Thursday

22nd Feb 2018

Aleppo's fate overshadows EU summit

  • What the east Alppo mayor said was "depressing," German chancellor Angela Merkel told journalists (Photo: Reuters/Abdalrhman Ismail)

The war in Syria disrupted an EU summit on Thursday (15 December), highlighting the bloc's military impotence amid talk of future defence cooperation.

EU leaders "strongly condemn[ed] the continued assault on Aleppo by the Syrian regime and its allies, notably Russia and Iran, including the deliberate targeting of civilians and hospitals."

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Conflict in Ukraine, on EU's eastern flank, led to roll over of Russia sanctions (Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

They urged them to let people be evacuated and to let in aid. They also said that “hostilities … must cease immediately”.

Earlier in the day, the mayor of eastern Aleppo, Brita Haj Hassan, briefed EU leaders on the situation on the ground.

What he said was "depressing," German chancellor Angela Merkel told journalists.

She said that she and her EU colleagues were "not in a position to do what we want to do,” however.

"We have to stand there watching," she said.

Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said: "It is impossible to stop this conflict by force … The EU has no intention and no capacity to take these kinds of measures."

French president Francois Hollande said he hoped a resolution would be voted at the UN on Friday "simply to ensure that in Aleppo it is possible to feed and [medically] treat a population of 50,000 to 100,000”.

He said he could "not even imagine" that Russia could veto that resolution.


EU leaders did not threaten to impose additional sanctions on Russia over its role in Aleppo, but Denmark and Sweden said these could be an option in future.

Individual leaders, such as Ireland’s Enda Kenny, also accused Syria, Russia, and Iran of “committing war crimes and crimes against humanity”.

Defence

Tusk said the EU should not be blamed for the conflict, even if its diplomacy could have been more effective.

The Belgian leader, Charles Michel, said that the EU would have more influence if it had a joint military.

Leaders on Thursday endorsed an EU “global strategy” that contained plans for defence cooperation by a vanguard of willing member states.

These included the creation of a mini-military HQ in the EU foreign service, in what the leaders called a “permanent operational planning and conduct capability”.

They included better “usability and deployability” of EU battlegroups, small forces made by coalitions of EU countries.

They also included plans for joint procurement of assets such as drones and helicopters and joint military R&D, in an endeavour to be backed a European Defence Fund.

Merkel said this would amount to “institutionalisation” of EU joint defence.

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, who participated in the summit, said the EU would "avoid duplication and ensure complementarity" with the transatlantic alliance.

Ukraine

EU leaders did agree to renew economic sanctions on Russia for six months over its aggression in east Ukraine.

Merkel and Hollande, who represent the EU in talks with Moscow and Kiev, reported to colleagues that Russia had failed to abide by the so-called Minsk ceasefire agreement.

Amid Russia’s continued intervention in east Ukraine, “all member states understand that it [sanctions renewal] is inevitable,” Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite said.

EU leaders also agreed to help Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte get ratification of an EU-Ukraine association treaty through the Dutch parliament.

They issued a joint statement which reaffirmed that the treaty did not give Ukraine a promise of EU enlargement or any ”collective security guarantees".

The treaty is meant to align Ukraine’s economy with the West, but Dutch voters said they did not want it in a non-binding referendum in April, putting Rutte in a pickle.

Tusk said ratification was "important not only for Ukraine, but also for Europe's geopolitical standing and credibility."

Martin Schulz, the European Parliament president, said Ukrainian people had died for the EU treaty in the Maidan revolution in 2014.

Migration

On migration, leaders renewed calls for better control of the EU's external borders.

They said that an initiative, already under way, to pay African states to limit the numbers of people coming to Europe was “an important tool for addressing illegal migration and its root causes”.

The initiative so far covers Niger, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Mali, and Senegal.

Some countries had floated the idea of extending it to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Egypt, but an EU diplomat said “we would need deeper experience" with the existing projects before going ahead.

Leaders spoke at length about their asylum policy, but agreed only to try to agree by June.

The topic contains the controversial issue of migrant relocation quotas and prompted an awkward moment between Slovak leader Robert Fico and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker at a joint press briefing on Thursday.

Juncker originally proposed the quotas, which are hated by Fico and others in central Europe.

Fico, who recently proposed a different model in which EU states could pay to avoid quotas and who held the EU presidency for the past six months, said on Thursday that “the Slovak presidency was very successful.”

Juncker said “it was …” and trailed off into silence.

Brexit

Thursday's summit started at noon in the hope of finishing earlier than usual, in the middle of the night.

Long discussions on migration and Syria pushed back the timing by four hours, however.

 As a consequence, a dinner at 27, without British PM Theresa May, to discuss future Brexit negotiations, was reduced to a quick end-of-summit chat.

As expected, the 27 leaders decided that Michel Barnier, a French politician who is the Commission’s Brexit point man, would be the EU negotiator.

The European Parliament’s Brexit man, Belgian politician Guy Verhofstadt, will not be at the negotiating table. Parliament representatives will be invited to "preparatory meetings" but will not participate in the talks.

