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08/12/2016

Cameron announces fund to fight Russian ‘bullies’

UK & Europe

Cameron announces fund to fight Russian ‘bullies’

End of a difficult relationship? Juncker and Cameron chat at what could be the UK prime minister's last summit

[European Council]

UK Prime Minister David Cameron used possibly his last European Council summit to announce a £20 million (€27.66 million) fund to make Ukraine, other ex-Soviet states, and the Balkans more resistant to Russian “bullying” tactics.

Cameron, who faces national elections in May, told EU leaders tonight (19 March) the Good Governance Fund could finance technical assistance for countries such as Moldova, Georgia, Bosnia and Serbia over 2015-2016.

The fund would comprise £15 million in new money from the UK government, in part from overseas development aid, with the remaining £5 million from existing funding commitments, already earmarked for use in Ukraine. Future finance would be subject to a spending review and likely hang on the result of the elections.

The Kremlin had exploited corruption and weak governance to destabilise Ukraine, British officials said. The cash would drive reforms and be a sign of the UK’s commitment to stand firm against Putin’s aggression.

EurActiv understands the UK would welcome other EU countries launching equivalent funds but that the Good Governance Fund will be a purely British initiative. Sources suggested Nordic states might be ready to prepare their own versions.

The UK fund is in addition to other support offered through EU efforts such as the Eastern Partnership, which is due to be discussed tomorrow by the heads of state and government.

It is based on the Know-How Fund, launched in 1989 by Margaret Thatcher’s government to help smooth former Soviet bloc countries’ transition to free market economies. British officials said the Know-How Fund’s targeted assistance achieved a lot with relatively small amounts.

Sanctions

The announcement of the fund was made during a debate on the conflict in Ukraine and EU sanctions on Russia, which are due to expire in July. The European Council agreed to link the sanctions to the complete implementation of the Minsk ceasefire. 

Any decision on sanctions will be rolled over to the next European Council. The Minsk agreement calls for Ukraine to regain control of its borders by the end of the year.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini would table an EU plan to rebut Russian propaganda before the next summit in June, European Council President Donald Tusk said at a press conference after the meeting.

Cameron would stress the need for “sanctions not soldiers”, EurActiv was told before the talks.

“The EU should use its economic power to send a message to Russia […] and not indulge in fantasies of EU armies,” the UK source said.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker sparked headlines across the EU, after telling a German newspaper the bloc would need its own armed forces in the future.

>>Read: Juncker: NATO is not enough, EU needs an army

Difficult relationship

If his Conservative party fails to win the general election in May, this will be the last summit Cameron attends as prime minister. A Tory defeat will end an often tetchy relationship between Cameron and other EU leaders, notably Juncker.

Under his leadership in 2011, the UK vetoed a new EU-wide treaty aimed at addressing, and preventing another, euro crisis. Cameron said he blocked the treaty change because he was not offered safeguards for British national interests.

But critics at home and abroad pointed out that the move left the UK isolated. EU leaders decided to bypass the UK and agree an accord themselves.

He also forced a vote on Juncker’s selection as Commission president by the Council. Only the UK and Hungary stood against Juncker.

>>Read: Cameron attacked over Juncker ‘humiliation’

Cameron has promised to hold an in/out referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU in 2017.

Conservative success in May – he is unlikely to remain as leader if he cannot secure an outright majority – will prolong debate on UK reforms in advance of a referendum. The forthcoming election will therefore be one of the most significant in the history of the UK-EU relationship.

Positions

Prime Minister David Cameron said, "Ensuring we have strong partners on the EU's border is not only essential for Britain's security but our long term prosperity. UK expertise can play a crucial role in bringing about the reforms needed to build lasting stability in the region, especially in the face of Russian intimidation, and it is right we that we step up our efforts alongside international partners."

International Development Secretary Justine Greening said, "A stronger, more democratic and more successful eastern neighbourhood is in all our interests.That is why we will provide targeted assistance to help these countries make tough but necessary reforms to help strengthen their economies, fight corruption and better serve their people.”

Background

The 7 May UK general election will go a long way towards deciding whether Britain will stay in the European Union, or choose to leave, after 40 years of uneasy relations.

A surge in Eurosceptism has firmly pushed the European Union onto the political agenda in Britain.

The ruling Conservatives have promised an in/out referendum on EU membership before the end of 2017 if they win the election, placing Europe's future at the centre of the debate.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said he would campaign for the UK to stay, but only if the EU was able to reform, saying “Britain’s national interest is best served in a flexible, adaptable and open European Union."

>> Read: Voting on Brexit: The EU issues shaping the UK election

EU leaders, including Cameron, are meeting on 19-20 March to discuss plans for the EU's Energy Union and the Ukraine Crisis. 

Further Reading