In this week’s edition: EU’s Strategic Compass to be approved this week, summit preview and Ukraine latest.
Putin’s war on Europe’s doorstep has proven the most significant catalyst for advancing Europe’s future military strategy white paper, the Strategic Compass.
The EU’s foreign and defence ministers are set to greenlight the blueprint on Monday (21 March) before it lands on the table of EU leaders for final approval by the end of next week.
Ironically, US President Joe Biden will be in town to witness a defining moment in European defence sovereignty taking shape, after years of back and forth between the two sides of the Atlantic about all aspect of bearing responsibility for Europe’s security.
The blueprint text, at this point already revised five times by member states, includes language that would have been considered utterly inconceivable as recently as two years ago.
“The return of war in Europe, with Russia’s unprovoked and unprovoked aggression against Ukraine, as well as major geopolitical changes call into question our ability to promote our vision and defend our interests”, one of the latest blueprint versions states.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted a significant rewrite of the document, with the security threat of Moscow’s aggression becoming the red thread in the latest versions of the paper.
The initial draft was criticised over a lack of clarity that threats from Moscow include military threats, weaponising energy supply, and hybrid attacks.
Then, Eastern European member states argued that for the EU to become a geopolitical heavyweight, it needs to play a security role not only in Africa but even more so in its Eastern neighbourhood. As a result, and due to escalating tensions, the EU enshrined more robust support, including security and defence measures, for its Eastern partners.
Over the past week, the document has seen some last-minute, but significant changes, mostly related to political messaging and investment.
After the latest EU summit in Paris, the strategy blueprint is now slated to “contribute directly to the implementation of the Versailles agenda”.
In Versailles, EU leaders announced their intention to “invest more and better in defence capabilities and innovative technologies” by substantially increasing defence expenditures and through tighter cooperation and coordination in a declaration that described Russia’s war as “a tectonic shift in European history”.
An annual report on the state of play of the bloc’s defence developments will serve as the basis for an annual summit, meant to give geopolitical guidance, the latest text version states.
It also adds a particular reference to the European Commission proposal currently underway on waiving Value Added Tax (VAT) to support ‘joint procurement’ of defence equipment produced in Europe, which will likely present in spring 2023.
The latest draft also strengthens the EU’s mutual defence commitments to its ‘neutral’ member states that are part of the EU, but not of NATO: Finland, Sweden, Austria, Ireland, Cyprus, and Malta.
In addition, the blueprint will reinforce the text’s reference to Article 42.7 of the EU treaty, which provides for a mutual assistance clause in the event of aggression against one of the bloc’s members.
Despite NATO being named as a cornerstone of European security, EU member states are set to pledge help to the attacked by all means:
“The EU’s resolve to respond to an armed aggression against any one of its member states in accordance with Article 42(7) of the Treaty of the European Union should not be questioned”.
Plus, ‘strategic autonomy’ is witnessing a comeback, too, with a whole additional paragraph referencing the objective of making the EU “a stronger and more capable security provider”.
But the main national sticking points remain.
Eastern Europeans have argued that the role of NATO should be reinforced in the text, “while many points raised by us have not been taken on board”, one EU diplomat said.
Meanwhile, Greece and Cyprus were unsatisfied with the weak language on Turkey compared to what had been agreed in the past by EU leaders in terms of condemning Ankara’s actions in the Eastern Med.
It is, however, unlikely that this will impact the timeline for the approval of the blueprint later next week.
EU IN THE WORLD
UKRAINE SUMMITRY | We’re looking towards a big summit week ahead in Brussels. US President Joe Biden will make his first visit to Europe since the invasion of Ukraine to discuss face-to-face with Europeans how to deal with Russia’s war on Ukraine.
With NATO allies on Thursday morning, there will be talks on more details of support for Ukraine and NATO’s deterrence and defence. NATO defence ministers laid the base by tasking the alliance’s military commanders to draw up plans for new more troops and missile defences in Eastern Europe earlier this week.
This will be followed by a G7 meeting announced by the current chair, Germany.
Later in the evening, EU leaders will host Biden for more talk on Ukraine and the West’s economic response to Russia’s ongoing invasion and offering humanitarian support to victims of the war. Expect sanctions to be the elephant in the room, as EU member states are divided on how far the EU should go in further penalising Moscow.
According to EU diplomats, there is not too much appetite to move quickly with a fifth sanctions package that could potentially include painful energy options.
“Instead of adopting a ‘wait-and-see’ approach, we should move forward with the fifth sanctions package,” one senior EU diplomat told reporters, urging to include Sberbank and Gazprombank to the SWIFT payments system sanctions and move on punitive energy measures.
Eastern Europeans are ready to hit Russian oil, gas and coal and have repeatedly warned that “sanctions fatigue” could incentivise Putin to go even further, while Germany is leading the reluctant camp. Southern Europeans, meanwhile, mull energy market reform.
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