If the latest EU summit is any indication, Europe appears to be increasingly divided by issues such as the Greek bailout and sanctions against Russia.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, walks with her delegation after an EU summit in Brussels on Friday, June 26, 2015. EU leaders, in a second day of meetings, discussed migration, the Greek bailout and European defense. Photo: AP
Held on June 25 and 26, the latest meeting of the European Council concluded after a long marathon of sessions and preliminary agreements in various formats within the framework of the European Union (EU). However, it seems that not all problems facing Europe were resolved at this EU summit. Most importantly, the issue of what to do with Russia still hangs over the EU.
Greek drama: Going into overtime
Almost all experts believed that the negotiations process between Greece and its creditors – the most important of which are the European Central Bank and the banks of the leading EU countries, starting with Germany – would be concluded before the European Council’s summit. However, the tough negotiations on the release of the next bailout package for Athens in the amount of 7.2 billion euros (approximately $8 billion) had gone into overtime.
On the one hand, both Greece and the EU are, of course, interested in successful conclusion of the negotiations, and finding of a compromise. Greece finds itself in a very difficult socio-economic and financial situation, with the state treasury almost empty and the threat of default quite real.
Given the fact that, according to opinion polls, about 70 percent of the Greek population is against leaving the Eurozone, the government of Alexis Tsipras has repeatedly expressed its willingness to work on a compromise.
Nevertheless, the Greek problem has not so much a geopolitical, but rather a “class” dimension. Creditors, largely under pressure from Berlin, are demanding that Athens continue on the path of structural reforms, in the neo-liberal spirit (in particular, increasing the value added tax and reducing public expenditures).
Meanwhile, the Greek government, which is dominated by the left-wing party Syriza, put forward alternative proposals that include increasing taxes on the wealthiest classes and businesses that consistently perform well in the market.
Now, yet another “historical” stage of negotiations between the Eurogroup and Greece has been moved to Saturday - no agreement has been reached on Friday.
The EU and Russia: The status quo is “a draw”
Formally, the decision to extend the European Union’s anti-Russian sanctions was made a few days before the summit. Of course, this decision was also preceded by a complex and lengthy debate. In fact, already in March, a fundamental political decision was made to extend the economic trade sanctions on Russia until the expiry of the Minsk Agreements, i.e., until the end of 2015.
Nevertheless, de jure, the decision to extend the sanctions was adopted by the EU Council on June 22, and the sanctions extension period was defined as May 31, 2016. Of course, this extension was being made, as the EU claimed, “to ensure full implementation of the Minsk Peace Agreements.” Therefore, sanctions against Russia will remain in place in the field of lending, military equipment, high-tech equipment, and technologies used for oil production.
The fact that the sanctions were merely automatically extended, says that the top EU officials have chosen not to “rock the boat” one more time. It is known that some members of the European Union (primarily the United Kingdom, Poland, and the Baltic States) were in favor of toughening the sanctions pressure, whereas another group (in particular Greece, Hungary, and Cyprus), to the contrary, was advocating a gradual lifting of the sanctions.
However, the leading political force in the EU (the center-right European People’s Party and the Party of European Socialists) had decided that at this stage of the game, it was better to leave things “as they are.”
At the same time, the influential political and economic circles in the EU are increasingly starting to understand that going down the path of reciprocal sanctions – after all, Russia, for its part, extended the embargo on imports of agricultural products from EU countries – leads to a dead end.
The Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni noted that a dialogue with Russia is urgently needed, and “we need to engage Russia in a dialogue on various issues in the international arena.”
On the path of reform
At the European Council’s June summit, as well as before it, other important issues, relating to different EU policies, were also discussed. For example, in recent months, the member countries of the Union have been actively discussing reforms to the European Neighborhood Policy, and the European Security Policy.
Immigration flows have sharply increased from the South, numerous tragedies have occurred, leading to the deaths of hundreds of illegal immigrants in the Mediterranean Sea, as well as terrorist threats from the “developing world” (above all else, the united Europe is horrified by the Islamic State phenomenon) – all this has squarely raised new security challenges for the EU.
As a result, EU leaders and diplomats are seeking revisions to the Union’s neighborhood and security policies – in order to adapt the alliance of the 28 countries to the new global environment. This will mean redefining the security policy objectives, taking into account the budgetary constraints of the EU on this policy, adequately and accurately answering challenges posed by “hybrid” threats to European security, such as cyber-terrorism. Of course, the EU plans to face these challenges together with NATO, whose membership includes most of the countries composing the EU.
Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, stated that, “The EU and its neighbors should work together to resist the effects of the growing instability in many regions and the threats of terrorism.”
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Therefore, the EU Summit in Brussels approved the final version of a previously developed plan for naval operations in the Mediterranean. The objectives of this plan, on the one hand, are to save the lives of refugees coming from southern shores of the Mediterranean, and on the other – an effective fight against organized groups of smugglers and human traffickers.
However, even this seemingly fully agreed upon issue created certain discomfiture at the summit. The Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi openly expressed dissatisfaction with his EU partners, due to the fact that they are reluctant to accept voluntary quotas for the redistribution of refugees coming from the southern shores of the Mediterranean, and thus now the main burden has been placed on the shoulders of Italy and other countries in Southern Europe.
In general, the recent summit of the European Council in Brussels did not help bring the EU allies closer together.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.