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Ukraine Dominates Two-day EU Summit Outside Paris

Flags of member countries flutter ahead of a summit of European Union leaders at the Versailles Palace, near Paris, France, March 10, 2022.
Flags of member countries flutter ahead of a summit of European Union leaders at the Versailles Palace, near Paris, France, March 10, 2022.

Ukraine is dominating a two-day European Union summit outside Paris, where leaders are discussing ways to cut their energy ties with Russia, shore up their defense, and consider Kyiv’s membership application.

The European Union is not following the United States in immediately banning imports of Russian oil and gas. But EU leaders, meeting at Versailles outside Paris, are looking to phase out the bloc’s energy reliance on Moscow as quickly as possible as part of a broader autonomy drive, including in European defense.

Ahead of the summit, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte discussed the challenges.

“I would not plead to cut off our supplies of oil and gas today from Russia. It's not possible, because we need the supply and that's the uncomfortable truth. But we can do more to get the green agenda going, to decarbonize our economies, also making use of all the reforms in the European green package as we have agreed earlier," Rutte said.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, has outlined a mix of measures in this direction that include cutting gas imports from Russia by two-thirds this year.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the move in necessary as Moscow is using energy as a way to further its own goals.

"As you’ve seen Russia has instrumentalized energy over the past month, if not to say years, to put pressure — not only on Ukraine but also on the European Union. And we are now really determined to get out of the dependency of Russian gas,” von der Leyen said.

Sebastien Maillard of the Jacques Delors Institute, a Paris-based research group, says it’s also about European principles.

“We are every day purchasing Russian gas and Russian coal and purchasing (funding) the war against Ukraine,” he said.

The EU’s autonomy push could be a boon for renewable energy. But some fear the opposite, at least in the short term — that Europe could delay meeting ambitious climate goals by relying more on polluting energies like coal. That could be the case of Germany or Poland, for example, which are highly dependent on Russian oil and gas.

Cushioning the fallout of sanctions against Russia will also be key. European consumers and businesses will be paying higher heating and other energy costs — something French President Emmanuel Macron warned his nation about last week.

Analyst Martin Quencez of the German Marshall Fund says Europe must take robust measures to reduce the fallout.

“If the EU response is not strong enough, this will affect our ability to vote [on] new sanctions in the coming weeks and months.”

EU leaders will also examine applications by Ukraine as well as Georgia and Moldova to join the 27-member bloc — a process that, even if fast-tracked, could take years.