EU diplomats said that while parliament must consent to the final deal, it was not entitled to codecision, with capitals keen to retain control of the process.

"There will be transparency and reporting but everyone will have to stay in his place”, an EU diplomat said.

Schulz, the parliament chief, warned that MEPs could make life difficult if they felt slighted, however.

“If we are not adequately involved, we may not be able to give our consent … and in this situation the UK would face the hardest Brexit possible”, he said.

British prime minister Theresa May, before leaving her 27 colleagues, had given what the Irish PM Kenny described as a “short” briefing.

She said she wanted the issue of the rights of EU citizens in UK and of British citizens in the EU settled in an early phase of the Brexit talks.

Aleppo envoy left gloomy by EU summit

A plea for EU help by an official from Aleppo, the Syrian city under attack by Syria and Russia, failed to prompt action on Thursday.

Dutch PM clinches deal on Ukraine treaty

EU leaders agreed on a text that clarifies what is in, and what is not in the EU-Ukraine association agreement. But Mark Rutte noted he has no guarantee Dutch parliament will support the deal.

EU to help Libya send migrants back home

EU states aim to help Libya deport would-be migrants back home, while keeping open “all available options” on its response to Russia’s "deliberate targeting" of civilians in Syria.

Dont expect 'quick fix' in Syria, China tells EU

Beijing special envoy on the Syrian conflict said in Brussels that "imposing" a solution from the outside would "not be workable" and that the peace process will not be "smooth sailing".

Opinion

Let refugees help the EU

To solve the Syrian refugee crisis the EU will have to take a leadership role and work effectively with refugee and diaspora communities who can serve as agents of change.

Interview

Katainen explains: My friend Barroso did not lobby me

Vice-president of the European Commission Jyrki Katainen tells EUobserver that he did most of the talking during a beer with the former commission chief, who now works for Goldman Sachs.

News in Brief

  1. EU migration to UK at lowest since 2012
  2. MEP Andrieu will chair parliament pesticide committee
  3. Juncker's right-hand man warns of 'institutional blockage'
  4. Greek parliament to open probe on PMs and EU commissioner
  5. May gathers Brexit ministers to hammer out UK position
  6. Tajani asks Juncker for all EMA Brexit relocation documents
  7. Hahn: EU to back entry talks with Albania and Macedonia
  8. UEFA signs deal to promote 'European values' at EURO 2020

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUMovie Premiere: 'Up to The Last Drop' - 22 February, Brussels
  2. Aid & Trade LondonJoin Thousands of Stakeholders of the Global Aid Industry at Aid & Trade London
  3. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.European Free Alliance Joins MHRMI to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism Year to Promote Business and Mutual Ties
  5. European Jewish CongressAt “An End to Antisemitism!” Conference, Dr. Kantor Calls for Ambitious Solutions
  6. UNESDAA Year Ago UNESDA Members Pledged to Reduce Added Sugars in Soft Drinks by 10%
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  8. CESICESI@Noon on ‘Digitalisation & Future of Work: Social Protection For All?’ - March 7
  9. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  11. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  12. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.Suing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name

Latest News

  1. Poland and Greece broke EU environment laws, rules court
  2. Dutch MPs vote on ending 'Ukraine-type' referendums
  3. Corruption report: Hungary gets worse, Italy makes progress
  4. UK seeks flexible transition length after Brexit
  5. Commission defence of Barroso meeting leaves 'discrepancies'
  6. MEPs bar WMD and killer robots from new EU arms fund
  7. Canete gets EU parliament pension while still commissioner
  8. Bank of Latvia sends deputy to ECB amid bribery probe

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformBeyond the Errors in the War on Terror: How to Fight Global Militarism - 22 February
  2. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström
  3. European Friends of ArmeniaSave The Date 28/02: “Nagorno-Karabakh & the EU: 1988-2018”
  4. European Heart NetworkSmart CAP is Triple Win for Economy, Environment and Health
  5. European Free AlllianceEFA Joined the Protest in Aiacciu to Solicit a Dialogue After the Elections
  6. EPSUDrinking Water Directive Step Forward but Human Right to Water Not Recognized
  7. European Gaming & Betting AssociationGambling Operators File Data Protection Complaint Against Payment Block in Norway
  8. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Deep Concern Over Proposed Holocaust Law in Poland
  9. CECEConstruction Industry Gets Together to Discuss the Digital Revolution @ the EU Industry Days
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Relations in the New Era
  11. European Free AlllianceEnd Discrimination of European Minorities - Sign the Minority Safepack Initiative
  12. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Diversity Shouldn’t Be Only a Slogan” Lorant Vincze (Fuen) Warns European Commission

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformWhat Can Christians Learn from a Global Islamic Movement?
  2. European Jewish CongressEJC President Warns Europe as Holocaust Memory Fades
  3. European Free AlllianceNo Justice From the Spanish Supreme Court Ruling
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  5. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other EU Border Regions to Work Together to Generate Growth
  7. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  8. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  9. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  10. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  11. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society