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Macron hosts EU leaders at Versailles for Ukraine summit

EU leaders will scramble at an informal summit near Paris to find ways to address the fallout of Russia's invasion of Ukraine that has hit the bloc's economy and exposed its defensive fragility.

Macron hosts EU leaders at Versailles for Ukraine summit
Ukrainian and EU and flags outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg. (Photo: Frederick Florin / AFP)

The meeting at Versailles was set to be the high point of France’s six-month EU presidency, but President Emmanuel Macron will instead spearhead a crisis summit to answer Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s brutal disruption to decades of stability in Europe.

“Russia’s war of aggression constitutes a tectonic shift in European history,” a draft of the two-day meeting’s final declaration said.

The leaders will grasp, “how the EU can live up to its responsibilities in this new reality, protecting our citizens, values, democracies, and our European model”.

The 27 heads of state and government meet as fighting raged for a 15th day in Ukraine, with more than two million refugees escaping mainly to Poland but also to countries across Europe.

The conflict has seen a swell of support in the EU for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and leaders were expected to consider the leader’s plea to swiftly join the EU and escape the clutches of Russia.

“Our first priority is to send a political message to Ukraine that it belongs to the European family,” an official from the French presidency said.

Energy issue

But diplomats said the main topic in Versailles was to explore ways to shore up Europe’s self-reliance in a starkly more dangerous world, especially on energy.

“I think energy is the biggest issue on leaders’ minds right now,” said a source with close knowledge of the summit preparations.

The energy price shock caused by the Ukraine invasion has hurt an EU economy emerging from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic and fuelled heated discussions on how to protect consumers.

Western allies have unfurled waves of anti-Russia sanctions whose knock-on effects have exposed Europe’s dependency on Moscow for gas and oil, a reality the meeting will seek ways to address.

Europe’s dependency on Russian energy even caused the first crack in the West’s unified response to Putin’s aggression, with the EU this week shying away from a ban on Russian oil imports implemented by the United States and Britain.

The EU imports about 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia, with Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, especially dependent on the energy flow, along with Italy and several central European countries.

About a quarter of the EU’s oil imports also come from Russia.

According to the meeting’s final declaration, the 27 leaders will agree to “phase out” the bloc’s dependency on Russian gas, oil and coal.

Defence sovereignty
The EU leaders will also try to advance on ways Europe can build its sovereignty in highly sensitive sectors, including semiconductors, food production and, most notably, defence.

Collective security in the European Union is primarily handled by the US-led NATO alliance, but France, the EU’s biggest military power, would like the bloc to play a bigger role.

Since Russia’s belligerence against its pro-EU neighbour, bloc members have approved a total of half a billion euros in defence aid to Ukraine.

Berlin dramatically broke with long-standing doctrine when it announced it will plough €100 billion into national defence.

In view of the challenges, “we must resolutely invest more and better in defence capabilities and innovative technologies”, the leaders were expected to say.

Member comments

  1. EU is already supplying weapons to the Ukrainian side and helping in humanitarian relief, short of starting a war with Russia, a war nobody can win I can’t see the EU doing much else to stop this war.

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POLITICS

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France’s disabilities minister

France's disabilities minister will not face a new inquiry "as things stand" over a rape allegation that surfaced just after his nomination by President Emmanuel Macron last week, prosecutors have said, citing the anonymity of the alleged victim.

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France's disabilities minister

Damien Abad has faced growing pressure to resign after the news website Mediapart reported the assault claims by two women dating from over a decade ago, which he has denied.

One of the women, identified only by her first name, Margaux, filed a rape complaint in 2017 that was later dismissed by prosecutors.

The other woman, known only as Chloe, told Mediapart that in 2010 she had blacked out after accepting a glass of champagne from Abad at a bar in Paris, and woke up in her underwear in pain with him in a hotel room. She believes she may have been drugged.

She did not file an official complaint, but the Paris prosecutors’ office said it was looking into the case after being informed by the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics, a group formed by members of France’s MeToo movement.

“As things stand, the Paris prosecutors’ office is not following up on the letter” from the observatory, it said, citing “the inability to identify the victim of the alleged acts and therefore the impossibility of proceeding to a hearing.”

In cases of sexual assault against adults, Paris prosecutors can open an inquiry only if an official complaint is made, meaning the victim must give their identity.

Abad has rejected the calls to resign in order to ensure the new government’s “exemplarity,” saying that he is innocent and that his own condition of arthrogryposis, which limits the movement of his joints, means sexual relations can occur only with the help of a partner.

The appointment of Abad as minister for solidarities and people with disabilities in a reshuffle last Friday was seen as a major coup for Macron, as the 42-year-old had defected from the right-wing opposition.

The new prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, said she was unaware of the allegations before Abad’s nomination, but insisted that “If there is new information, if a new complaint is filed, we will draw all the consequences.”

The claims could loom large over parliamentary elections next month, when Macron is hoping to secure a solid majority for his reformist agenda. Abad will be standing for re-election in the Ain department north of Lyon.

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