Europe: Anti-Putin coalition assembles in Granada

European leaders meeting in Spain this week to discuss urgent matters including migration and Ukraine's EU accession, though no concrete decisions will be made

The historic Alhambra castle will provide a dramatic setting for talks (photo: DW)
The historic Alhambra castle will provide a dramatic setting for talks (photo: DW)


Two summits in the Spanish city Granada, held back-to-back. First, on Thursday, 5 October, 47 European states — all of them except Russia and Belarus — will gather as the European Political Community (EPC), a forum inaugurated last year in Prague as an alliance against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Then, on Friday, 6 October, comes an informal meeting of the 27 EU member states, themselves confronted with a mountain of problems — first and foremost migration management.

Political 'speed dating'

No formal decisions will be taken at either summit this week. The European Political Community in particular, set up by French President Emmanuel Macron, is a relaxed gathering with no clear structure.

That’s a good thing, according to Steven Blockmans of the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), a think tank in Brussels. The analyst said the third gathering of European leaders, after Prague in 2022 and Chisinau in June 2023, will be a kind a political "speed dating conference."

With no agenda or pressure to haggle over joint declarations, there will be plenty of opportunities for politicians to meet in relaxed working groups.

That’s when leaders who rarely see each other actually get the chance to talk, Vessela Tcherneva of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) told DW in Sofia.

"The same goes for the 20 non-EU countries who don’t meet up every month like their counterparts from the European Union," Tcherneva stressed. These politicians needed a forum where they could speak to each other at the highest political levels, she added.

No Azerbaijan-Armenia meeting in the cards

For Azerbaijan and Armenia, two rivals locked in conflict, the informal summit theoretically offers an opportunity to search for a solution to the humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh. Some 120,000 ethnic Armenians have fled the territory in recent weeks after Azerbaijan retook control there with a military occupation.

Blockmans called for other attendees at this week’s meeting to take a firm line with Azerbaijan. Territorial disputes should not be solved with force in Europe, Blockmans said, with this principle applying to Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev just as much as it does to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"If this leaves Azerbaijan isolated, then so be it. But at least the rest of Europe would demonstrate that it stands united in its understanding of their own fundamental and basic principles," Blockmans added.

In the end, Aliyev decided against meeting with Armenian representatives, the Azeri Press Agency (APA) reported on Wednesday.

More than just a family photo?

The situation in Ukraine is likely to dominate the EPC meeting in Granada once again. Whether or not Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is personally traveling to Granda is being kept under wraps.

At last year’s Prague summit, leaders sent a clear signal to Russia: Europe stands steadfast behind Ukraine. In the Moldovan capital Chisinau, the message was that Europe stands behind the whole region — including at-risk states such as Moldova.

And in Granada? "This might be a bit more difficult a third time around, in Granada, where a photo opportunity alone might no longer be sufficient to send as powerful a message," Brockmans said. "Now it's become clearer that more tangible results will need to emerge from that meeting."

Can Ukraine hope for progress on EU accession?

On their trip to Kyiv on Monday, EU foreign ministers already gave a taste for what we can expect from Granada. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said that the heart of Europe beats strongest in Ukraine. The European "community of freedom" must reach from Lisbon to Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, Baerbock said.

In Ukraine, this was definitely understood to mean that the candidate country could soon start official accession talks.

"I think it is very likely that Ukraine will receive a date for the beginning of accession talks in December," Tcherneva said. "That would run parallel to discussions over military and financial support."

These same topics will also be visited in talks at both summits, she estimated, especially since the EU member state Slovakia looks set to have a government led by a Russian-sympathizing premier after elections last week. US aid for Ukraine may also be blocked by a budget dispute in Congress.

Will the EU move forward in its migration row?

At Friday’s informal EU summit of the 27 EU members, European Council President Charles Michel was originally keen to talk strategic issues: European autonomy, infrastructure, and energy.

But due to the rising numbers of migrants arriving in the EU, Italy and others want to discuss short-term solutions. Michel's advisors want to limit talks to the "external dimension" of migration, that is, cooperation with third countries such as Turkey or Tunisia, which are supposed to prevent migrants from traveling to Europe.

However, Tunisian President Kais Saied’s announcement that he does not want to implement a freshly concluded agreement with the EU has derailed preparations. The EU had offered economic aid in exchange for holding back migrants. Saied rejected the $1.2 billion (€1.14 billion) promised over the long term as a "pittance."

Italian far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni was instrumental in negotiations with Tunisia, begging the question of how she will react. The EU's new migration pactshould shorten asylum procedures, step up deportations, and introduce a system to distribute asylum seekers across the EU states. However, it is still in limbo as Germany and Italy remain at odds over key points.

Is the EU ready for new members?

Another hot topic that European Council Charles Michel wants to put on the table in Granada is the reforms needed by the EU internally to prepare for the expected integration of six West Balkan states, Ukraine and Moldova.

The EU needs a clear understanding of the consequences of this step, both for new members but also the bloc itself, Michel wrote in his traditional invitation letter to leaders ahead of the meeting.

"It is vital that we contemplate the future dynamics of our Union, our policies and decision-making, among others, to ensure the EU’s continued success. In particular we will address critical questions, such as: What do we do together? How do we decide? How do we match our means with our ambitions?"

Discussions about the impact of enlargement on the EU budget could get interesting. If Ukraine joins (it is currently the poorest state in Europe) today's net recipients of EU funds in Eastern and Central Europe, such as Hungary or Poland, could suddenly become net contributors like Germany.

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Published: 05 Oct 2023, 11:11 AM