Of EU summiteering and delicate equilibria

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

Europe, the EU, European integration is supposed to thrive in adversity – to forge ahead in times of crisis. When the debt crisis struck, instruments such as the ESM were formed. Now, with the Covid-19 pandemic underway, Next Generation EU was agreed upon based on a measure of debt sharing that used to be anathema for many in the EU (of course, the recent stop that was put to this process by the Bundesverfassungrgericht is cause for concern – but the principle of new era European solidarity still stands).

In areas where the integration process has not progressed, though, tensions reveal the weak spots of the European construction. The March 25/26 Summit was such a case. EU Foreign Ministers had met in person at a Foreign Affairs Council configuration (March 22) so as to prepare the Summit; they even proceeded to finalise sanctions    “on eleven individuals and four entities responsible for serious human rights violations and abuses” in a wide range of countries: China, Russia, North Corea, Libya, South Sudan, Eritrea…, plus “eleven individuals responsible for the military coup in Myanmar”. But the Summit/European Council proper was held three days later through teleconference – which option helped for final/binding decisions over the Eastern Mediterranean/EU-Turkey relations to be elegantly shifted to next June.  Until then, equilibrium in delicate/potentially explosive situations, e.g. in the Eastern Mediterranean, is expected to be reached.

The “Statement of the Members of the European Council”, in lieu of Conclusions, also side-stepped unpleasant realities pertaining to the response to the Covid-19 pandemic: a delicate equilibrium between protectionist reflexes/the use of export authorisations (mandated by a public opinion nervous when seeing vaccination efforts lag in EU countries when compared to the US, UK –   not the mention Israel) and realism in keeping intact global value chains intact (globalization in practice). Also, travel restrictions imposed in order to contain transmission of new variant of the SARS-COV-19 virus were discussed – but with no effective consensus achieved such are the ways of EU summiteering.