EU summit

Peter Spiegel

Migrants arrive in the Sicilian port of Messina after a rescue operation at sea earlier this week

When EU leaders meet in Brussels on Thursday for a hastily-called summit to address the rash of migrant drownings in the Mediterranean, the most concrete “deliverable” is likely to be a pledge to “at least” double resources to the bloc’s two maritime operations along Europe’s southern coast.

According to a draft communiqué sent to national capitals late Wednesday, which Brussels Blog got its hands on and has posted here, the commitment to double the financial resources will go through 2016. But the text is a bit more unclear on what exactly the Triton and Poseidon missions’ mandate will be.

The draft says the new cash would allow the patrols to “increase the search and rescue possibilities within the mandate” of Frontex, the EU’s border guard agency. But diplomats say the issue of whether to grant Frontex an explicit search-and-rescue mission, like the now-disbanded Mare Nostrum patrols, remains off the table. A senior EU official said Frontex remains a border-control agency, and that will not be changed. Read more

Peter Spiegel

ECB chief Mario Draghi, right, with France's François Hollande at October's EU summit

The dance had become so routine that we at the Brussels Blog were thinking of giving it a name, the Eurozone Two-Step.

Ever since the eurozone crisis first rocked international markets nearly five years ago, European Central Bank chiefs – first Jean-Claude Trichet, then Mario Draghi – sent a very clear message to the currency union’s political leaders: we can only act if you act first.

The deal was never explicit, but both sides knew what was required. The ECB’s first sovereign bond purchase programme in May 2010 came only after eurozone leaders created a new €440bn bailout fund; its €1tn in cheap loans to eurozone banks in early 2012 only came after political leaders agreed to a new “fiscal compact” of tough budget rules.

But with the markets watching Frankfurt closely for signs Draghi is about to launch another bold move – US-style quantitative easing, purchasing sovereign bonds to halt fears the bloc is headed into a deflationary spiral – there are new indications one of the partners is no longer dancing.

Back in October at a eurozone summit, Draghi was able to get a little-noticed statement out of the assembled leaders committing them to another “Four Presidents Report”, a reference to the blueprint delivered in 2012 that set a path towards further centralisation of eurozone economic policy. The report helped kick-start the EU’s just-completed “banking union.”

Progress on that 2012 blueprint has since stalled, however, and at his last summit press conference, then-European Council president Herman Van Rompuy said the new “Four Presidents Report” would be delivered at the December EU summit, which starts next Thursday. Many in Brussels saw this as the quid for Draghi’s quo – once the leaders agreed to another blueprint for eurozone integration, Draghi would have a free hand to launch QE.

But according to a leaked draft of the communiqué for next week’s summit, Draghi may have to deliver his quo without a eurozone quid. The text (which we’ve posted here) makes clear that leaders have no intention of delivering a new blueprint any time soon. Read more

Peter Spiegel

Ukraine's prime minister Yatseniuk returns to Brussels Friday to sign the EU integration treaty

Just how sensitive is tonight’s summit dinner debate over the next steps for EU sanctions against Russia? According to EU diplomats, the meal will be for leaders only – no aides, no experts – and they won’t be allowed to bring in mobile phones or other electronic devices.

That’s because the next most likely step is what one senior EU diplomat termed “phase two-plus”: new names, potentially those closest to Russian President Vladimir Putin, are expected to be added to the list of 21 Russian and Crimean officials subject to EU visa bans and asset freezes.

As a result, the draft conclusions that were produced from last night’s meeting of EU ambassadors – which apparently includes those names – is not being given the normal circulation to national capitals and will only be given to leaders once they get into the room tonight. The draft produced before last night’s meeting, a leaked copy of which we’ve posted here, is the last one to get distributed more widely. Read more

Peter Spiegel

Arseniy Yatseniuk, the Ukrainian prime minister, at last week's emergency EU summit

When EU diplomats meet again tomorrow in Brussels for another round of talks over Russian sanctions ahead of Monday’s foreign ministers’ meeting, one of the more peculiar points of debate will be about last week’s EU summit promise to sign the “political chapters” of their integration treaty with Ukraine.

Apparently, it may be almost impossible to do so legally – even though the current plan is to have them signed at the EU leaders’ regularly-scheduled summit next Thursday. Bit of a pickle, no?

For those not following things that closely, the EU’s “association agreement” with Ukraine is the thing that first set off the current crisis, after then-President Victor Yanukovich decided not to agree the pact – both a free trade deal and a political affiliation agreement – on the eve of a big summit designed around the signing ceremony. The months of protests that followed eventually led to Yanukovich’s downfall.

