4th Dec 2023

Granada twin summits: Enlargement, migration on menu

  • European leaders will meet in the southern city of Granada — a symbol of centuries of cultural coexistence (Photo: Jordi Böhme López)
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Leaders from some 50 European countries will attend the third European Political Community (EPC) summit in the southern Spanish city of Granada on Thursday (5 October).

The informal political forum, French president Emmanuel Macron's pet project, follows two previous meetings in the Czech Republic last October and then in Moldova in June, deemed by officials as a success.

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Discussions are expected to focus on energy, infrastructure, connectivity, cybersecurity, migration as well as ongoing tension in the continent.

Following the informal political forum, the EU-27 leaders will stay in Spain on Friday to discuss the main priorities for the year ahead and get ready for their next regular October European Council summit, scheduled in two weeks.

The leaders are also expected to brainstorm about the future of the EU in the context of enlargement — but some fear migration could hijack the whole summit.

In a draft declaration, seen by EUobserver, EU leaders are expected to agree on boosting defence investment, enhancing industrial competitiveness, improving migration management, and engaging in discussions about enlargement.

Here are the key issues to watch out for Granada:

Who's coming?

The European Political Community will kick off with a plenary in which leaders will be divided into four working groups to discuss AI, energy and collaboration in the global arena. This general debate will be followed by bilateral meetings.

The list of attendees includes the EU-27, the heads of the main EU institutions and leaders from non-EU countries such as Switzerland, Albania, Andorra and Iceland.

While the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia were expected to engage in peace talks in Spain after Baku's recent attacks on the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan's president Ilham Aliyev said he will not attend the Granada meeting.

Media reports indicate that Aliyev had requested Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to be represented in the five-way meeting expected to take place on Thursday between Armenia, Azerbaijan, France, Germany, and European Council president Charles Michel.

However, Paris and Berlin reportedly declined his request.

In addition, French foreign minister Catherine Colonna announced on Wednesday that Paris will be sending military aid to Armenia so "it can ensure its defence" — potentially influencing Aliyev's decision.

Erdoğan, for his part, is also not expected to attend the meeting in Granada.

Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelensky will finally attend in person.

Meanwhile, Kosovo, which is not recognised by Spain and other four EU member states, will be represented in the meeting.

Officials expect that there will be "diplomatic opportunities" in Granda to discuss with Kosovo's president Vjosa Osmani and Serbia's president Aleksandar Vucic the latest development in the region.

The next European Political Community summit is expected to take place in the UK — the only member state to have ever left the EU.

EU enlargement: money and reforms

With geopolitical tension on the rise, the two meetings will also debate the future of Europe.

While Thursday's discussion will be focused on common challenges, EU leaders are expected to agree on Friday that the EU "needs to undertake the necessary internal groundwork" to expand to include as many as 35 member states.

"Our discussions will mark the start of an important reflection process on EU's future priorities, allowing us to collectively chart the course for the Union, defining its direction and future goals," said Michel.

The discussion will help prepare the ground for the EU-27 summit in December, where leaders are expected to open negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, assess the progress made by the Western Balkans, and continue discussion about internal reforms of candidate countries.

Friday's discussion will be a sort of brainstorming since concrete reforms will be subjected to discussions only at a later stage — following December's discussions on the matter, officials said.

The European Commission is set to present its annual progress report for countries in the bloc's accession process in late October.

The EU has also announced that it will present concrete measures for accelerated integration.

This follows a proposal by Franco-German experts on internal reforms needed to prepare for enlarging the EU to more than 30 member states — and Michel pitching 2030 as a tentative deadline for such enlargement.

Even though it might be more than a decade before enlargement actually happens, the challenges posed by Russia and China have revived the debate about the EU's absorption capacity.

EU leaders will face tough discussions about the impact of enlargement in the next EU budget, which runs from 2028 to 2035.

Enlargement will have significant implications for key areas such as regional cohesion policy and the common agricultural policy (CAP), but the integration challenges posed by a big, and poor, nation like Ukraine are also part of the puzzle.

The integration of nine countries into the EU would cost current member states about €256bn, according to internal calculations leaked to the Financial Times.

"It would only be fair for Ukraine to accept as a corollary that it will not be fully integrated into the CAP or the cohesion policy for a considerable time," according to Stefan Lehne, a researcher at the think tank Carnegie Europe.

Lehne argues that Moldova and Georgia fall between the Western Balkans and Ukraine, since they are smaller countries that would be easier to integrate than Ukraine.

Migration: final sprint

Migration is also expected to be high on the agenda of the informal meeting of the EU head of state and government.

EU leaders are expected to agree on "increased external action" and "more effective control of EU external borders" to control illegal migrant flows while pledging to protect fundamental rights.

Friday's discussion will take place after weeks of intense EU inter-institutional debates on a package of legislative reforms over migration policies.

EU ambassadors reached a preliminary agreement on Wednesday on EU rules on the reception and relocation of arrival migrants in crisis — despite previous opposition by Germany and Italy.

Wednesday's agreement is now expected to pave the way to conclude the pact ahead of the next elections in June 2024.

Meanwhile, the controversial deal between the EU and Tunisia is also expected to be part of the menu, especially after Tunisia's autocrat president Kais Saied rejected the European Commission's first envelope of €127m.

EU officials argue that Saied's actions are aimed at sending a message to the EU: that the first tranche is not enough.

Ukraine: fragile financial assistance

Meanwhile, the EU is expected to use both meetings in Granda to reaffirm their commitments to support Ukraine — following an unprecedented meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers in Kyiv earlier this week.

With the US removing additional funding aid for Ukraine from its spending bill and internal budgetary disputes in the EU, concerns have been mounting about the potential impact on Kyiv's counteroffensive against Russian forces.

Hungary continues to withhold the next €500m tranche of EU financial assistance under the European Peace Facility (EPF).

And the EU commission is expected to unlock about €13bn in funds for the Hungarian government in a bid to get an unanimous vote on the EU's long-term budget — which includes €50bn in funding for Ukraine. 

Following the Kyiv meeting on Monday, EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he would propose a €5bn EU military assistance for Ukraine to cover needs for 2024 — as part of its €20bn proposal for the next four years to support Ukraine's defence forces.

This comes as pro-Russian illiberal Robert Fico regained power in Slovakia, reiterating his pledge to not send any more Slovak military aid to Ukraine.

Last month, Poland also echoed the same message, announcing that it would stop future transfers of weapons to Ukraine.

The story has been updated to rectify that Zelensky will finally attend the Granada summit in person

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