The EU needs to be more courageous in its diplomacy, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said in her first State of the Union speech a couple of days ago. Some said her lengthy speech was bold. Others complained that there was too much wishful thinking. Others remarked that foreign affairs are not exactly her remit.
An EU summit is taking place this Thursday and Friday (24-25 September), with a heavy geopolitical agenda, including the EU’s relations with Turkey, China and Belarus. Russia will also probably be on the menu.
Turkey is bullying Greece and Cyprus, and drifting away from NATO. China is trying to cut loose the Western Balkans from the EU and lure the Eastern EU members toward its own geopolitical projects.
The leader of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, is outrageously trampling on a courageous European nation at the EU borders. And Russia is trying to fend off – without much success – accusations that it is using chemical weapons to murder its political opponents.
And what can the EU do? Right now – not much.
The main reason is that they see the “wider geopolitical picture”, according to a diplomat, fearing that Ankara will move away from NATO and get closer to Russia and India.
And in the absence of sanctions against Turkey, Cyprus vetoes sanctions against Belarus. It is simple as that.
In the case of China, the picture is even more complex, because no one in this economically powerful country ever listens to the EU, or to the sounds it appears to make, when it comes to human rights concerns, as became evident at the last virtual summit.
But let’s look at the bright side, because there is one.
EU summits are in the hands of the Council President. And the current one, Charles Michel, has seen worse.
As prime minister of Belgium, he had to crisis-manage the Brussels terrorist attacks of March 2016 and face international criticism over his predecessors’ failure to address – for decades – the surge of Salafism and Wahhabism in Belgium, which also played a role in the terrorist attacks in France, starting with Charlie Hebdo in January 2015.
A terrible job. But Charles Michel has been through it and come out on the other side. And let’s admit it – from his perspective, things look better now.
In Belgian politics, it takes patience and discretion, the top job may look thankless and unpleasant, but in the end, Belgian savoir-faire and a pinch of surrealism bring results.
Don’t expect too much from this summit. But don’t underestimate Belgians at the highest EU level either.
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- General Affairs Council with deliberations on MFF, preparation of EU September summit, EU-UK negotiations
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