Why the G20’s Ukraine compromise might not be all bad for Europe

Good morning after a busy weekend in New Delhi. You can find all of our G20 coverage here, including: news of the EU-backed project to create a trade corridor from India to Europe, anger at the group’s failure to crack down on fossil fuel usage, and Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni’s latest step in pulling Rome from China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Today, I explain why some European delegates left the New Delhi summit feeling like they’d scored a victory, even as many fear the west compromised on its Ukraine stance. And we hear from the EBRD’s chief economist on the oft-overlooked benefits of getting a country ready for EU membership.

Tough sell

The EU’s G20 delegates arrived in New Delhi ahead of this past weekend’s summit pledging to “defend our principles” regarding the war in Ukraine. They left, somewhat chastened, talking of the value in “formulating compromise.”

Context: This year’s leaders’ summit, which ended yesterday, issued a joint statement that did not feature any condemnation of Russia for its war against Ukraine, drawing ire from Kyiv.

But European officials vehemently claim that they are playing the long game. Stripping out language critical of Russia from the joint statement, they say, was the price of getting a text that all members would agree on — and thus, in theory, be bound by.

As such, the west can now point to the statement and call on India, Brazil, South Africa and others to put pressure on Russia to stick to its declarations, from respecting territorial integrity to implementing the Black Sea grain initiative and — the big one — finding a “just peace” in Ukraine.

That, however, relies on these countries making good on their promises. Absent proof of that, the feeling was that Europe had given ground now for the chance of uncertain gains sometime in the future.

“It is step by step,” said one European delegate at the summit. “[Success] will depend on our ability to persuade emerging economies.”

The mood music was not helped by French president Emmanuel Macron who, in attempting to defend the statement’s compromises, echoed China’s longstanding criticism that the US, EU and its G7 allies talk too much about Ukraine. “Let’s face it, let’s be honest, the G20 is not the forum for political discussions,” he said in his post-summit press conference.

Adding to the geopolitical 3D chess, the US — which wants to tighten relations with India — was particularly keen for host prime minister Narendra Modi to forge a consensus statement.

“For us it is not a good outcome,” said one senior EU diplomat. “We have been caught between the US who wanted to please Modi and the Chinese who were leaning on the Russian side.”

Chart du jour: Rising toll

Map showing shaking intensity of magnitude 6.8 earthquake in Morocco.

Rescuers are still digging through collapsed buildings in Morocco’s High Atlas region in search of survivors, after a 6.8 magnitude quake struck the country on Friday night, killing more than 2,000 people.

Reform, now

Governments on the EU’s accession list are increasingly frustrated with the wait. But the time spent focusing on reforms is crucial, writes Alice Hancock.

Beata Javorcik, chief economist of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) told the FT that measures to meet the bloc’s benchmarks for democracy and rule of law are more important than the strength of candidate countries’ economies.

Context: The prospect of the EU expanding is looming ever closer, boosted by the need to assure Ukraine that it can join the bloc in the not too distant future, improving the prospect for other candidates too. European Council president Charles Michel has called for the EU to be ready to expand its borders by 2030.

Without mentioning the bloc’s recent concerns over rule of law in Hungary or her homeland Poland, Javorcik said: “Everybody knows that the minute you enter the EU, the levers [the] EU has to put pressure on reforms are limited”.

That means that “you see a lot of reforms prior [to accession] and then just a drop in interest”, she added.

The process of acceding to the EU is neither straightforward nor fast. According to the Pew Research Center, it has taken nine years on average for countries to join the EU since the Maastricht treaties were signed in 1993.

Government officials across countries in the EU’s waiting room — among them Ukraine, Moldova, Montenegro and Serbia — have accused Brussels of leading them on.

EBRD research shows that cutting corruption has a benefit for countries’ economies not only because it means more money can enter the government’s tax coffers, but also because it decreases people’s intention to migrate.

Javorcik said Brussels policymakers must ask whether this path to accession is credible. “Do the people in charge believe that it’s worth investing the effort and political capital?”

What to watch today

  1. European parliament plenary session kicks off in Strasbourg.

  2. Heads of state of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein meet Belgian royals in Brussels.

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