EU leaders in Versailles

EU leaders are gathering in Versailles for the Informal EU Leaders’ meeting hosted by the French Presidency of the Council of the EU. The meeting will take place between today and tomorrow and is expected to focus on the ongoing war in Ukraine, the energy prices, defence and the economy.

On Ukraine, EU leaders are expected to reiterate their support towards Ukraine and its people, with a declaration due in this regard. The declaration on Ukraine is also expected to express support towards an opinion by the European Commission on the eventual accession into the EU. However, critics in Brussels highlight that the way this is being articulated could imply that EU leaders are simply kicking the can down the road.

EU leaders are expected to reiterate their support towards Ukraine and its people.

It seems that there is little appetite in Brussels to allow Ukraine to join the EU. Firstly, that would send a very bad signal to the countries in the Western Balkans which have not yet been given a potential date to become EU members. Secondly, once Ukraine becomes an EU member, it could trigger what is known as article 42.7 TEU, which is akin to NATO’s Article 5. Thirdly, with its population of 40 million people, Ukraine could alter the balance in favour of the East should it become a member, given the voting dynamics within the EU structures.

Article 42.7 obliges EU Member States to assist the other Member States in case of aggression, according to their powers. That could imply that some EU states would have to go to war against Russia, which might also drag NATO and consequently the US.

Yet, this meeting could be considered a significant win for French President Emmanuel Macron ahead of the Presidential elections in May. Macron has consistently advocated for an EU strategic autonomy in areas of significant interest for the EU, namely, defence, energy, security, and the economy.

This new push for a more autonomous EU will likely lead to disgruntlement among Members States in the medium to long term. The issue lies in the fact that not all Member States’ interests are aligned, especially defence and economic interests. With such a move, in the absence of a strong German military, due to constraints stemming from the Second World War, France is expected to become the sole military power within the EU. This will push other Member States to follow its line, especially since France is the one that has a defence industry to speak of within the EU.

Additionally, would an EU strategic autonomy be replacing or complimenting NATO? Should this become a plausible notion, it would undoubtedly encounter strong resistance from the Eastern countries.

The Versailles Meeting could expose the differing positions of EU Member States on whether Ukraine should join the EU in the immediate future. However, these different positions will be muted given the aggression on the EU’s doorstep.

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