The Guardian view on the European Union: sticking together | Editorial | Opinion

Not all that long ago the European Union seemed to inspire doubt not hope: a project reaching its 60th anniversary looked to many as if it might be heading for its death bed, or at least the emergency room. The eurozone, some said, would soon crumble as a result of faulty construction and rash policies. A populist wave was certain to sweep away institutions based on liberal democracy and shared sovereignty. Citizens would irreversibly turn their backs on a club which apparently combined high-mindedness and inefficiency.

With Brexit, 2016 was the EU’s annus horribilis. The year before that the refugee crisis, critics said, had exposed the EU as a fair-weather construct – unable to cope with the unforeseen. In 2014, extremist parties had already made spectacular gains in the EU parliament. In its bleakest moments the EU, it was said, had been a reputable and worthy project but one with perhaps a limited lifespan. The politics of fear were about to send it to the dustbin of history. Today, this doomsday narrative no longer applies. For one thing, Brexit has produced no domino effect. Britain’s despondency serves as daily proof that the path must be avoided by others. Far from breaking up, the eurozone is set to grow at the fastest annual pace since 2011. The migration issue hasn’t disappeared, but with the numbers down, its disruptive impacts on politics seem for now contained. Populism is no longer seen as an irrepressible force. Far-right slogans calling for a continent-wide Patriotic Spring in 2017 have come to nothing.

On Wednesday Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU commission president, will echo this sense of renewed confidence in his annual “state of the Union” address, notably outlining a more robust approach to foreign takeovers to win support among European citizens for trade deals. In France, president Emmanuel Macron will face a stern test over his proposed changes to the labour market with thousands of protests planned. The French president was wrong to describe those who oppose his plans as “lazy”. He is perhaps too confident – with the trade unions divided and a big majority in parliament. Nowhere is this being more closely watched than in Germany, where Angela Merkel looks poised to be re-elected later this month, quite a political feat given that her downfall had been described as all but inevitable after the 2015 refugee crisis. It’s true the anti-immigrant AfD party is set to enter the Bundestag for the first time, but the traditional parties are still in charge. Elsewhere, in Austria, the Netherlands, Finland, populists have failed either to reach power or remain in government coalitions.

The mood in the EU is, if anything, upbeat. Plans for deeper eurozone integration are being floated, as are moves to enhance security cooperation, and the creation of a common digital market. Public trust in the EU is rising. No doubt, there are still tensions and uncertainties. Poland’s and Hungary’s populist governments are up in arms with the EU institutions over rule of law and migration quotas. The bloc’s cohesion on values is its biggest challenge. Doubts hang over the future of eurozone governance. France and Germany have a chance to correct monetary union’s flaws, which they should seize. Italy’s politics, with elections next year, and the state of its banking sector are a concern. Post-Brexit, 80% of Nato defence spending will be non-EU. An upcoming Russian military exercise has already put nerves on edge.

But those who believed Brexit and Donald Trump would be nails in the EU’s coffin need to rethink. Viewed from the continent, Brexit is all but a side show – not even mentioned once in the German election TV debate. Trumpism has helped convince more Europeans they need to stick together, not come apart.

Europe has been under strain, but it has not cracked. If anything, the setbacks have given the EU a stronger sense of what it is – and what it is not. Better awareness of this in Britain is long overdue.

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Trump’s fascist contagion gives the anti-Brexit cause what it lacked: an emotional heart | Jonathan Freedland | Opinion

To the remainer, and even to the neutral, our current politics contains a big mystery. Put simply, where is the sentiment we hoped to call regrexit? Where is the collective outbreak of buyer’s remorse? After all, the evidence that Brexit will be the greatest error in our national history since Munich is piling up. It’s not just that a process the leavers used to say would be quick and easy is proving to be long and torturously difficult, or that the European economies are growing while ours is sluggish. It’s more fundamental than that.

It’s the fact that ending free movement will deprive our hospitals of nurses, our old-age homes of care workers and our farms of essential workers: recruitment of EU nurses is already down 96%, while farmers are already warning of food rotting in the fields.

