There are high expectations for the results of the European summits. The quotes are epic in substance and in form. Six times a year, 27 leaders of State and Government lock themselves up during marathon days to solve the pressing problems of the EU. Draftings -as the lingo is called to draw up the final conclusions-, bilateral meetings in the corridors, some intoxication interested in the press and many internal and external eyes on the Justus Lipsisus building -epicenter of the European Council- create the broth cultivation to expect great results.
But in most cases, these types of events serve a purpose: to certify the internal divisions of capitals. Each Member State arrives with its own agenda, with its priorities and with very different interests at stake. Sometimes a single comma in the final text makes a difference. And others, one word instead of another can give way to a resounding blockade that certifies the enormous internal divisions.
The last European summit in 2021 ends a year of strong emotions within the community bloc. And it does so by making clear the European divergences on three key issues for the immediate future of the community bloc: the energy crisis, the tension on the Ukrainian border due to a potential Russian invasion and the management of the coronavirus pandemic.
Jug of cold water for Spain
The Government of Pedro Sánchez landed in the European Council wanting to fight to scratch concrete and joint concessions that would make it possible to face the rise in electricity prices, which on Thursday marked another historical record, surpassing for the first time the psychological barrier of 300 euros per megawatt hour. The result has been a jug of cold water. Madrid leaves empty-handed after Poland and the Czech Republic blocked the conclusions due to discrepancies in the emissions trading system (ETS).
“We regret not having reached an agreement, but we are paving the way. This does not mean that these issues will not continue to be discussed in the next Councils,” lamented the President of the Spanish Government at the end of a meeting that has lasted for more than 14 hours. “The energy price crisis affects all the most vulnerable citizens and families. We cannot afford to adopt conclusions that do not address the spikes in energy prices,” apologized Mateusz Morawiecki, Polish Prime Minister, reluctantly to CO2 taxes in the most coal-dependent country in the EU.
All this arrives at the doors of a winter that is expected to be cold and with the prices on the electricity bill without signs of calming down. One of the fundamental issues that divides capitals is the architecture of this crisis. For Spain, it is a structural problem. Base. And, consequently, it requires strong and rapid measures in the short term and far-reaching measures in the long term to be able to overcome this type of eventuality in the future. It proposes, for example, a joint purchase of gas.
The European Commission has picked up the resistance by proposing this week a measure along these lines, but it is voluntary and contemplated for scenarios that do not satisfy Spanish ambitions. Madrid has the support of countries such as France or Greece, but they run into resistance from Germany and the northern countries, who see this as a transitory crisis and do not want to create a revolution that turns the current energy system in the EU upside down. .
Pandemic and Russia, the endless crises
Nor is it a good pandemic moment within the community bloc. After months of apparent normality, the delta and omicron variants position the Old Continent as the global epicenter of the health crisis. Several Member States are registering unprecedented cases and nervousness is spreading to save Christmas and to control the situation. The Twenty-seven insist on paper on the need and desire to coordinate to take common measures. But the facts tell another part of the story. Very different epidemiological situations fly in the background: while Spain has 80% of its inoculated population, others like Bulgaria barely scratch 30%.
But above all they plan differences when dealing with the situation. The EU has no competence in health matters. They correspond entirely to the national governments. And these have decided to act in a disparate way. While some like Austria or Greece will impose compulsory vaccination, others like Spain do not consider it. While some such as Italy, Portugal or Ireland require PCR – in addition to the European certificate – to European travelers, others kick for distorting the Covid passport, one of the star European measures that was called to exempt from testing and reward those vaccinated.
“It is necessary to continue working in a coordinated manner to respond to the evolution of the situation in accordance with the best available scientific data, while ensuring that any restriction is based on objective criteria and does not undermine the functioning of the internal market or disproportionately hinder the free movement between Member States or trips to the EU “, reads the ambiguous agreement reached at the summit.
Outside, but close to the European borders, the image does not return a much more optimistic scenario. The possible Russian military intervention in Ukraine has been the great elephant in the room of the day. The EU has reiterated the message that it has been sending for weeks, when US intelligence revealed that the Kremlin has mobilized more than 100,000 soldiers in the Donbas: a Russian aggression will entail “massive consequences and great economic and political cost.”
Brussels is considering five response scenarios, but refuses to reveal details so as not to give the unpredictable Vladimir Putin an advantage. No one doubts that a war incursion would mean more European economic sanctions on Moscow. But the Eastern and Baltic countries do not want to wait for this scenario to materialize and are calling for restrictive and preventive measures now. An unlikely scenario due to the commitment to dialogue and diplomacy launched by the Franco-German axis. The EU thus closes a year in which the old crises and the new ones intermingle. And all of them will continue to kick off in 2022.