The Brief: Last days of Aleppo are grim backdrop to EU summit paralysis

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LAST DAYS OF ALEPPO ARE GRIM BACKDROP TO EU SUMMIT PARALYSIS

EU leaders will meet in Brussels in less than 48 hours. It’s anyone’s guess how much of Aleppo will still be standing by then.

A UN spokesman has described the situation in the besieged city as the “complete meltdown of humanity”. There were reports of women and children being shot on the spot by Assad’s forces.

28 heads of state and government will have to come up with some response on Thursday. Force is not an option, but sanctions against Assad and Russia could be.

Leaked European Council conclusions, a statement to be backed by all the leaders, are big on bark but short on bite.

“The European Council strongly condemns the continued assault on Aleppo by the Syrian regime and its allies, notably Russia, including the deliberate targeting of civilians and hospitals,” the conclusions read.

“Those responsible for breaches of international law, some of which may amount to war crimes, must be held accountable. The EU is considering all available options.”

If this sounds familiar, it is because similar language was used in the October European Council conclusions.

Then there was explicit condemnation of Russia and a promise to consider all options “should the current atrocities continue”.

The atrocities have continued and the only major difference in the latest conclusions, which are subject to change, is the wording on war crimes.

The October conclusions were seen as teeing up future sanctions on Russia, which is already subject to EU restrictions over the annexation of Crimea. Hollande and Merkel are expected to push for the renewal of those measures on Thursday.

The implicit threat of sanctions made little impact in October. This week’s summit merely repeats the same threat, which, to make matters worse, was undermined by EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini.

On Monday, she said the EU had no plans to impose sanctions at the summit. “No, we didn’t discuss at all sanctions, and there was no member state asking for additional work on sanctions”, she said.

Vladimir Putin, emboldened by Trump’s election victory, will hardly be quaking in his boots.

Sanctions, which need unanimous support among member states, may not stop the atrocities being committed by Russian-backed Syrian forces. But they are the only weapon the EU has.

Instead, the Brussels summit will serve up more hot air and paralysis, as the world watches the last bloody days of Aleppo.

THE ROUND UP

Who is the most boring Commissioner? Who are the tedious lot that Juncker describes as “walking sleeping pills”? Does Martin Selmayr have any friends? None of these questions were answered by the Commission today after this fine piece from Pekka Mykkanen.

Catherine Stupp had the scoop on new rules that could force companies to share consumer data, robbing them of a potential money-spinner.

It is looking increasingly like the EU and China are squaring up for a trade battle.

The Commission, Council and Parliament have signed the first ever joint declaration, which sets out the EU’s 2017 legislative goals.

Socialist MEPs are demanding that Günther Oettinger faces a full plenary vote if he is to become the new Budget Commissioner.

Chess great Garry Kasparov has scored a victory over Russia in the European Court of Human Rights. Expect a crackdown on welfare tourism from the Commission after today’s meeting of the College of Commissioners.

The big bang in energy efficiency will come from industry and SMEs, said Marie Donnelly, the Commission’s director for renewables and energy efficiency. Meanwhile, Jyrki Katainen has warned against an “insane” push for energy efficiency.

The mayor of Ankara has accused the BBC of knowing exactly when and where the recent bombings in Turkey were going to take place.

Could President Le Pen trigger Frexit? Lobbyists are wielding influence over the TiSA negotiations.

And don’t miss this video of Emmanuel Macron getting very overexcited on the campaign trail

LOOK OUT FOR…

In Strasbourg tomorrow, Juncker will meet François Fillon, a Margaret Thatcher fan and the centre-right’s candidate to be the next president of France.

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