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Eastern European countries give 'emotionally compelling' address to EU leaders on Russia threat

The leaders of the EU member states and the EU institutions met in Versailles for a two-day informal summit.

Image: JUDITH LITVINE

Updated Mar 11th 2022, 7:33 PM

EU MEMBER STATES on the border with Ukraine gave an “emotionally compelling presentation” at an EU summit last night on the invasion of Ukraine and the threat Russia poses to the east of Europe.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin told reporters in Versailles that the process of EU enlargement has been “too slow” over the past decade, and that the world is “polarising” between “authoritarian states and dictators on one side and democracies which cherish basic values such as freedom of speech”.

The Taoiseach was in Versailles for a two-day summit of EU leaders, as was Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe in his capacity as president of the Eurogroup.

At the end of the summit, leaders agreed to phase out EU dependency on Russian gas, oil and coal by 2027. 

The announcement was made by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen after late-night discussions between the member states’ 27 leaders, as well as the three leaders of the EU institutions.

Speaking on the emotion of the event to the backdrop of Russia’s “brutal” invasion of Ukraine, the Taoiseach said that the best way to protect democratic values is a quicker EU enlargement process.

What came across last evening very strongly from those on the border of Ukraine, was they felt this message had to go out: Fighting in Ukraine, those people feel they are fighting now for their children’s future. And they want that future in a democratic Europe.

“And I thought it was a very emotionally compelling presentation, by quite a number of the states like Poland, Hungary and others on the border of Ukraine.”

Micheál Martin also condemned the “inhuman attacks that continue on Ukraine,” adding: “There is quite a considerable degree of foreboding in terms of what Vladimir Putin is capable of doing in situations like this.”

In an announcement this afternoon, von der Leyen said that “this crisis has made us face up to our responsibilities”. 

“First, our duty is to continue ensuring reliable, secure and affordable supply of energy to European consumers. In the mid-term this means getting rid of our dependency on Russian fossil fuels,” she said. 

By the end of May we will propose to phase out our dependency on Russian gas, oil and coal by 2027. It will be backed by the necessary national and European resources. And we’ll present options to optimise the electricity market design, so it better supports the green transition.

EU leaders are meeting in an informal summit, meaning that a full summit is required to sign off on what is agreed. Another ‘formal’ summit is expected at the end of March, where the effectiveness of sanctions is expected to be looked at once more.

The timeline for phasing out of Russian resources is significant because it represents the first time dates have been laid down.  

Von der Leyen said reducing the EU’s use of Russian oil and gas by two-thirds within one year was “doable”. 

“It’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be hard. As I’ve already said, it needs the support of everybody. Everyone can do something, for example, by reducing the energy consumption we have overall, the individual contribution by 450 million Europeans makes a big chunk,” she said.

President Macron warned Russia that it faces further major economic punishment if the Kremlin presses on with its war on Ukraine.

“If things continue in the military way… we will take further sanctions, including massive sanctions,” Macron said after the summit.

Von der Leyen also that Russian attacks, including on a maternity hospital in Mariupol, should be investigated for potential war crimes.  

She added that sanctions against Russia has plunged its currency into “freefall”. 

“As the President said, we have to answer the atrocious aggression that Putin is showing, and we will be determined and forceful in the answer,” she said. 

Application to join

Discussions on the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the informal European Council summit finished just before 3am last night, where leaders spent over three hours discussing Ukraine’s application to join the EU.

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It’s understood that Ireland and eastern countries expressed support for the process to be expedited, while other more established countries based on the west of Europe said the usual processes for accession should be kept, as there are other countries that have applied to join the EU.

Earlier today, the Council of the European Union released a statement saying it had acted “swiftly” and invited the European Commission to submit its opinion on Ukraine’s application.

The Council said it had also invited the Commission to submit its opinions on the applications of the Republic of Moldova and Georgia, both of which applied to join in the days after the invasion of Ukraine.

- With reporting by Rónán Duffy

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