European Union leaders are in the southern Spanish city of Granada for an informal summit focused on the 27-member bloc’s enlargement, disagreements over migration and economic competitiveness.
Friday’s summit comes a day after leaders of the European Political Community, a forum of more than 40 countries across the continent, met in the city and pledged their continued support for Ukraine in the presence of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The pledge was made as fears grow in Ukraine that political turmoil in the United States could delay or prevent further aid to the country in its fight against Russia’s invasion.
A rift between Ukraine and Poland over Ukrainian grain exports has also raised questions over whether the EU’s support to Kyiv is waning.
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But EU leaders reassured Zelenskyy that the bloc’s long-term support will continue.
In an invitation letter sent to the EU’s 27 leaders before Friday’s summit, EU Council President Charles Michel said the meeting would be “a time to look back and critically assess progress in strengthening our European sovereignty, identifying our achievements as well as areas that still require our political action”.
He added that “it is also the time to look forward, identifying the future challenges”.
An issue that has been a challenge for the bloc to agree on has been enlargement.
Eight countries have official EU candidate status: Turkey, Ukraine, Moldova, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia. Georgia and Kosovo are potential candidate countries.
“Enlargement means that the candidate countries have reforms to implement. They know what they need to do. And on the EU side, we need to get prepared. This is the first time in many years that you have a high-level debate on such a fundamental topic and such fundamental decisions,” Michel told reporters in Granada on arriving at the summit.
Today EU leaders will address key issues for the future of our Union, including our Strategic Agenda.
— Charles Michel (@CharlesMichel) October 6, 2023
Michel said new member countries should be welcomed in by 2030. Last month, the presidents of Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Albania also said that enlargement should happen “not later than 2030”.
But EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has insisted that “accession is merit-based”. She says the progress these countries make in aligning their laws with EU rules and standards should dictate the pace of membership rather than some arbitrary deadline. The bureaucratic pace of aligning with thousands of EU rules can sometimes take well over a half-dozen years.
In a document seen by the Reuters news agency, the leaders are expected to say in a joint statement at the end of the summit that “the future of our aspiring members and their citizens lies within the European Union”.
The Granada meeting will also steer discussions in the coming months on European Commission proposals that could lead to tighter controls of exports and technologies, particularly those that could be put to military use.
Michel plans to work with EU members to assess by the end of the year whether there are any risks to the bloc’s economic security linked to advanced semiconductors, artificial intelligence, quantum technology and biotechnology.
At odds over migration
Moreover, southern EU nations are keen to address immigration challenges as refugee arrivals and deaths at sea are increasing. On Wednesday, the bloc struck a deal to implement changes to handle irregular immigration during times of high arrivals.
The bloc hopes to put those changes into law before the next round of EU elections ushers in an expected shift to the right as support grows across the continent for political parties that have railed against immigration.
But on Friday Poland and Hungary expressed outrage at the planned changes.
Poland’s populist government, facing a general election next week, lashed out at Europe’s plans for overhauling the rules on asylum seekers and irregular migrants as a “diktat” from Brussels and Berlin.
“We are not afraid of diktats … from Berlin and Brussels,” said Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on arrival for the Granada meeting. “The plan is to admit illegal immigrants to countries that don’t want to accept them and to impose draconian penalties… Poland strongly rejects this.”
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban went even further, describing the proposed legislation, which obliges EU states to take in a share of migrants or pay those who do so, as tantamount to being “legally raped”.
“There’s no chance of having any kind of compromise and agreement on migration. Politically, it’s impossible … because legally we were – how to say it – we were raped,” he said of the rejection of Hungary and Poland’s stance.