention to collectively rearm in face of Putin threat | European Union

EU leaders have announced their intention to collectively rearm and become autonomous in food, energy and military hardware in a Versailles declaration that described Russia’s war as “a tectonic shift in European history”.

At a summit in the former royal palace, the 27 heads of state and government said on Friday that the invasion of Ukraine had shown the urgent need for the EU to take responsibility for its own security and to rid itself of dependencies on others.

Speaking at a press conference in the palace’s Galerie des Batailles, in which France’s military achievements are celebrated in painting and sculpture, France’s Emmanuel Macron said the Versailles treaty of 1919 had divided Europe but that today’s leaders were uniting. He described Russia’s aggression as a “tragic turning point”.

“We can see how our food, our energy, our defense are all issues of sovereignty,” he said. “We want to be open to the world but we want to choose our partners and not depend on anybody.”

He added: “The Versailles declaration is linked to the fact that sovereignty in Europe, which might have been thought of by some as a slogan or a French fantasy, is seen by all today as crucial.”

Macron defended the decision not to offer fast-track EU membership for Ukraine, which was criticized overnight by the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. “The answer is no,” Macron said of the request from the war-stricken country, but he added that the EU was mobilizing all its economic power to help the Ukrainian government and that the “European path” was open.

Lithuania’s president, Gitanas Nausėda, said there was a “flavour of disappointment” to the decision for a number of EU member states but that the bloc would return to the issue.

The Versailles declaration was said to be the “initiation” of European defense by Charles Michel, the European Council president.

The leaders agreed to “invest more and better in defense capabilities and innovative technologies” by substantially increasing defense expenditures and through tighter cooperation and coordination of their armed forces and procurement. While EU member states spend more than three times the Russian defense budget, there are limited tie-ups and multiple overlaps in capabilities.

The European Commission has been given a new role to find weaknesses in Europe’s defenses and to advise on investment.

Macron said Olaf Scholz’s decision to set aside €100bn (£84bn) for defense and Denmark’s decision to put its opt-out on EU security mechanisms to a referendum showed the seriousness of the moment. The EU is also doubling its funding of military equipment earmarked for Ukraine to €1bn.

“About 10 days ago, Germany decided to make historical investments and Denmark made a historic choice deciding to ask the people if they want to come back to the European defense and security project,” Macron said. “Everywhere you look historical choices are being made.”

A deadline of 2027 has been set for freeing the EU from dependency on Russian gas, oil and coal. In 2021, the EU imported 155bn cubic meters of natural gas from Russia, accounting for about 45% of its gas imports and close to 40% of the bloc’s total gas consumption.

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said the commission would produce proposals by mid-May on how to achieve the target. In order to prepare for next winter, plans will also be made to coordinate European countries’ fragmented network of gas stocks. Von der Leyen said in future underground stocks would have to be filled to at least 90% by the start of October each year.

Macron and Scholz are due to speak to Vladimir Putin in what the French president said would be a “demanding dialogue”, with the EU threatening tougher economic sanctions should Russia’s president make a move against Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.

Shortly after leaders left Versailles, a new round of measures was announced by the G7, with Von der Leyen citing the failure to respect agreements over humanitarian corridors as being a motivating factor.

Russia is being denied most-favoured-nation status for its markets under World Trade Organization rules, which will mean tariffs being imposed on its goods, and Moscow risks having its representatives thrown out of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

After some resistance from Italy, the EU is also banning exports of any luxury goods to Russia, “as a direct blow to the Russian elite”, Von der Leyen said.

“Those who sustain Putin’s war machine should no longer be able to enjoy their lavish lifestyle while bombs fall on innocent people in Ukraine,” she added.

The EU will no longer import iron and steel goods from the Russian Federation and there will be a ban on European investments across Russia’s energy sector.

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