Tuesday

26th May 2020

Agenda

EU leaders to debate 'Energy Union' this WEEK

  • Gazprom map: Russia's war on Ukraine continues to threaten EU supplies (Photo: gazprom.com)

EU leaders will discuss energy security, Ukraine, and the EU economy at a regular summit on Thursday (19 March) and Friday.

Draft conclusions, seen by EUobserver, indicate they are ready to endorse plans for building new “interconnectors” so that Russia-dependent states can get access to gas or electricity if Russia cuts off supplies.

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  • Greece has indicated it wants the current impasse with its international creditors to be discussed at the summit. (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

They note that “all member states attain the objective of 10 percent interconnections in 2020”.

The so-called Energy Union will also reinforce “transparency on the gas market by ensuring full compliance with EU law and energy security priorities of all agreements with external suppliers” - a reference to EU divisions over previous deals with Russian supplier Gazprom, such as the building of the, now defunct, South Stream pipeline in defiance of EU anti-trust law.

The summit will take place amid concern that Russia is preparing a fresh assault in south-east Ukraine despite its recent embrace of the “Minsk 2” ceasefire plan.

EU Council chief Donald Tusk told European media over the weekend that anyone who believes in Russia’s good intentions is guilty of “naivete or hyprocisy” and that Ukraine and the West should prepare for “a long, long conflict”.

The EU last week renewed a blacklist of 150 people and 37 entities involved on the Russian side. They cannot agree on whether to extend or expand economic sanctions, which expire in July.

But the conclusions text “underlines Russia's responsibility” if the Minsk 2 accord unravels.

It also says the EU will continue to pursue closer ties with countries in Russia’s former sphere of influence - Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine - in the run-up to the “Eastern Partnership” summit in Riga in May.

On the economy, leaders are to hold talks “on the implementation of key structural reforms” by EU states in the wake of the financial crisis. The debate is set to focus on how to foster growth following a period of austerity, and how to better sell the EU-US free trade pact to a sceptical European public.

But high politics may also slip onto the agenda. Greece has indicated it wants the current impasse between Athens and its international creditors to be discussed at the summit.

The highly-indebted country needs the next tranche of money from its bailout but its eurozone partners are seeking commitments on reforms first – resulting in increasingly tough rhetoric between the two sides.

For their part, EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday will concentrate on Libya and on irregular migration.

They are to discuss “options for further EU engagement” in the country, which is being torn apart in an internal conflict by rival militias, creating a free for all for human traffickers launching sea craft to Europe.

The EU’s migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, who wants the EU to open asylum centres in its overseas embassies, will brief the ministers at lunch.

Meanwhile, the European Commission will, on Wednesday, present a non-binding wishlist on tax transparency, designed to “to tackle corporate tax avoidance and harmful tax competition in the EU”.

Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, who launched the initiative after a recent investigation revealed numerous tax-avoidance schemes set up in Luxembourg during his time as PM, said in a statement the EU needs “more fairness” on corporate tax.

Back on energy, commissioner Maros Sefcovic, the architect of the Energy Union plan, will also visit Turkey on Tuesday to discuss prospects for a new pipeline to bring in gas from the Caspian Sea, bypassing Russia, and for Russia’s alternative, the so-called Turkish Stream.

MEPs on the international trade committee will on Thursday vote whether to grant Ukraine an extra €1.8 billion in macro-financial assistance.

The same committee will on Wednesday debate the wisdom of including ISDS - a mechanism to let private firms sue EU nations if their laws harm commercial interests - in the EU-US trade pact.

The EU capital will wrap up its week with the Brussels Forum, a high-level annual meeting organised by the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

With the Russia crisis in the background of most EU and US events, this year's theme is “strengthening Trans-Atlantic co-operation”.

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