EU leaders to tackle Turkey, Russia and pandemic at Brussels summit

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to foreign leaders at a Brexit summit in Brussels, Belgium, on October 17. Photo by Olivier Hoslet/EPA-EFE
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to foreign leaders at a Brexit summit in Brussels, Belgium, on October 17. Photo by Olivier Hoslet/EPA-EFE

EU leaders are to address their testy relations with Turkey and Russia at a summit in Brussels kicking off on Thursday in the shadow of a Hungarian bill that more than half the bloc has slammed as anti-LGBT.

Strained relations with Russia, which are a marked low, are one of the one of the most explosive issues the 27 premiers are to tackle during their two-day meeting.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell had presented a potential new strategy last week, warning that relations would likely deteriorate further.
But the bloc seems split about how to approach its eastern neighbour.

While France and Germany are keen to push relations with Moscow into a more positive direction, an EU diplomat said, a Franco-German proposal to hold EU-Russia summit talks is unpopular with several other member states.

According to a draft statement that EU leaders could sign off on Thursday, seen by dpa, the 27 heads of state and governments could call on the European Commission and Borrell “to present options for additional restrictive measures, including economic sanctions.”

The EU has slapped sanctions on Russia in several rounds, including for the annexation of Crimea and the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

While threatening economic sanctions, the leaders would also reiterate “the European Union’s openness to a selective engagement with Russia in areas of EU interests,” if they agree on the draft statement.

This would include searching for “concrete options” on how to do so.

The other major – but less controversial – concern for the leaders are EU-Turkey relations.

After a rocky patch, dealings with Ankara stabilized enough for the bloc to dangle the prospect of fresh cash for refugee-hosting and modernization of the Turkey-EU customs union in March.

The hope is that the de-escalation continues, an EU official said ahead of the summit. Leaders are to take stock.

A number of premiers are also expected to raise concerns with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban about planned changes that would restrict youth access to content portraying lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.

Now facing the threat of EU legal action, Budapest denies that the bill is discriminatory.

Migration, with a focus on cooperation with third countries, is also on the agenda.

Amid the emergency of the new Delta variant, the premiers will also debate how to safely resume free movement in the EU.

On Friday, discussions are set to turn to economic recovery from the pandemic.

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