27th Feb 2024


Final EU summit of 2023 plus rule of law in Spain This WEEK

  • Concerns about a potential deadlock in the enlargement talks are linked to Hungary’s opposition to open accession negotiations with Ukraine (Photo: Council of the EU)
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EU leaders will gather in Brussels for their final summit of 2023 on Thursday and Friday (14 and 15 December) with a tough agenda that includes Ukraine, the Middle East, enlargement, and the revision of the EU budget, including €50bn financial aid for Kyiv.

Concerns about a potential deadlock in the enlargement talks are linked to Hungary's opposition to open accession negotiations with Ukraine — a decision that requires unanimity.

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Despite pressure coming from Brussels, Paris and Madrid, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán's position remains unchanged. He said discussions on Ukraine's EU membership bid should not be part of the summit talks. He also said that Ukraine is one of the most corrupt countries and is not ready to join the EU.

EU leaders are also expected to reaffirm their support to Ukraine, both military and financially, but Budapest is also not on board with the EU Commission's plan to grant €50bn in financial aid for Kyiv.

After the US Senate shot down president Joe Biden's $100bn foreign aid plan (to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan), the EU's financial commitment to Ukraine has gained significant importance and symbolism.

Nevertheless, there's still hope for reaching an agreement.

"We have had difficult moments in the past and we have always found a solution. It is crucial that the EU continues our support to Ukraine on the financial and on the military side," said Belgian prime minster Alexander De Croo last Friday (8 December).

In what is widely seen as an attempt to buy-off Hungary's veto power during the summit, the European Commission is expected to unblock €10bn in recovery funds for Hungary this week — a decision slammed by MEPs and the Hungarian opposition.

The EU executive is also expected to unveil a plan to use Russian-frozen assets for the reconstruction of Ukraine on Tuesday (12 December), which will then be discussed during the summit.

The issue of Russian frozen assets, however, has divided the 27-nations bloc given the concerns of many EU capitals and the European Central Bank.

On enlargement, a few EU countries, including Austria and Croatia, have been pushing to open accession talks with Bosnia-Herzegovina — but the move is opposed by countries like Sweden and The Netherlands.

In their conclusions, EU leaders are set to highlight the need for progress on previously established requirements.

Ahead of the summit, EU leaders and representatives from the Western Balkans will meet on Wednesday (13 December) to discuss the state of play on the EU accession process.

Meanwhile, draft conclusions seen by EUobserver also show EU countries willing to grant the status of candidate country to Georgia.

The review of the EU's long-term budget 2021-2027 is also expected to be a contentious topic during the summit discussion among EU leaders.

While most countries have expressed their support for providing financial aid to Ukraine, the remaining parts of the package linked to migration, the costs related to the pandemic recovery plan, and investments in key technologies, are likely to encounter more opposition.

Ukraine, Gaza, US sanctions

Before the summit, foreign affairs ministers will meet in Brussels on Monday (11 December) to discuss the latest developments concerning the Russian war in Ukraine as well as the EU's military support. Ukraine's foreign affairs minister Dmytro Kuleba is expected to join the meeting.

Ministers will also discuss the situation in the Middle East with a focus on the humanitarian situation in Gaza after the resumption of hostilities between Israel and Hamas.

Ministers are also expected to discuss an "orientation note" prepared by EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell which mulls the idea of visa bans on violent Israeli settlers in the West Bank — following the example of the US, already supported by Belgium and Germany.

This comes after UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres called on the UN Security Council for a full humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza last week.

In Strasbourg, MEPs will hold the last plenary of the year, including a debate with Borrell on the humanitarian situation in Gaza scheduled for Thursday.

On Monday evening, EU foreign affairs ministers will also hold a meeting with their counterparts from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine — with the aim to reach a deal on extending mobile roaming rules to these five neighbouring countries.

Spain's rule of law

Before the end of the Spanish EU council presidency, prime minister Pedro Sánchez will address MEPs in Strasbourg on Wednesday. The European People's Party (EPP) is expected to raise rule-of-law concerns about Sánchez's re-appointment as prime minister — after his amnesty deal with Catalan separatists was harshly criticised by centre-right leader Manfred Weber.

Also on Wednesday, MEPs will hold a debate about Slovakia's draft law to reform the penal code and fight against corruption.

On Tuesday, EU ministers in charge of European affairs will try to adopt a position on Spain's proposal to make Catalan, Basque and Galician EU official languages. Many member states are not convinced, and are calling for further analysis of costs and legal implications.

"At the moment, the adoption looks a bit tricky," said a diplomat.

Ministers are also expected to adopt conclusions on a strengthened rule of law dialogue, in place since 2020. Poland and Hungary have opposed wording arguing that this dialogue is supposed to be based in practice on the commission's report.

They will also discuss enlargement ahead of the summit.

The 2023 Sakharov Prize award ceremony will take place on Tuesday. Jina Mahsa Amini, who died last year in a hospital in Tehran after being arrested for ignoring Iran's veiling, and the women's movement in Iran won this year's Sakharov Prize.

2024 elections

Also on Tuesday, the European Parliament is expected to adopt a report calling for a binding agreement between the council and the parliament on the so-called Spitzenkandidat [lead candidate] process — a symbolic demand ahead of the next EU elections.

At the same time, the EU commission is set to issue a recommendation to make the electoral process of the next EU elections more "resilient" and "inclusive".

MEPs will also adopt new rules to ensure member states recognise parenthood established by another EU country.

On Monday, EU agriculture ministers will meet in Brussels to discuss a controversial proposal to deregulate new genetically-modified organisms.

Meanwhile, UN climate negotiations in Dubai (COP28) are set to come to an end on Tuesday.

EU approves €920m for Hungary, despite rule-of-law fears

In a controversial move, the European Commission has approved the release of €920m to Hungary under Budapest's recovery and resilience plan — despite concerns over the rule of law and democratic backsliding.

Brussels denies having no 'concern' on Spain's amnesty law

The Spanish government remains secretive about its negotiations with pro-independence Catalans, but claims the EU Commission has "zero concerns" about their proposed amnesty law for Catalan separatists. The EU executive denies that.

More farmers, Ukraine aid, Yulia Navalnaya in focus This WEEK

EU agriculture ministers meet in Brussels amid new farmers' protests. MEPs will hear from Alexei Navalny's widow and give the final green light to the €50bn Ukraine facility, while the CBAM proposal faces a formal challenge at a WTO meeting.

New Red Sea mission and more Russia sanctions This WEEK

EU foreign affairs ministers launch the bloc's new Red Sea naval mission, plus hold talks on new sanctions against Russia — amid Hungarian objections — on Monday. Plus a home for the EU's new anti-money laundering authority will be picked.

Nato, defence summit, and UNRWA in focus This WEEK

Nato defence ministers will meet this week ahead of the Munich Security Conference. ECB chief Christine Lagarde will address MEPs in the committee on economic affairs and MEPs will hold a debate about the defunding of the UNRWA agency.

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