Six months after the invasion of Ukraine, it is still the conflict at the gates of the EU which will occupy the Twenty-Seven, this week, during two informal councils of ministers which will be held in Prague (the Czech Republic assumes until the end of the year the presidency of the Union).
The first meeting will bring together from Monday evening the Ministers of Defense, who will discuss with representatives of the UN and NATO to discuss two regions in particular: Africa and the Western Balkans. This summer, strong tensions arose on the border between Serbia and Kosovo, to the point of raising fears of clashes. Two weeks ago, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg assured that the Alliance would increase its peacekeeping force in Kosovo in the event of an escalation.
Ministers will also discuss the best way to support Ukraine’s military effort, whose needs are constantly changing as the war drags on. The EU has already drawn 2.5 billion euros from the European Peace Facility (to which is added bilateral aid from Member States). Last week, the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, revealed at a conference in Santander, Spain that the EU is considering the creation of a mission to “train” the Ukrainian army.
“A war that lasts and looks set to last requires an effort not only in terms of supplying equipment, but also training and helping to organize the army,” he said. The EU has already provided this kind of support in Mali, Mozambique, and Niger, among others.
The Foreign Ministers will also look into Africa and the strategies to be adopted to counter the false narratives deployed there by powers hostile to the EU, in the forefront of which is Russia.
They will also seize the file of European visas granted to Russian tourists, a subject that has become controversial. Russia’s neighboring countries are calling for no more grants at all. Finland, which processes around 1,000 visa applications every day, has decided to only validate 10% of files from 1er september. But many tourists are currently arriving at Helsinki airport with visas issued by other Member States.
“It is not fair that Russian citizens can enter Europe, the Schengen area, do tourism while Russia kills people in Ukraine,” said Sanna Marin, the Finnish Prime Minister. His Estonian counterpart, Kaja Kallas, believes that “visiting Europe is a privilege, not a human right”. The twenty-six countries of the Schengen area received 536,000 visa applications from Russians in 2021.
While the Czech presidency said it was open to a total ban, several member states showed their disagreement. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz opposes a total halt to the granting of visas, because it would penalize “all people who flee Russia because they disagree with the Russian regime”, according to him. Josep Borrell is on the same line. In diplomatic circles, the importance of continuing to protect dissidents, opponents, journalists (and their families) who want to leave their country is stressed. An estimated 300,000 Russian citizens have left since the end of February.
Visit to Finland
The EU has already partially suspended the facilities for issuing short-stay visas provided for in a bilateral EU-Russia agreement, prohibiting entry to certain categories of people linked to the government. Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson is planning to visit Finland and Latvia in early September.
Very soon an emergency meeting of energy ministers
The Czech EU Presidency is preparing to convene an emergency meeting of energy ministers “to discuss specific emergency measures to deal with the energy situation”, Prime Minister Petr Fiala said on Friday. in a tweet. Approved by Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Commission, this decision comes as member states try to reduce their dependence on Russia. The price of natural gas was moving at extreme levels on Friday, pushed up by the prospect of an interruption in deliveries from Russia this week. Europe also saw last week record prices for electricity for delivery in early 2023.