It’s the contradictions, which are legion. We did this supposedly to stop sending money to the EU, yet now we’re negotiating over how many tens of billions we’ll pay into Brussels coffers (this time getting nothing in return). We did this to make parliament supreme once more, yet now Brexit necessitates a withdrawal bill that would see a massive shift of power away from MPs, as the executive grabs enough unchecked authority to make a Tudor king blush.

The Brexiteers tacitly concede this reality through their quiet dropping of the old promises. No longer do they insist that leaving will bring eternal sunshine. Now the best they can offer is the glum hope that things might, eventually, be no worse than if we stayed. Witness the pro-leave economist Andrew Lilico confidently telling the BBC earlier this summer that the country might recover from the transitional pain of Brexit by 2030.

When the best that can be said for leaving is that it might one day be as good as remaining, and when the worst points to national catastrophe, you might expect the public mood to shift. And yet the polls detect little sign of change. Overall, the two camps are broadly where they were on referendum day, with few leave voters having changed their mind.

The explanation surely lies in the nature of the 2016 vote. Remainers may wish it to have been based on a calm assessment of empirical evidence, so that fresh evidence now would shift opinions. But it wasn’t like that. Much of what drove that vote, like all votes, was emotion. This was remain’s weakness. And it still is.

Even now, anti-Brexiteers struggle to articulate a case that matches the emotional power of “take back control”. It certainly resonates when you say that it’s wrong to shrink the horizons of a generation of young Britons, who will now be denied easy access to an entire continent. But the deepest emotional argument for remain looked not to the future, but to the past. It centred on the second world war.

Donald Trump

‘Donald Trump and the fascist contagion is reminding us why the EU exists: to ensure that the neighbourhood we live in is never again consumed by the flames of tyranny. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

It contemplated the long, lethal history of Europe and saw the European Union as the answer. For a continent that had been gripped by the fever of nationalism and hatred, the EU proved to be an antidote, soothing the brow with its spirit of co-operation and sharing of sovereignty. The Britain that had fought two world wars surely was obliged to cherish, rather than risk, this remedy to the European disease.

That argument barely flew in the referendum campaign. When David Cameron tried it, Boris Johnson mocked him for it. But mentioned even less was the conflict that followed 1945: the cold war that divided Europe with a wall and left the continent – and the world – in the permanent shadow of nuclear apocalypse. Its absence was strange, given that it had been Britain, and especially the British Conservative party, that after the cold war was over had seen the EU as the means to bind together a once-ruptured Europe. It was the Tories who pushed for EU enlargement, to include the ex-communist nations of the east. Once again, the EU’s mission was to heal a continent shattered by conflict.

A reminder of that vision has come this week not from a politician or pro-remain pamphleteer, but a fictional character. George Smiley, who lived the cold war in the shadows, returns in John le Carré’s masterful new novel, A Legacy of Spies. He makes a fleeting, enigmatic appearance in which he asks himself what was it all for. “I’m a European,” he says. “If I had an unattainable ideal, it was of leading Europe out of her darkness towards a new age of reason.”

Smiley, a veteran of both the hot war against fascism and the cold war against Soviet communism, had known that darkness first-hand. But for those who voted in last year’s EU referendum, perhaps it all seemed too long ago. Those demons were slain, the EU no longer needed.

Still, if that’s how it looked on 23 June 2016, it looks different now. In a talk on Thursday night, Le Carré spoke of the behaviour of Donald Trump and others as “absolutely comparable” to the rise of fascism in the 1930s. “It’s contagious, it’s infectious. Fascism is up and running in Poland and Hungary. There’s an encouragement about,” he said.

This is a warning to take seriously. Hungary is indeed led by a man who boasts that he is building an “illiberal state”, while Poland’s government is trampling over fundamental democratic protections, including an independent judiciary and freedom of the press (and Trump is cheering them on as they do so).

The US president is not making America great again, but he is making the 1930s current again. Perhaps, then, and in a way he would not want, Trump is providing the anti-Brexiteers with the one thing they always lacked: an emotional heart to their argument. Trump and the fascist contagion is reminding us why the EU exists: to ensure that the neighbourhood we live in is never again consumed by the flames of tyranny and hatred.

