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EU leaders gather for ‘geopolitical summit’

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EU leaders are gathering in Brussels today for the first day of their regular summer council, in what could mean at least a partial revival of the dormant blockade. expansion policy† We will examine what this decision will mean, not only for Ukraine and Moldova, which will become EU candidate countries, but possibly also for the Balkan countries whose leaders are meeting with their EU counterparts later this morning.

Lithuania maintains sanctions on the transfer of goods from Russia to the Baltic exclave of Kaliningradso we’ll examine why both Vilnius and the European Commission are holding out despite threats of retaliation from Moscow.

In climate policy news, the European Parliament yesterday finalized its negotiating position ahead of talks with member states and the committee on measures including carbon trading and the introduction of a carbon border tax on certain imports from heavily polluting countries.

Not everyone is a winner

It is being billed as a “geopolitical summit”, in the words of a senior EU diplomat. As EU leaders meet in Brussels today, the central result of their meetings is loaded with political symbolism given the war raging in the east, write Valentina Pop and Sam Fleming in Brussels.

Both Ukraine and Moldova are expected to achieve EU candidate status – a milestone, even if both will have to meet tough conditions before moving on to the next phases. This is no small feat, given that Ukraine was specifically told just a few years ago it had no EU membership perspective and Moldova barely registered on anyone’s radar in Brussels.

Georgia, which also applied for membership within days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, will have to implement further reforms before it gains candidate status. But leaders will at least give Tbilisi the consolation prize that its European aspirations are recognized.

Leaders are also making efforts to revitalize the European perspective for the countries of the Western Balkans, although agreement on this is difficult to achieve. According to a second EU diplomat, the day will start with an informal and possibly “pretty heated” session between EU leaders and their six counterparts in the Western Balkans.

The prospects for Albania and North Macedonia to move on to the next stage on their EU path (the formal start of EU membership talks) briefly lit up yesterday, when one of the opposition leaders in Bulgaria signaled support for that step.

But hopes were dashed later in the evening after Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov lost a vote of confidence in the national parliament.

Petkov had been in favor of dropping his country’s veto on starting accession negotiations with North Macedonia, but the decision was fiercely contested in the Bulgarian parliament, which has now put the country on the path to snap elections – the fourth in just over a year.

Diplomats and EU officials are not giving up and will continue to urge Sofia to finally unblock Albania and North Macedonia’s forward movement. While some argue for decoupling the two, most EU capitals would not support such a move, as Albania is effectively held hostage to Bulgaria’s history and education-related problems with North Macedonia.

“The negative impact of being seen as leaving North Macedonia would outweigh the positive news of opening talks with Albania,” said the EU’s second senior diplomat.

Leaders in the evening will also discuss ideas put forward by France’s Emmanuel Macron and European Council President Charles Michel on a new structure, the “European Political Community”, which will include other non-members in addition to aspiring EU members. -Could include EU countries that do not wish to join, such as the UK or Switzerland.

“It is a first conversation: it is not very concrete. One thing that is clear to everyone is that this structure does not replace the enlargement process,” the diplomat said.

Kaliningrad guidance

EU capitals are increasingly concerned about the escalating feud with Russia over its shipments of goods to the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, write Sam Fleming and Henry Foy in Brussels.

This week, Lithuania started to implement sanctions banning the transit of certain goods through EU countries. The checks sparked an angry response from Moscow, which has accused the EU of starting a “blockade” on the Russian territory of Kaliningrad and has threatened Lithuania with dire consequences.

Some EU officials and diplomats questioned the scope and intensity of Lithuania’s efforts to control Russian trains, people aware of the discussions told Europe Express. Others questioned the wisdom of restricting goods traffic between two parts of Russia, even if the products cross EU territory.

The European Commission has made it clear that it believes that Lithuania is correctly implementing the sanctions agreed unanimously by the 27 Member States. But the commission, which drafted the measures, plans to issue an opinion on the subject today so that it can clarify how strict controls should be in practice.

In addition, Vilnius has asked for the issue to be formally discussed at the summit, but some capitals have opposed that initiative, fearing further tensions over the subject.

Lithuania denies that it has imposed any form of “blockade” on Russian goods, saying that “transit of passengers and unapproved goods to and from the Kaliningrad region via Lithuania will continue uninterrupted”.

“Lithuania complies with EU sanctions imposed on Russia for its aggression and war against Ukraine,” Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė said: yesterday.

The EU sanctions regime “means that Lithuania will have to apply additional controls to road and rail transport”, agreed EU Commission spokesman Eric Mamer. “Of course these checks are targeted, proportional and effective. They will be based on smart risk management, to prevent sanction evasion while allowing free transit.”

Mamer added that the commission was in contact with Lithuanian authorities and that it would provide “additional advice as we proceed”.

The railway through Lithuania and Belarus is the main supply link from Russia to Kaliningrad. Trade in key products such as iron and steel has already been affected by the EU measures. A wider range of Russian goods, such as cement, will be affected as grace periods for subsequent rounds of sanctions expire.

While there may be room to narrow the focus of border controls carried out by Lithuania, some diplomats insisted they did not expect the overall scope of the sanctions to be changed.

“The assumption is that the commission and its legal service studied the matter before actually coming out,” said an EU diplomat. “The goods that are sanctioned are not allowed to be transported through the EU territory.”

Chart du jour: Small free traders

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Read more here on a paradox in trade policy: the countries that matter most in trade are the countries for which trade is least important. Smaller countries are more dependent on trade than the US or large EU countries, which set the tone for global trade rules.

Back on track

It took a little longer than expected, but the EU parliament yesterday approved its negotiating position on the flagship of the climate policy bloc, writes Alice Hancock in London.

Earlier this month, an unlikely coalition of socialists, greens and far-right lawmakers rejected revisions to the EU’s emissions trading system, which allows polluters to trade permits for carbon emissions. They also rejected the introduction of a carbon border tax, known as CBAM, intended to tax importers with their carbon emissions.

MEPs’ dramatic rebellion during the parliament’s plenary pushed the proposals back to the committee stage where lawmakers worked (almost) overnight last week to agree on a compromise, which was retabled yesterday.

One element of the compromise – and a major sticking point – means that the carbon border tax will not be introduced until 2027 — later than 2025 as originally proposed by the Parliament’s Environment Committee, but a year earlier than the committee had proposed.

Esther de Lange, vice-chair of the European People’s Party, said the group was “happy with the current compromise” and that it was “a reasonable deal that maintains the same level of climate ambition and provides breathing room for EU industry”.

Bas Eickhout, member of the European Green Party: “It is good to see that our hard ‘no’ two weeks ago, together with other progressive parties, to the watered-down climate plans has put a lot of pressure on other parties to come up with a improved proposal”.

However, he expressed concern that parts of the deal on CBAM still need to be improved to comply with World Trade Organization rules.

What to watch today?

  1. EU leaders meet Western Balkan leaders in Brussels before reconvening for the European Council

  2. Zambia’s President Hakainde Hichilema speaks in European Parliament

Remarkable, Citable

  • Split stars: Italy’s Five Star Movement, the largest party in Mario Draghi’s national unity government, is falling apart after its leaders clashed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Rome’s provision of military aid to Kiev.

  • Drone attack: A fire broke out at an oil refinery in southern Russia’s Rostov region after a drone strike, state media said, in what military experts say could be part of apparent Ukrainian-backed attacks behind enemy lines.

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