By Agnes Szucs
BRUSSELS (AA) – EU leaders will hold a year-end summit on Thursday to discuss the most pressing topics on the continent, such as the Russian military buildup threatening Ukraine, the future of the bloc’s defense policy, and the fight against COVID-19.
Three recently inaugurated leaders – German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson – will join their counterparts for the first time at the summit.
Foreign policy and security issues will dominate the agenda, including Russia’s recent military buildup seen as threatening Ukraine’s territorial integrity, the migration crisis along the bloc’s borders with Belarus, and the defense strategy presented last month by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
The heads of state and government are not expected to take further decisions on sanctioning Russia although top EU officials reiterated several times in recent weeks that an attack on Ukraine would result in “high political and economic costs” for Russia.
As Borrell explained on Tuesday in the European Parliament, the bloc’s diplomats had been preparing scenarios for all kinds of actions Russia might take, but they worked in a “prevention mode,” hoping to avoid further escalation of the conflict.
The EU leaders will also continue discussion on the Strategic Compass, the security and defense strategy presented by Borrell to EU foreign ministers last month.
The action guide sets concrete proposals and timelines for strengthening EU defense, such as setting up a swiftly deployable EU force of 5,000 troops, investing in industrial capabilities, and securing the EU against cyberattacks.
Hoping for an ambitious Strategic Compass, the leaders will provide guidance on how to develop the bloc’s “common strategic vision for the next decade” and to “further enhance our close cooperation with NATO, which remains, for those States that are members of it, the foundation of their collective defense,” European Council President Charles Michel explained in the summit’s invitation letter.
- COVID-19 measures, travel
The EU heads of state and government will also discuss the bloc’s efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
As Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, explained on Wednesday in the European Parliament, over 300 million people – or about 66.6% of the entire EU population – has gotten their primary vaccination series, and 62 million got booster shots.
The EU leaders’ conversation will focus on overcoming vaccine hesitancy and promoting boosters since a great many EU citizens still resist getting the shots, and there are also huge disparities between the inoculation rates in member countries.
In addition, the heads of state and government will also talk about coordinating COVID measures, including travel restrictions after Italy decided earlier this week to demand a PCR test from travelers entering the country even if they were vaccinated and hold the bloc’s digital certificate.
The leaders will also address high energy prices and rising inflation.
The heads of state and government from the 27 EU member states already gathered in Brussels on Wednesday to participate in the Eastern Partnership Summit with the leaders of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Moldova, and Armenia.