At last week’s emergency summit on the Ukraine crisis, EU leaders took many by surprise when they decided to sign the non-trade portions of the treaty – essentially the Preamble, Title I and Title II of the text, which can be read here – even though European Commission officials had previously indicated that they’d wait for a “legitimate” government in Kiev to be elected in the new May presidential vote. Read more

Ukraine's prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, left, and France's François Hollande at summit's start

Today’s emergency summit of EU leaders has just gotten underway and the Brussels blog has got its hands on an early draft of the official three-page concluding statement on Ukraine.

As if it weren’t clear enough already, the draft reveals deep fault lines among member states over the appropriate response to Russia’s actions in Crimea, since there is very little substance in the text thus far. Indeed, the moderates – led by Germany and including countries with strong economic ties to Russia, like Italy and the Netherlands– appear to have succeeded in keeping any specific threats against Russia out of the declaration.

Although the statement endorses the conclusions of EU foreign ministers on Monday – which demanded that Russia return its troops in Crimea back to barracks or face “targeted measures” – the leaders’ statement oddly leaves this specific demand out. There is no language reiterating the foreign ministers’ view on this, which included the demand to “withdraw [Russian] armed forces to the areas of their permanent stationing.” Instead, the draft simply states a commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Read more

Peter Spiegel

EU leaders have been arriving at the summit. In a little Brussels Blog attempt at innovation, James Fontanella-Khan and Peter Spiegel did a two-way Twitter chat on the goings on:


 Read more

Peter Spiegel

Herman Van Rompuy, who as president of the European Council, will chair the summit

Although the eyes of Europe are on Athens, the two-day summit of European heads of government that starts today in Brussels may have little to add to the ongoing debate over what to do about Greece’s debt crisis.

That’s because most of the tough decisions left – particularly how to involve private bondholders in shouldering some of the cost of another Greek bail-out – have been put in the hands of finance ministers, who must hash out their differences before an emergency meeting July 3.

Economic issues will hardly be off the agenda, however, especially tonight. In his letter to European leaders, Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, said tonight’s dinner will be focused on the economy – though largely issues that are not particularly controversial or have been decided by finance ministers. Read more

Peter Spiegel

Day one of the European Union summit finally broke up after midnight Friday, with leaders finalising the structure of a new eurozone bail-out system that will go into place in 2013 and some tough language on Libya, including the promise to push for more sanctions against Libyan oil and gas companies.

Most everything else in the much-anticipated “grand bargain” to shore up the eurozone was decided before the summit, so the rest of the conclusions on economic and fiscal issues were widely reported and expected.

One thing worth reflecting on, however, is the fact that what was once one of the most contentious proposals to reform the EU’s economic governance – new budget rules that allow the EU to fine wayward member states – was agreed to without much controversy. That may require Brussels elites to reconsider the Hungarian presidencyRead more

Peter Spiegel

As we’ve been reporting for the last couple of days, many of the fiscal measures that we once thought had been agreed for the two-day summit are unravelling, thanks in part to Finland’s objections to finalising an increase in the eurozone’s €440bn bail-out fund and Germany’s sudden objection to the structure of the €500bn fund that will replace it in 2013. Read more

Peter Spiegel

UPDATE: The demonstrations are already turning nasty. Near the Belgian prime minister’s office, protesters are throwing rocks at riot police, who have opened water cannons on them.

It’s summit day (again!) in Brussels, and for Europe’s presidents and prime minsters gathering this afternoon, the unexpected collapse of the Portuguese government and the ongoing infighting over the Libyan campaign is likely to dominate deliberations behind closed doors.

But those of us without the benefit of a security detail and Belgian motorcycle outriders will have to deal with something far more onerous: thousands of Belgian demonstrators who are expected to clog Brussels’ city centre to protest European austerity measures and the failure of Belgian political leaders to form a government.

A quick morning wander through the city’s EU quarter reveals Belgian security forces armed to the teeth, complete with gas masks, body armour, riot helmets and plexiglass shields. Helicopters buzz overhead. Two Belgian army soldiers were even spotted wandering through the atrium of Justis Lipsius, the EU building where the summit is held. Read more

As he entered today’s EU summit, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, made his first public comments about his unexpected plan for  for “defensive” air-strikes against forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, saying they should be used in the event Gaddafi uses chemical weapons or unleashes airpower against unarmed demonstrators.

“The French and the English have said that we are open, if the United Nations wants it, and if the Arab League accepts it, and if the Libyan authorities that we want to be recognised ask for it, to have targeted defensive operations in the sole eventuality that Gaddafi would use chemical weapons or use his warplanes to target non-violent demonstrators,” he told reporters. Read more

Peter Spiegel

Today’s back-to-back European Union summits in Brussels kick off with a discussion on Libya, and it’s sure to be dominated by Nicolas Sarkozy’s unexpected decision to recognise the opposition Libyan National Council as the legitimate representatives of the Libyan people.

