Tuesday

26th Mar 2019

EU leaders hold 'Coke Light' summit on investments, Russia

  • Will Tusk (c) be able to keep EU leaders disciplined? (Photo: consilium.europa.au)

The first EU summit chaired by Donald Tusk, the new EU council president, already has a nickname: “Coke Light”.

The term was coined by Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian Prime Minister, who at one point was touted for the EU commission presidency.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

His criticism: the draft four-page text for the summit conclusions - circulated among ambassadors ahead of the meeting - is too short and too general. Last year in December, the summit conclusions were 26 pages long.

The current draft includes an endorsement for Jean-Claude Juncker’s €315bn investment plan. But the contentious points - such as whether countries will have a say on the selection of the projects, and how project spending will fit into deficit and debt calculations - have been omitted.

Several EU diplomats on Wednesday made light of Verhofstadt's remark. “I love Coke Light”, said one senior EU official, noting that “shorter, more focused conclusions will help streamline decisions and increase transparency.”

Another diplomat said MEPs always try to bash the council ahead of summits, and that since this time they could not pin anything on the “decisions made behind closed doors,” they went for the brevity of the draft conclusions.

A third one said that conclusions in the past few years had been a compilation of national wishes allowing each leader to go home and flag up their big “achievement”.

A fourth source offered a different view. “Coke Light is good, but I don’t think they would like Coke Zero,” meaning that too brief a text would not look serious enough.

Cut one day shorter

To shake up the Brussels summitry even further, Tusk has hinted to leaders that they might wrap up Thursday night and not go into the traditional second day.

The summit will start at 16.00 local time, an hour earlier than usual, with the formal session dedicated to the investment fund and the informal dinner reserved for a debate on Ukraine and Russia.

But despite his good intentions, Tusk will not be able to prevent leaders from bringing up their own isssues.

Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic want a “geographical” distribution of funding from the Juncker plan. They also would like the EU commission to extend by a year the deadline for submitting receipts for the 2007-2013 cohesion funds.

Investment and deficits

Italy wants guarantees that if it chips into the Juncker fund, it will get away with its budget deficit and debt, something the EU commission has indicated will be the case.

One diplomat called this as “the old Italian idea put forward by Mario Monti - investments not to be counted as deficit - which Juncker now tried to get in through the back door.”

Germany wants to avoid a discussion on “flexibility” of the deficit and debt rules; Romania is asking for its defence spending not to be counted in the deficit and Bulgaria wants reassurances it will not be left in the cold now that the Russian gas pipeline - South Stream - will no longer be built.

Belgium has an issue with the European Parliament blocking a draft bill that would allow EU governments to share air passenger data in a bid to prevent foreign fighters from returning from Syria and Iraq and posing threats to European countries.

Russia

And then there is Russia. Tusk is keen not to open the “strategic debate” on EU-Russia relations - which would expose the rift between doves and hawks.

But he does want to take stock of the latest developments - the rouble in free fall, the sanctions biting “way more than we expected” - ahead of next year’s bigger debate on whether to scrap or renew the sanctions when they expire.

Ukraine with its multi-billion funding gap nobody seems keen on filling is another issue. Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko tried to get himself invited to the summit, but was declined.

Another EU diplomat noted that Tusk is “very happy to have a strategic debate, as the current EU-Russia framework does not apply anymore.”

But the source also does not expect that debate to take place on Thursday, rather for Tusk to feel out the general mood and see where he can forge a common position.

According to the same source, the general mood has shifted away from sanctions, particularly since the Russian economy is falling apart with the currency devaluating rapidly and oil and gas revenues almost halved due to a steep fall in the global oil price.

“Unfortunately, in the Putin entourage there are more nationalists than oligarchs, so despite all these very serious consequences, we still haven’t put Putin in a situation to revise his position on Ukraine,” the diplomat said.

News in Brief

  1. European Parliament votes on reform of copyright
  2. New French-German parliament meets for first time
  3. EU parliament reduces polling ahead of elections
  4. UK parliament votes to take control of Brexit process
  5. EU publishes no-deal Brexit contingency plans
  6. EU urges Israel and Gaza to re-establish calm
  7. May admits 'not sufficient support' for third Brexit vote
  8. Orban vows more EU 'information campaigns'

Magazine

The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019

The four most powerful EU institutions - Commission, Parliament, Council and Central Bank will all have new leaders in the coming ten months. Here is an overview.

Magazine

Explained: What is the European Parliament?

While domestic political parties often use the European Parliament as a dumping ground for unwanted politicians - and a majority of citizens don't bother to vote - the parliament, over the years, has become a dominant force in the EU.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. France takes Chinese billions despite EU concerns
  2. Europe before the elections - heading back to the past?
  3. Romania presidency shatters EU line on Jerusalem
  4. The Spitzen process - a coup that was never accepted
  5. Russia and money laundering in Europe
  6. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  7. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean
  8. Copyright and (another) new Brexit vote This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us