The Brief: Spectre of Putin and Trump looms large over EU summit

The Brief is EURACTIV.com's evening newsletter.

SPECTRE OF PUTIN AND TRUMP LOOMS LARGE OVER EU SUMMIT

The two leaders wielding the most influence over the outcome of today’s European Council aren’t even from the EU. The spectre of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump loomed large over the summit in Brussels.

EU heads of state and government were paralysed over what to do with a problem like Putin. And without a guiding nod from the White House looked likely to sit tight and do as little as possible.

There seemed no chance of France and Germany getting the unanimous support from the member states they needed to punish Putin with sanctions.

There will be no instruction from Washington and no appetite among enough leaders to force sanctions, despite the grim backdrop of the fall of Aleppo.

Sanctions will have until the president-elect makes his scene-stealing entrance and makes his intentions clear.

Donald Trump is like the similarly entrepreneurial Harry Lime in The Third Man.  Everyone is talking about him but like Orson Welles’ character, you don’t see him until near the end.

If Aleppo is Banquo’s ghost sitting in bloodied, silent judgement at the Council feast, Putin is Colonel Kurtz.

From far up the river, his Heart of Darkness exerts a malign influence. He is accused of manipulating the US elections, the Brexit referendum, and French, German and Dutch politics.

And there are EU member states, particularly in Eastern Europe, who don’t want to further anger a man who brought Apocalypse Now to Aleppo.

Merkel and Hollande are expected to get the nod to roll over EU sanctions on Russia for the annexation of Crimea. But this is largely a written formality, with far less of the risk attached to new sanctions linked to atrocities in Syria.

The Crimea sanctions are likely to last six months and Trump takes over in late January. The US already has sanctions in place against Russia and will likely keep them until Trump gets his feet firmly under the Oval Office table.

The mayor of East Aleppo spoke to the congregated EU leaders. “More than words are needed to save civilians,” he said. Early this evening, it looked like words was all he would get.

The European Council was divided and conquered. By two men who don’t even need to turn up to get their own way.

THE ROUND UP

The Mayor of East Aleppo, Brita Hagi Hasan, met with Donald Tusk and addressed EU leaders today about the human rights situation in the city. “More than words are needed to save civilians,” he said.

Federica Mogherini said the EU is “working day and night” it can to protect civilians in East Aleppo, but isn’t working towards new sanctions. Hollande said Russia hasn’t kept its promises on protecting Aleppo.

Martin Schulz got a little nostalgic at his last press conference as European Parliament president, telling reporters Brexit is an “emotional affair”. Yesterday, Schulz criticised the Council for sidelining MEPs in upcoming Brexit talks.

Guy Verhofstadt, who is gunning to replace Schulz as Parliament head, was tight-lipped when James Crisp asked him about his suggestion to open separate Brexit talks with the UK.

EU leaders scoffed fine Spanish and Portuguese fare for lunch, paired with Rioja wine.

Don’t stop checking our summit live blog. It will keep you up to date and tell you how much Theresa May’s necklace cost. And it has this video of her being ignored by other EU leaders.

Reforms to the EU’s Emissions Trading System were passed by the European Parliament’s Environment Committee.

Before the summit got underway, Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen carved out a deal for Denmark to keep using the Europol database, even after the country voted last year to opt out of EU actions on justice and home affairs.

LOOK OUT FOR…

EURACTIV’s further coverage of the summit into the night and early next morning.

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