European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrives at the start of the weekly meeting of the European College of Commissioners in Brussels, Belgium, 26 June 2024. EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET


EU leaders to agree on top jobs, strategic agenda with focus on defence


European Union leaders are to agree on Thursday on the strategic course for the EU and on the people to run its institutions for the next five years, with a special focus on helping Ukraine fend off Russia and bolstering the EU’s own defences.

Leaders of the 27 EU countries are to start their two-day summit by signing a security agreement with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to demonstrate their support for the country fighting off Moscow’s invasion for a third year.

The leaders will reiterate their pledge to support Ukraine as long as it takes, stressing that “Russia must not prevail” and that Ukraine must get back the land annexed by Moscow, draft conclusions prepared for the summit showed.

They will also ask EU institutions to work out the details of a €50 billion loan for Ukraine that would be serviced by profits generated by Russian central bank assets frozen in the West after Moscow’s invasion.

The war in Ukraine laid bare the EU’s lack of preparedness for a conflict as the bloc struggles to supply Kyiv with enough weapons against Russia, prompting calls for more EU coordination of defence systems and investment in defence industries.

Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia called on Wednesday for the European Union to build a defence line along the bloc’s border with Russia and Belarus to protect the EU from military threats and other harmful activities from Moscow.

Investment in defence is to be part of the EU’s “strategic agenda” that the leaders aim to agree on at the summit — a document that tells EU institutions what European governments want them to focus on during their 2024-2029 term.

Apart from defence, the draft strategic agenda seen by Reuters calls for boosting EU competitiveness to better withstand economic pressure from China and the United States and for preparing the bloc for enlargement that would include Ukraine, Moldova and the Western Balkans.

The agenda is to help the next head of the European Commission, due to start in October, prepare a work programme. The 27 national leaders are expected to nominate Ursula von der Leyen of Germany for a second term as Commission president.

As part of a package agreed by three pro-EU centrist political groups, Portuguese ex-premier Antonio Costa would preside over the European Council of EU leaders and Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas would be foreign policy chief.

The three groups – the centre-right, centre-left and liberals – have the necessary majority to get the package approved at the summit. But there could still be some resistance, with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán critical of the deal.