Officials at both Nato (where defence ministers are meeting) and the European Union (where European foreign ministers lunched ahead of today’s heads-of-government summit) said Sarkozy’s initiative was not hugely popular; one foreign minister I talked to said it was 26 vs 1 during the EU session. There are widespread concerns about who, exactly, the west is embracing, since intelligence on the opposition’s leadership remails pretty thin. Read more

Peter Spiegel

For those, like the Brussels Blog, who have been following every twist and turn of the saga over Hungary’s carpet in the European Union building that hosts major summits, here’s another twist: the carpet has been covered up.

For those not following the drama so closely, a quick summary: To mark their turn at the EU’s six-month rotating presidency, Hungary laid down the carpet with symbols of the country’s history – including a map of Hungary from 1848, when parts of current-day Slovakia and Romania were within Hungarian borders. It has added to concerns about the nationalist tendencies of the government in Budapest.

Suffice it to say, the Slovaks and Romanians haven’t been amused.

But for today’s heads of government summit in Brussels, the first during the Hungarian presidency, the carpet has been covered by a giant Hungarian-green rug, raising questions of whether Budapest has backed down in the face of criticism.

We’ve been told, however, that no such climb-down is in the works. Read more

As European leaders gather in Brussels for a summit meeting nominally dedicated – for the first time – to energy policy, one uninvited guest is looking on with some dismay: Russia.

High on the agenda is energy security. Which is a polite way of saying that European leaders are discussing how the bloc can break its dependency on Russian gas. In some parts of the EU – notably among the new member states of central and eastern Europe – that policy goal has become an obsession.

“We are totally dependent,” said one Lithuanian diplomat. “Whatever Gazprom says, we pay.” Read more

Peter Spiegel

Friday’s summit of European heads of government has long been signposted as one of European Council president Herman Van Rompuy’s new interim conclaves to deal with a policy issue of crucial importance to Europe, in this case energy security.

But as many diplomats predicted, energy is increasingly getting drowned out by other, more pressing demands.

First, José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, called on the summit to be used to hash out an overhaul of the eurozone’s €440bn sovereign debt bail-out fund so it’s able to more flexibly deal with bond market assaults on struggling “peripheral” economies.

Although that won’t happen, Van Rompuy has agreed to turn over the summit’s traditional working lunch to the eurozone crisis, and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has decided to use the opportunity to float a new plan for greater coordination in economic and fiscal policies among eurozone countries.

Now, it seems, the afternoon is being taken over by yet another crisis: Egypt. Read more

Peter Spiegel

During his normal mid-summit breakfast with reporters, José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, was in a feisty mood, despite the late session Thursday night.

Barroso gave an overview of the debate over treaty changes and a summary of what he hopes will be a strong statement in support of the euro today.

But his most pointed comments were aimed at reports of a letter being circulated by Britain and other member states attempting to set limits to the seven-year budget framework, which starts in 2014. Read more

Peter Spiegel

The EU’s final two-day heads of government summit of 2010 starts Thursday and early betting is that it will be much quieter than the last time the 27 leaders assembled in Brussels, a gathering that set off a bond market panic which the continent is still recovering from.

The main event will be Thursday night, when the leaders are expected to sign off on a brief change in the EU’s treaty to allow for the creation of a new financial rescue system to replace the current, temporary €750bn bail-out fund.

There is still some nervousness that Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, may push for additional language in the text to make explicit that the new bail-out system can only be accessed as a “last resort,” or ultima ratio in Latin, the phrase being used by the cognoscenti.

But Merkel did not mention the ultima ratio demand in her list of principles before the Bundestag Wednesday, and there seems to be little appetite among other members to let her bulldoze the new language in – particularly since it could cause more confusion among bond traders, who might wonder what all the other resorts are before the last one. Read more

Twenty-six European leaders turned up for a dinner in Brussels this evening with one burning question to discuss: Whether or not to change the European Union treaties to accommodate Germany’s demands for a new permanent bailout fund?

But one European leader burst in and insisted on talking about something else. That would be David Cameron, the UK prime minister, and his obsession was the European budget. Read more

Peter Spiegel

The opening feature of any EU summit is the gathering of heads of government at their partisan caucuses. These days none is more important than the European People’s Party, the right-wing EU coalition that includes Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi. Read more

Peter Spiegel

The call by Angela Merkel to reopen the European Union’s treaties in a major address to the Bundestag is already generating reaction from heads of government in other member states as they begin descending on Brussels for a two-day summit.

Ms Merkel worked the phones the day before the summit, calling several of her counterparts in an attempt to shore up support – a sign of just how precarious her position is and her need to come out of the summit with a victory following intense criticism at home for her political deal-making to win over reluctant allies. Read more