On that fateful day in June 2016, it’s possible that some of those who voted leave did so because they believed that democracy and peace were now safe and secure in Europe. In the short time that has passed since, we have seen that those things are, in fact, fragile. As the head of Nato warns that the world is at its most dangerous point in a generation, Britain’s duty, to use a word that might make Smiley wince, is surely to defend the body that helped lead Europe out of its darkness. Instead, we are turning our backs and walking away.

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Baby boomers have a good life, but don’t blame them for Brexit | Letters | Science

Nick Cohen tars all “baby boomer” pensioners with the same brush (“Must growing old mean becoming poorer and lonelier?”, Comment). As a baby boomer pensioner, I think this is very unfair.

We are certainly comparatively well off; undoubtedly we benefited from various housing booms and now benefit from our protected pensions. However, some of us feel guilty enough about this without being accused of “selfish idiocy” over the costs of Brexit, which we certainly did not vote for and are very angry and sad about.

We assuage our guilt somewhat by helping our children and grandchildren and with charitable work and donations. We pay tax on our pensions, but some of us would be more than willing to pay further national insurance contributions and can do without the winter fuel allowance (which we give away annually to the Surviving Winter fund) – as long as those who need it will continue to receive it. It is unpleasant and unfair to be blamed for being born at a lucky time.
Virginia Evans
Minehead, Somerset

A move to improve Channel 4

Peter Preston is wrong to suggest a move by Channel 4 out of London should be fought (“Channel 4 knows all about location, location, location”, Media). I believe a move, particularly to the Leeds City Region, could actually make a fundamental difference to the DNA of Channel 4.

A national public service broadcaster needs to have a greater plurality of voices and in an area such as the Leeds City Region, comprising some 3 million people, there’s a rich pool of distinctive ethnic voices and under-represented talent that could give Channel 4 a stronger regional voice.

Claims that there is a shortage of talent outside the capital are at best misguided and at worst plain ignorant. We know that this a significant step for Channel 4 and we hear its concerns. However, any move should be a bold, risky and innovative development in keeping with its ethos.
Sally Joynson
Chief executive, Screen Yorkshire

Poland’s proud past

Your editorial last week was right to highlight the danger of “Poland’s flight from democracy”, but your readers should not be under the illusion that Poland has no democratic traditions. The multiethnic Polish-Lithuanian republic, which saw itself as a continuation of the Roman republic, was a bastion for parliamentary democracy, religious tolerance and humanism in the 15th and 16th centuries.

These ideas re-emerged in Poland’s national revival at the end of the 18th century when it voted itself Europe’s first liberal constitution. In its struggle to reclaim its independence in the following two centuries, it did so under the banner of “Your Freedom and Ours”. Poland produced one of the most celebrated and successful peaceful civic resistance movements in the Solidarity Union, led by Lech Wałęsa, after which it was able to restore parliamentary democratic rule and a vibrant economy that over the next 25 years successfully rode out the recession and was a model for developing nations.

Of course, the Third Republic was not a perfect institution and many did not share in its wealth. Western Europe and EU institutions are right to sound the alarm and support the democratic opposition, but economic sanctions against Poland would be counter-productive as they would increase the current Polish paranoia and bind the majority of the electorate closer to the ruling party.

It would be more productive to give moral and material support to independent Polish institutions, such as OKO Press, that monitor transgressions of the law and ensure consistent and unbiased coverage of events.
Wiktor Moszczynski
London W5

Don’t squeeze only the rich

You report “Cable plans wealth taxes to woo Corbyn backers” (News). Presumably, Dr Cable wants to avoid raising income tax rates for fear of frightening middle-class voters, stifling enterprise and driving businesses overseas. Added to this, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has repeatedly emphasised that raising income tax for the very rich would not have a significant impact on inequality: the transfer of disposable income will have to come from upper- to middle-level earners as well.

There is another way of redistributing disposable income more equitably. Historically, redistribution has occurred accidentally and inequitably in periods of inflation, notoriously in interwar Germany. For the next few years, we are likely to experience annual inflation in the range of 2% to 3%, so we could harness this to reduce inequality by freezing the levels of income at which higher tax rates kick in, presently £45,001 for the 40% rate and £150,001 for the 45% rate.

