Crumbling unity: At a special meeting in Brussels, the EU heads of state and party leaders are trying to maintain their common front against Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine. Olaf Scholz plays a dubious role in this.
With his letter of invitation to the special EU summit on Monday and Tuesday in Brussels, EU Council President Charles Michel also sent Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban a reminder: “Our unity has always been our greatest strength. It remains our guiding principle,” it read.
It is only Orban who once again stepped out of line and held up the passage of the EU’s sixth sanctions package against Russia for a month before the summit. But it’s not just him that a number of EU heads of state and government are at odds with. Chancellor Olaf Scholz has also made himself unpopular with the Baltic and Eastern European states in particular with his hesitant attitude towards Ukraine’s struggle for survival. They perceive Germany’s Ukraine engagement as dodgy.
Dealing with the obstinate Orban, who is standing in the way of an oil embargo against Russia, is on the official agenda of the summit under the keyword “Energy”. The Hungarian is demanding years of transition periods in order to decouple his country’s oil supply from Russia. He also expects financial support. Budapest has estimated that the restructuring of the Hungarian energy sector will cost tens of billions of euros.
A compromise proposal by the Commission is intended to build a bridge for Orban. It stipulates that only oil transported by ship from Russia should be affected by the embargo and thus about two thirds of EU imports. Landlocked Hungary imports pipeline oil. Practical for Chancellor Olaf Scholz: Germany, along with the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland, also extracts oil from this pipeline.
Scold for Scholz is one of the unofficial program points. However, it was clearly absent even before the summit, especially from Poland. Polish President Andrzej Duda even accused the Chancellor of breaching his word regarding an intended armored ring exchange between Germany and Poland’s armed forces in favor of the Ukrainian army.
From the European Parliament, the CDU security and defense expert there, Michael Gahler, warned: “The German Chancellor should actually lead the continental and international alliance to defend and liberate Ukraine and to defeat the Russian army there. As head of government of the largest continental economic power, the most important European ally in the EU and NATO, a leading arms producer, he has all the levers in his hands.”
The largest German opposition party, the CDU, also put pressure on Scholz from the Bundestag before the summit. Deputy parliamentary group leader Patricia Lips regretted that “increasing political tensions between the member states” had arisen during the preparations for the summit. The chancellor must therefore “finally take on a leadership role in Europe and mediate between the member states”.
Once again, an urgent call for help from the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj to the European heads of state and government is to be expected. While his troops in the Donbass are standing against the Russian superiority with their backs to the wall, he is again connected to the summit round via video.
Contact between Brussels and Berlin is noticeably close just below the Scholz line. According to reports from around the EU Commission headquarters in Berlaymont, about every other day, the lady of the house, Ursula von der Leyen, calls the Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck from the Green Party.
This is certainly also due to the need for coordination with the government of the largest economy in the European Union in terms of energy transition and climate protection. The Brussels plans for this will also occupy the summit.
The “REPowerEU” package has now been added to von der Leyen’s Green Deal, which expands climate protection with a security policy component: with renewable energies out of the dependence on fossil fuels from Russia. The President of the Commission has increased the expansion target for energy from wind, water and solar radiation from 40 to 45 percent by 2030, and that for energy efficiency from nine to 13 percent.
Habeck is a great place to talk about this, it corresponds both to the ideological thrust of his party and to his assessment that energy policy is also defense policy. On top of that, speculations circulating in Brussels want to know that von der Leyen, in close contact with Habeck, may be preparing for a second position halfway through her term of office as a precaution. The Greens play a key role in this, because the traffic light coalition agreement gives them the decisive say over the future personal representation of the Federal Republic in the European Commission.
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