Live: Ukraine EU candidacy and food security at top of Council summit’s agenda

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, French President Emmanuel Macron, right, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at an EU summit in Brussels, June 23, 2022.

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AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert

European Union leaders are gathering in Brussels on Thursday with Ukraine’s candidacy to the bloc at the top of their summit’s agenda.

Moldova is also widely anticipated to get the candidate status while leaders should back the Commission’s proposal to give Georgia its European perspective with the candidate status to be granted at a later stage. 

The 27 heads of state will also discuss ways to accelerate the export of grains stuck in Ukraine as well as a French proposal to create a so-called European Political Community to enable European countries that are not member states to forge closer relations with the bloc.

First though, they sat down with the leaders of Western Balkan countries whose respective bids to join the EU started over a decade ago.

Follow the action-packed day live in the blog below.

17:22

Candidate status is ‘least we can do’ for Ukraine: Lithuania

Gitanas Nausėda, the President of Lithuania, said that granting candidate status to Ukraine “is very important for the fighting spirit of Ukrainians.”

“They need political support. They need economic military support, too. And this is the least we can provide to them and to continue this heroic fight for freedom. So I expect that it will be a happy day for me,” he added.

On the issue of reduced gas exports from Russia, he said that Lithuania realised two decades ago it needed “to prepare and to stop this blackmail and manipulation of Russia.”

“Now we are the first country to cut off all the ties and energy supply from Russia gas, oil and electricity. So for us, the threats like, we will disconnect you from the electricity grid or we will stop to supply the gas to you, the most senseless to us, because we are ready and we are ready to take alternative resources, alternative ways to satisfy our needs,” he added.

He also said that he will raise the issue of Kaliningrad with other leaders, underlining that “we are just respecting the rules set by European Union and the EU are implementing the sanctions according to these rules.”

“And yes, there is a need probably to to to set those rules more precisely. But even after this, we will continue to implement the sanctions according to European Union rules. So this is not a bilateral issue between Lithuania and Russia. This is the issue of the European Union and Russia. Yes, I would expect solidarity from the side of my colleagues,” he said. 

16:57

Borrell says Russia won’t cut gas ‘overnight’ but warns winter could be difficult

The European Union’s top diplomat said Russia was “diminishing the supply of gas little by little to some countries almost 100%. To others they are cutting 10%, 15%.”

Josep Borrell said that he didn’t think that Russia “was going to cut the gas overnight especially because we are going to the summer.”

“In the summer gas is not a strategic weapon but the winter could be difficult and we have to be prepared in Europe for any kind of use of the gas as a weapon,” Borrell said.

The European Union has sanctioned a number of Russian goods over the war in Ukraine but remains highly dependent on them for natural gas which is used in many countries to heat homes during the winter.

16:45

‘Historic’ Council summit: Taoiseach

Micheál Martin told reporters that this summit is “historic in the sense of the enlargement of the European Union, and I’m particularly pleased as a long-standing advocate for Ukraine’s application to candidate status to become members of the European Union.”

“We in Ireland know what the European Union means, being a member of the European Union. It’s the 50th anniversary of Ireland’s decision to join the European Union, probably the single most transformative decision and event that happened in modern Irish history.”

“And so I’ve always cannot comprehend how we could ever refuse accession to other member states, because we know that membership itself can be transformative, that can spur on reforms, can spur on economic development,” he added. 

On the Western Balkans, “we dearly hope that progress can be made,” he said, “particularly North Macedonia and Albania.”

“There are issues and there are challenges there. But again, our position has always been one of, and certainly my own view, is to facilitate a more rapid and accelerated enlargement process,” he went on. 

 

16:22

EU ‘facing difficult situation’ this winter: De Croo

The Belgian Prime Minister told reporters the bloc is “facing a situation this winter that could be difficult” and urged collective action over energy supply and in particular gas after Russia’s Gazprom started reducing deliveries to some EU countries. 

“We have to work better together, this summer we can better prepare for this winter,” he said. “The impact will anyway be on all countries so to avoid it we have to do everything together.”

16:01

The European Council has now started

15:59

‘Chance’ of a ‘breakthrough’ on North Macedonia next week: Rutte

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters as he arrived for the EU Council summit that there is a “lot of irritation” over the Bulgarian veto of North Macedonia’s EU bid.

“I understand that the French and Germans really tried to negotiate an outcome,” he went on, adding that: “nothing is ever easy on the Balkans but there is, I think, a 60-40% chance of a breakthrough next week.”

He also said that there should be no issue over approving the candidate status for Ukraine and Moldova or with the Commission’s list of priorities the countries still need to work on as the EU’s executive did a “thorough and fair assessment”.

Regarding Georgia, which is “one step behind”, he said the country’s citizens should see the situation as “glass is half full and not half empty” and that the European perspective is “a clear commitment from Europe to recognise the (country’s) European ambition.”

15:52

Summit was ‘constructive’: Macedonian leader

Dimitar Kovačevski, the Prime Minister of North Macedonia, described the discussions in the morning with EU leaders as “constructive with (the) possibility that in the future there will be more understanding and that the enlargement process will be purely merit-based process as it is written and that bilateral issues will not be a matter of multilateral integration.”

15:45

Albania will be in the EU ‘hopefully before the next century’: Rama

Edi Rama assured reporters that Albania is “going to get there for sure, hopefully before the next century”.

Asked about the cancellation of the press conference by Macron, Michel and von der Leyen, Rama argued the “feel bad, very bad about what’s happening and these people you mentioned, they have done everything they could.”

15:26

Serbia in favour of Macron’s European Political Community: Vučić

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić told reporters that the Western Balkans “need” the kind of community proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron.

“That’s the only way for us to be heard and that’s a good way for us to listen more often to our European colleagues and to get to know their way of thinking,” he said. 

He also called for progress for North Macedonia and Albania, stressing that “both countries did everything in accordance with European regulations, fulfilled all the requirements and they really deserve it.”

He also took a swing at European media, criticising their coverage of Serbia when Russia launched its invasion on 24 February. 

15:18

‘Europe for us is a religion’: Rama

The Albanian leader held a press conference with his counterparts from North Macedonia and Serbia and said he appealed to EU leaders to not break Albanians’ faith.

“Albanians still have a big faith in Europe,” he said, “despite this charade because we have for the first time in our history the possibility to be where we want.”

“Europe for us is a religion, Europe for us is not Brussels,” he went on.

“We don’t want a war, we don’t need conflict, blood and tensions back in our region and that’s why we want to push forward in the direction we have picked,” he also said, acknowledging how the EU has “many blows they have to deal with so they should not have another blow.”

He also called on the EU to allow visa-free travel for the citizens of Kosovo, describing it as a “kidnapping” because “they are not “allowed to move freely in Europe.”

They are the “only population on the soil of Europe that can not move freely,” he emphasised.

“Their liberators are keeping them hostage. This is crazy,” he said.

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