sexta-feira, 16 de dezembro de 2016
Europe confronts limitations at year-end summit
Europe confronts limitations at year-end summit
EU ends 2016 with frustration, impotence and bickering over Brexit and Greece.
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, JACOPO BARIGAZZI AND QUENTIN ARIÈS 12/16/16, 1:27 AM CET Updated 12/16/16, 1:41 AM CET
EU leaders attempted to draw a line under an excruciatingly tough year at Thursday’s summit by extending economic sanctions on Russia, clearing the path for a trade deal with Ukraine and agreeing to move towards greater military cooperation.
Such incremental advances were overshadowed, however, by their powerlessness to halt the Syrian bloodshed, inability to agree on common rules for asylum-seekers and squabbling over the European Parliament’s role in Brexit negotiations. Even the eurozone crisis made a brief comeback in a row over Athens’ plans to give struggling Greek pensioners a Christmas bonus.
The agenda ran over by more than three hours, defeating European Council President Donald Tusk’s plans for a short, efficient one-day summit. A dinner debate on Brexit among 27 EU leaders — minus U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May — was downgraded to a 20-minute chat.
After asking the other leaders to consider a reciprocal post-Brexit deal on EU migrants living in the U.K. and vice versa, May ducked out, saying “I think I have to go now,” according to one witness.
Chagrined EU leaders remarked on the string of ill-fated referendums that left more than a few of them in a pickle — not just Brexit, but also a Danish referendum to leave Europol, a Dutch referendum opposing the Ukraine trade pact, a Hungarian referendum to reject the EU’s migrant quota policy and an Italian referendum on constitutional changes.
“This was a day when people were venting their frustration with referenda,” said one senior EU official.
“Not as effective as we would like to be”
But it was Europe’s impotence to have any impact on the Syrian crisis that caused its leaders to wonder if the grandiloquent, and much-wrangled-over “conclusions” from such summits have any meaning at all.
In the conclusions of their last summit in October, which came just after heaving bombing of rebel positions in Aleppo, the leaders declared: “The EU is considering all available options, should the current atrocities continue.” This summit came against the backdrop of the fall of Aleppo to Syrian government forces, making it plain that the EU has few options – if any.
Tusk, at a closing news conference, was bluntly sober about the limitations.
“To be clear, faced with the brutality of the Syrian regime and its supporters, notably Russia and Iran, we are not as effective as we would like to be,” Tusk said, adding that Europe was “not indifferent” and would keep up the diplomatic pressure for humanitarian relief.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed particular dismay, saying: “This part of the discussion was very depressing because we’ve all seen something that shames us and that we would really like to be able to do more about.” Earlier EU leaders met the council leader of eastern Aleppo, Brita Hagi Hasan, on the sidelines of the summit in a symbolic gesture of solidarity.
“We’re not going to go to war with Russia,” a senior aide to Tusk said. “In the context, our options are quite limited.”
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini rejected any suggestion of imposing new sanctions on Russia for its military support for the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“This is not been the approach the Council has chosen in its last session,” Mogherini said. “We are working in these hours, as I said, trying to use our influence and our leverage, especially with Iran, in these moments, and trying to support the work of the United Nations to try and focus on the protection of civilians.”
Instead, European leaders formalized their decision taken at the last summit in October to extend existing sanctions on Russia for the annexation of Crimea and its military intervention in eastern Ukraine.
With Donald Trump soon to be inaugurated in the White House, this may be the last time Russian sanctions get rolled over without a struggle. Trump’s pick of Exxon Mobile CEO Rex Tillerson for U.S. secretary of state will raise questions about the sanctions, which several EU countries have previously pushed to have lifted.
Even the advance toward the deal with Ukraine, a clear success on Thursday, could prove short-lived. The EU’s free trade agreement with Ukraine, at the heart of the turmoil that led to the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014, had been put at risk by the Dutch vote.
EU leaders said they had addressed the concerns of Dutch voters, including a statement that the trade pact and accompany political association agreement would not automatically put Ukraine on a path to EU membership.
With such slow progress during the summit that the “working lunch” didn’t end until 6.21 p.m., perhaps the most serious setback was the bickering over the European Parliament’s role in formal Brexit negotiations, which are expected to begin in April. MEPs, feeling sidelined, threatened to open their own direct negotiations with the U.K. until it was agreed that there would be some room for consultation with Parliament.
A Greek bonus
Meanwhile, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sought to build support at the summit for his decision to spent €617 million in one-off benefits for poorer pensioners, including a Christmas bonus. Public support for Tsipras and his government has fallen as it has implemented the tough austerity program required as a condition of the EU rescue program.
Tsipras’ pension bonus plans infuriated officials at the European Stability Mechanism, which is administering the rescue program and said it would suspend Greek’s short-term debt relief as punishment. French President François Hollande suggested a compromise, insisting Greece should be “treated with dignity” and was entitled to some “sovereign decisions,” according to one EU diplomat.
The leaders also heard from NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg who secured their support for greater military cooperation, including between the EU and NATO.
Harry Cooper, Maïa de la Baume, Florian Eder, Tom McTague, Paul Taylor and Ryan Heath contributed to this article.