Monday. 03.10.2022
INFORMAL MEETING

Ban on Russian energy imports divides EU leaders at Versailles summit

Ukraine's hopes for quick entry to the European Union were dealt a fresh blow at the start of the summit, with the leaders of Germany and the Netherlands among those to dismiss them as unrealistic

11 March 2022, France, Versailles: French President Emmanuel Macron (R) speaks to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (L) at the start of the second day of the EU Summit, where the heads of states and governments of the EU are meeting to discuss the current developments after the Russian attack on Ukraine. Photo: Kay Nietfeld/dpa.
French President Emmanuel Macron (R) speaks to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (L) as the second day of the Summit starts. Photo: Kay Nietfeld/dpa.

Latvia, Poland and Lithuania were advocating for an EU ban on Russian energy imports at an EU leaders' summit in Versailles on Thursday despite the risk to unity within the European Union vis-à-vis Russia's war in Ukraine.

"I'm convinced that we should make a decision to stop energy imports from Russia to get [Russian President Vladimir] Putin to the negotiating table to stop the war," Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Karins said.

The EU's 27 heads of state came together at the informal summit after a frantic two weeks of supplying arms to Ukraine, sheltering nearly 2.2 million people and signing off on three rounds of massive sanctions on Russia for the invasion of its neighbour.

The aim of the embargo would be to deprive the Russian state of its main source of income for financing the war against Ukraine.

According to estimates by the Brussels-based think tank Bruegel, EU states currently spend around $420 million a day on Russian gas, and almost $400 million on oil from Russia.

Any moves towards an embargo however are likely to meet resistance from Germany, Austria and Hungary, who cover significant parts of their energy needs with Russian imports. German Chancellor Scholz came out strongly against the idea on Monday.

EU leaders were also considering how to create the conditions for a ceasefire in Ukraine.

Macron: Russian offer 'not acceptable'

Referring to an hour-long phone call with Putin and Scholz earlier in the day, French President Emmanuel Macron said the conditions for a ceasefire tabled by the Kremlin leader were "not acceptable" to any of those involved.

"So the question is, is Mr Putin ready to re-engage honestly and propose something?" Macron said before entering the summit venue, adding that he would speak again with Putin in the coming hours.

European Council President Charles Michel reiterated that the EU leaders would consult on measures that could pave the way for a ceasefire.

"I think that we took Russia by surprise because we were firm, we were strong, we were united," he said. "It's not enough - we need to identify together what could be the following steps ... in order to get a ceasefire as soon as possible."

Ukraine's hopes for quick entry to the European Union were dealt a fresh blow at the start of the summit, with the leaders of Germany and the Netherlands among those to dismiss them as unrealistic.

"There is no such thing as a fast-tracking of accession - that doesn't exist," Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said.

Scholz referred to an association agreement the EU and Ukraine reached in 2017 to deepen political and economic ties.

"It is very important that we continue to pursue the things we have decided in the past - this is the course we must follow," the German chancellor said.

Lengthy, technical EU-entry process

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly urged the EU to expedite Kiev's membership bid in light of the Russian invasion of his country.

Membership of the bloc tends to be a lengthy, technical and politically fraught process, during which countries have to align with EU rules and values.

A statement of summit conclusions also poured cold water on Ukrainian hopes for quick accession. It says "Ukraine belongs in the European family," but does not make any mention of taking the application further, even after eight hours of deliberations at the summit.

The first day of the two-day event in Versailles was to focus on bolstering the bloc against the economic impact of the war and how to wean the EU off Russian energy imports, which account for more than 40% of its overall consumption.

Plans published by the European Commission on Tuesday outlined the bloc's shift away from Russian gas before 2030. Moscow's recent threats to suspend gas supplies have injected urgency into the discussions.

Limit energy prices

Some EU member states are pushing for new rules to allow more borrowing to tackle high energy prices during this transition but are meeting resistance. Greece and Spain are also calling for an overhaul of the EU's energy market to address prices.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi threw his weight behind an EU plan to jointly issue bonds to finance energy and defence spending as the bloc copes with the fallout of the war.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen proposed a cap on energy prices in the bloc, rising as a result of the war, to EU leaders at the summit.

Earlier on Thursday, the commission said subsidized loans and limited grants for businesses negatively impacted by the war and the sanctions subsequently imposed on Russia were on the table to help protect the bloc's economy.

Further measures to support EU member states near Ukraine hosting hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the war were also addressed.

"The EU and its Member States will continue to show solidarity and provide humanitarian, medical and financial support to all refugees and the countries hosting them," read the statement published in the early hours of Friday.

Leaders of EU countries also called on Russia "to fully abide by its obligations under international humanitarian law."

The Ukrainian armed forces could get more weapons and equipment from the EU.

According to European Council President Charles Michel, Borrell proposed to the heads of state and government at the summit in Versailles early Friday that €500 million ($550 million) be mobilized for additional supplies.

Ban on Russian energy imports divides EU leaders at Versailles summit
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