For a few years, while salaries rise with inflation, the tax bands should not be inflation-proofed. Government revenue for public services and welfare benefits could gradually rise each year as more middle-income earners enter higher tax brackets and those already there would be paying proportionately more of their incomes.

This would achieve two goals of the political parties: a gradual but substantial redistribution of income towards the less well-off and a much-needed increase in government revenue.
Lawrence Lockhart

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Britons’ rights in Europe ‘must not surpass rights of EU citizens in UK’ | Politics

The Swedish minister for EU affairs has said it would be “unfair” for Britons to have more rights in Europe than EU citizens in the UK, as currently proposed by Theresa May.

Ann Linde warned that the UK must offer the EU reciprocity in its approach to citizens’ rights, and said Theresa May’s government was putting the final Brexit deal at risk if it did not engage in detail with the EU negotiating team soon.

Before a meeting in Londn with the Brexit secretary, David Davis, Linde said there was “a risk with such a short deadline that if you do not get the detailed position, that you can’t [go forward]” to the second phase of negotiations, on a trade deal and the relationship with Europe.

“We really need to get concrete negotiating positions from the UK. We got three more responses today, but they need to have more detail,” she said.

“We have to have reciprocity,” she added. “We cannot have a situation where Britons in Spain have a better situation than a Spanish person in the UK.” That would be “unfair”, she concluded.

There are an estimated 100,000 Swedish people living in the UK, and Linde said Britain needed to change its position to protect their rights along with those of other EU citizens. Earlier this year, she expressed concern about the amount of xenophobia targeted at Swedes since the EU referendum.

Her comments came after the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, spoke of his frustration that the EU had issued nine position papers since the end of April, but the UK had only responded to one – the proposal on EU citizens.

Linde said “significant progress” was needed in the three areas prioritised by the EU for the first phase of negotiations: the economy, citizens’ rights and border issues.

The EU has proposed to protect all the current social, employment and residency rights enjoyed by the 1.2 million Britons settled elsewhere in the EU. Under the British proposal, EU citizens would lose some of those rights, including the right to bring in family members such as spouses or elderly relatives.

The UK proposal also offers no guarantees on reciprocal healthcare arrangements for pensioners, or protection for the estimated 45,000 Britons who commute to Europe or travel to the bloc for short-term contracts.

Lawyers have said it is unenforceable, because the UK does not want oversight by the European court of justice but has not proposed an alternative body for dispute resolution.

Linde said the British offer to EU citizens was “a good start” but needed improvement. “There needs to be more detail,” she added. “The good thing is that there is a clear wish to see that the EU citizens can stay, but it [the proposal] is in no way ready.

“People [in Sweden] really feel that UK citizens in the EU should not be better off than EU citizens in the UK,” she added.

Speaking in January, after meeting Swedes who had experienced xenophobia since the Brexit vote, Linde said: “I am astonished at what I heard. What is worrying is that they are giving me evidence that they are not being treated like normal EU members, that they have to sign specific contracts if they want to continue with new work.” The minister said this was discriminatory under EU law.

“It is probably some years before the UK will leave the EU, but still Swedish [people] are experiencing treatment of this kind, and I find that rather shocking,” she said. “It’s a kind of discrimination you are speaking about that is not allowed if you are EU members – and Britain is still an EU member.”

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Spanish royals on state visit to UK, with Brexit issues unavoidable | UK news

The king and queen of Spain start a state visit to the UK on Wednesday in which the two royal families will seek to play down simmering rows over a string of post-Brexit issues between the two countries.

The three-day visit by King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia is the first to the UK by the Spanish royal family since 1986, and was agreed before the Brexit referendum result. It was then deferred twice, first due to the extended negotiations in Spain in March 2016 to form a new government, then by a deferral by Britain due to Theresa May’s decision to call a general election.

Spanish politicians, including the foreign minister Alfonso Dastis, are accompanying the king and queen.

It is being argued that talks on post-Brexit rights for 300,000 UK citizens in Spain and Spanish nationals in the UK – including 3,000 scientists working in higher education – are being conducted at the EU level in Brussels, and therefore need not be raised at length during the state visit. But the Gibraltar dispute, a roadblock in Anglo-Spanish relations further complicated by Brexit, will be unavoidable. Its status is largely a bilateral issue, and Felipe has previously described the British claim to the Rock as an historical anachronism.

Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo, has not been asked to any of the talks or major evening dinners by the UK government. In a speech this week in Malaga, he claimed that the Spanish government would try to insert a clause into any future UK-EU agreement on working rights so that it would not apply to EU citizens working in Gibraltar.

The UK ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley, said ahead of the visit: “We are not going to negotiate a solution that is against the interest of the people of Gibraltar. Our position has been very clear. The important thing is to talk about the practical issues and interests we all have in common.” He said the priority was to safeguard the working rights of the approximately 7,000 Spaniards who make the daily crossing to work in Gibraltar.

The vast majority of Gibraltarians voted to remain, fearing a loss of access to the EU if there was a vote for Brexit. In March, the issue shot up the list of Brexit priorities when it appeared Brussels had endorsed the idea that no EU-UK Brexit deal could apply in Gibraltar without the agreement of the Spanish and British governments.

The Spanish government has insisted it will not stop a wider Brexit deal over Gibraltar, which it regards primarily as bilateral issue, but it has a bargaining card it can play.

During the state visit, the UK government will also be reluctant to be drawn into the issue of the Catalan independence referendum to be held in October. The Catalonian government has urged Madrid to follow the example set by the UK government, who granted Scotland an official and binding referendum on secession in 2014.

British ministers are likely to argue that the Spanish constitution makes no provision for such a referendum, as Spain is a unitary state. But if there is a vote for secession, nationalists in Scotland and Wales will back calls for the UK to recognise the result. The UK’s Labour Party has yet to set out a position.

The Spanish royals will be formally greeted by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh on Horse Guards Parade on Wednesday before attending a state banquet on Wednesday evening.

Prince Harry, in his first involvement in a state visit, will take the royal couple around Westminster Abbey before the Spanish king addresses both parliaments. He will meet Theresa May accompanied by his ministers for a lunch at Downing Street on Thursday. On Friday Felipe is due to visit Oxford University where the royal couple will be greeted by the strongly anti-Brexit vice-chancellor Lord Patten.

In their eagerness to launch a new era in Anglo-Spanish relations, the British government is likely to want to highlight the flourishing trade and business relations between the two countries. The UK is the number one destination for overseas Spanish investment, reaching an accumulated 82.5bn euros by the end of 2015.

The Spanish ambassador to the UK, Carlos Bastarreche, was plucked back from the private sector to take up his posting in London this Spring, partly because of his extensive diplomatic experience at the EU.

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Number of Britons over 65 living in Spain more than doubles in 10 years | Politics

The number of Britons living in Spain over the age of 65 has more than doubled in the past 10 years, according to official statistics.

The joint research by Britain and Spanish statisticians shows there were over twice as many British citizens living in Spain at the time of the EU referendum than there were Spanish citizens resident in Britain.

The special report by the Office for National Statistics and the Instituto Nacional de Estadistica says there were 296,000 British citizens who had been living in Spain for more than 12 months in 2016, while the UK was home to an average of 116,000 Spanish people between 2013 and 2015.

Accurate data on the number of Britons resident in other European Union countries is sparse, with the oft-quoted estimate of 1.2 million based on a 2015 United Nations report. The ONS/INE report is the first in a series designed to provide a clearer picture of the British population in other EU countries in the run-up to Brexit.

The 296,000 Britons living in Spain are thought to be the largest single group of UK citizens living in other European countries followed by France and Ireland.

The ONS/INE report says the proportion of Britons in Spain who are over 65 has grown rapidly in the last 10 years, more than doubling to 121,000 and now making up 40% of the British community.

Department for Work and Pensions data shows there are 108,433 Britons in receipt of a UK state pension in Spain, underlining the importance in this week’s UK offer on citizens’ rights guaranteeing their pensions will continue to be uprated in line and paid abroad after Brexit.

The ONS says the number of older UK people moving to Spain has actually been stable since 2008 and concluded that the increase in over-65s is most likely the result of ageing among the already resident population.

