EU leaders sign security deal with Ukraine


European Union leaders signed a security agreement with Ukraine on Thursday, kicking off talks on how to bolster EU defences against Russia before agreeing on the bloc's priorities for the next five years and filling top jobs in its institutions.

Leaders of the 27 EU countries, meeting formally for the first time since European elections on June 6-9, gave a warm welcome to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who made a rare personal appearance in Brussels for the signing ceremony.

The security deal underlines EU support for Kyiv fighting off Moscow's invasion for a third year, despite gains by the far-right in European elections, uncertainty created by French snap elections and the US presidential vote in November.

The agreement lays out the EU's commitments to help Ukraine in nine areas of security policy - including arms deliveries, military training, defence industry cooperation and demining.

"These commitments will help Ukraine defend itself, resist destabilisation, and deter future acts of aggression - more concrete proof of the EU's unshakeable resolve to support Ukraine for the long haul," said Charles Michel, chairman of the EU council of member government leaders.

Draft conclusions of the summit showed 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.

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.

Diplomats said European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told the summit that between 1999 and 2021, the EU increased defence spending by 20 per cent, China by 600 per cent and Russia by 300 per cent, even before Moscow's massive rise in military spending after its invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

"We had been under-investing in our defence and now we have to recover the time that we have lost," EU top diplomat Josep Borrell told reporters. "And we have to do a big financial push to increase our defence capabilities. This is not going to be easy."

According to diplomats, von der Leyen told leaders the EU needed to invest 500 billion euros ($535.30 billion) in defence over the next 10 years. Financing options ranged from national contributions, dedicated revenue streams - called the EU's own resources - and joint borrowing, von der Leyen said.

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.

"We are talking about external European borders," Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk told reporters.

"We are talking about a threat to all of the EU and the political West."

Investment in defence is part of the EU's "strategic agenda" that the leaders aim to agree before dinner on Thursday - 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 calls for a more competitive EU to 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.

During dinner discussions, the 27 national leaders are expected to nominate von der Leyen for a second term as head of the European Commission, the EU's powerful executive body.

As part of a package agreed by three pro-EU centrist political groups, Portuguese ex-premier Antonio Costa will preside over the European Council of EU leaders and Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas will 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 Orban critical of the deal.

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