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EU Summit Largely Keeps Domestic Focus

  • Ahto Lobjakas

Jose Manuel Barroso was nominated to another five-year term.

Jose Manuel Barroso was nominated to another five-year term.

BRUSSELS -- During what was one of the most inward-looking EU summits in recent history, the bloc's 27 member states sought to consolidate the bloc's power structures as they await a second Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in October.

As expected, Jose Manuel Barroso was picked to head the European Commission for a second term. On his road back to the pinnacle of the EU's executive arm, Barroso must still negotiate a few treacherous turns, however. The European Parliament must confirm his nomination in a vote on July 15, and, at present, there is no clear majority in his favor.

When and if Barroso clears that hurdle, he must await the outcome of the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. If the referendum is a success, and assuming the Czech and Polish presidents also sign the Lisbon Treaty into law, Barroso can assemble his new commission, which will then face one final vote of confidence in the European Parliament. Should the Irish referendum fail, the EU will be thrown back into a debilitating constitutional crisis.

Keen not to see this happen, EU leaders voted to grant Ireland exemptions from the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty on taxation, neutrality, and family law -- especially abortion.

After the summit, Barroso said he hopes the additional guarantees given to Ireland will sway public opinion there. Irish voters said "no" to the Lisbon Treaty last June.

"I am especially pleased that we have agreed the Irish guarantees [of sovereignty]," Barroso said. "This gives all the reassurances the Irish people need. This gives me confidence that we will have a 'yes' vote in the Irish referendum."

The exemptions will become part of EU law. Irish observers in Brussels suspect the protracted wrangle over the precise terms of the Irish guarantees, which saw the summit run into overtime on June 19, was partly a carefully orchestrated gimmick to allow the Irish government to make a triumphant return home.

The summit also approved a host of measures designed to improve the oversight and regulation of the economy once the current crisis recedes. The EU will in future acquire a body charged with monitoring macroeconomic "systemic risks," and micro-level surveillance institutions for the banking, insurance, and securities sectors.

Ukraine Gas Fears

The summit conclusions adopted by the 27 EU leaders briefly address, among other things, the continued threat of disruptions in Russian natural-gas supplies transiting via Ukraine. The EU declaration says the EU is confident that "all parties will honor their commitments," adding the EU will "continue to carefully monitor and assess the situation."

There are serious worries in Brussels that come next winter, the bloc could find itself facing a repeat of last January, when large swathes of Eastern and Southeastern Europe had to go without Russian gas for weeks on end because of a pricing dispute between Russia and Ukraine.

Barroso said the EU must take urgent action to insulate itself against the effects of another gas crisis.

"We must not sleepwalk into another gas crisis," he said. "There is indeed the risk of another major crisis in weeks, not months. And we must protect European citizens."

It looks increasingly unlikely that any preemptive EU measures will include a credit line for Ukraine, which, in the throes of a very serious economic crisis, has run up a mountain of debt to Russia.

A senior EU source told RFE/RL the bloc's patience is running thin with Ukraine, which he said appears "unwilling to help itself." Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko reportedly admitted to a visiting team of EU gas experts last week that Ukraine does not have the money to pay for the Russian gas it continues to need and use.

When Russia turned off the taps last January, it cited Ukraine's inability to pay its bills as the reason. The EU has argued repeatedly it has paid in full for its gas by the time it arrives at its eastern borders and will not "pay twice" on Ukraine's behalf.

The EU diplomat said there is increasing reluctance within the EU to extend a helping hand to a country whose leadership cannot overcome its divisions, but remains all too eager to pass on its gas bills.

The EU is worried about the apparent lack of transparency in Ukrainian accounts -- the revenues the Ukrainian government is assumed to earn from domestic gas sales appear to be not accounted for.

In late May, Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wrote to Barroso, offering to "pool" resources to help reduce Ukraine's debt burden for gas.

But the EU fears that ad hoc payments to Ukraine could set a dangerous precedent, exposing the bloc to further demands. Finally, officials in Brussels point out, the EU's own finances are stretched to the limit by the economic crisis, and it quite literally lacks the funds needed to prop up Ukraine's gas consumption.


Other international issues were left to the 27 foreign ministers who met for dinner on the margins of the summit on June 18. The ministers discussed a joint EU response to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's security architecture proposals, to be debated at an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe meeting in Corfu next week. Diplomats say the discussion touched on Abkhazia, where Russia this week terminated the UN monitoring mission in Georgia.

The bloc is said to remain split along familiar lines, with most Eastern European states arguing for a tougher stance on Russia, while France, Germany, and other members of a notional "Friends of Russia" club prefer a conciliatory line.

The EU's Czech presidency said in a statement on June 18 it "regrets" the Russian decision not to extend the mandate of the UN mission. Most EU member states were content not to revisit the issue during the summit and the summit did not eventually address it in its conclusions.