While the largest single group of Britons in Spain are over 65, Spanish people resident in Britain are predominantly from younger age groups. Around half the 116,000 Spanish citizens resident in the UK are aged 20-39.

The majority – 59% – of Spanish residents in Britain work, with 78% to be found in the three sectors of education and health; banking and finance; and hotels and restaurants.

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Donald Tusk echoes John Lennon to suggest UK could stay in EU | Politics

Donald Tusk used the first EU summit since the general election and the start of the Brexit negotiations to suggest that there is a chance the UK could still remain a member of the union, as leaders called on Theresa May to provide clarity on her minority government’s intentions.

Tusk, the president of the European council quoted the lyrics of John Lennon’s Imagine in expressing his hope that Britain could change its mind given recent events. “We can hear different predictions, coming from different people, about the possible outcome of these negotiations: hard Brexit, soft Brexit or no deal,” Tusk said, of what he described as a difficult process.

“Some of my British friends have even asked me whether Brexit could be reversed, and whether I could imagine an outcome where the UK stays part of the EU.

“I told them that in fact the European Union was built on dreams that seemed impossible to achieve. So, who knows? You may say I’m a dreamer, but I am not the only one.”

Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland – who as a student was active in the fight against the communist regime in his country, said: “Politics without dreams: it would be a nightmare. If you had my experience from my part of Europe you would know miracles do happen. Some of my political dreams have come true. And this is maybe the best part of politics that everything is possible but I am at the same time a realist.

“That is why first of all we should start the negotiations as effectively as possible. The final decision is also a decision for Britain, UK citizens. But, yes, dreams are still very nice.”

The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, said he was hopeful that the UK would seek a soft Brexit. “It is crucially important we know what Britain wants from Brexit,” he said. “I hope we’ll come to some form of continued membership or relationship with internal markets.

“I absolutely believe the UK will be hit in the economy and the pound very hard. It will have a huge economic impact. I hope they can stay connected to the customs union which means accepting the four freedoms and the court in Luxembourg. I’m hopeful, but it all depends on what Theresa May and her team decide.”

Ireland’s new taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said: “The door remains open for the UK to stay in the European Union.”

A No 10 spokesman said in response: “Britain voted to leave the EU on 23 June last year and, as we have been clear all along, we will be delivering the democratic will of the British people.”

Macron, Merkel and May

Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Theresa May at the European Union leaders’ summit. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Leaders struck a different note when asked if European cooperation would be easier if the UK remained in the EU.

“I am not a dreamer and I am not the only one,” Belgium’s prime minister, Charles Michel said, in a deliberate echo of Tusk’s words. “I consider that we have to respect the choice of the UK and we will see how it is possible to keep smart cooperation on the different issues, on development, on trade but also on security.”

There were signs of irritation at Britain’s apparent intention to use meetings of EU leaders to progress their Brexit goals, however. In response to Downing Street’s decision to provide an overview of its offer on EU citizens over dinner at the summit, the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, said: “I’m not negotiating here.”

Tusk added: “It must be clear that the European council is not a forum for the Brexit negotiations, We have our negotiations for this. And so leaders will only take note of this intention.”

Beyond the discussion on Brexit during the first day of a two-day summit, the leaders also agreed on measures regarding counter-terrorism and defence. Tusk said the leaders were now calling on social media companies to do “whatever is necessary to prevent the spread of terrorist material on the internet”.

Brexit atom

He said: “In practice, this means developing new tools to detect and remove such materials automatically. And, if need be, we are also ready to adopt relevant legislation.”

The leaders also agreed on the need to set up permanent European cooperation on defence, a concept first raised in 1954 but opposed by a number of member states, including the UK.

Initially the member states would cooperate, with the help of EU cash, on defence research and procurement. Tusk said: “It is a historic step, because such cooperation will allow the EU to move towards deeper integration in defence. Our aim is for it to be ambitious and inclusive, so every EU country is invited to join. Within three months, member states will agree a common list of criteria and commitments, together with concrete capability projects, in order to take this cooperation off the ground.”

The EU also agreed to extend its economic sanctions against Russia over its failure to live up to the Minsk peace agreement after reports to leaders from Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron.

Russian-backed fighters are accused of attacking Ukrainian forces and expanding the territory under their control.

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