Von der Leyen and two prime ministers to meet farming groups over protests – Europe live | Europe

Commission president and two prime ministers to meet farming lobby

The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, and the prime ministers of Belgium and the Netherlands will meet the representatives of farming groups today.

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Key events

‘Farmers can count on European support’, EU commission chief says

As farmers protest a few blocks away, the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, addressed their challenges in a press conference following today’s summit.

Farmers play an essential role in Europe’s economy and society, and their work contributes greatly to our food security and indeed also to our way of life. And they are key actors in ensuring the sustainable use of natural resources: they live with nature and from nature. It is after all the basis of their livelihoods and thus also the basis of our livelihood.

European farmers are dynamic. In 2022, productivity improved 13%, thanks to their efforts. And they also contribute positively to our external trade: last year again, agrifood exports increased by 5%.

She added:

I think it is fair to say our farmers have shown remarkable resilience in the face of the recent crises, but many challenges remain.

For example, the tension on prices, agrifood prices, or very competitive global market, that leads to uncertainty, and of course the need to remain competitive while working to high standards and environmental protection – a very complex endeavour.

The farmers can count on European support.

The Common Agricultural Policy budget allocates close to 390 billion euros – that is almost one third of the European budget – to agriculture. And in 2023 alone, Europe provided exceptional assitance of over 500 million euros to farmers most affected by crisis.

We know that this support is crucial. And we know that farmers are making good use of it.

But in parallel, the commission is now working closely with the member states to address the immediate challenges.

Von der Leyen pointed to the two announcements made earlier this week on fallow land use rules and safeguards on imports from Ukraine.

On trade issues, she noted:

Of course we have to defend legitimate interests of our farmers in our trade negotiations, in particular in ensuring a level playing field in terms of standards when we have trade agreements.

She added:

I’m very sensitive to the message that farmers are concerned by administrative burden.

The commisson will work with the Belgian presidency of the Council of the EU on a proposal to reduce administrative burden, von der Leyen said.

And, she stressed, a strategic dialogue has already started with the agriculture sector and stakeholders with the aim of developing a roadmap.

Lisa O'Carroll

Lisa O’Carroll

Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, has told reporters he is in favour of the Mercosur deal with Latin American countries being completed.

“The commission has a mandate to negotiate Mercosur and I have always been in favour of that,” he said.

This comes two days after France’s Emmanuel Macron said it should not be ratified, a view echoed by the Irish leader, Leo Varadkar, on arrival at the summit this morning.

The Mercosur deal is opposed by farmers protesting at the European Council building arguing that the EU should not allow cheap imports from Latin America where labour costs and foods standards are lower.

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The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said after the summit she is “very satisfied” that the commission received 80% of funding it asked for in the review of the bloc’s long-term budget.

We had certainly some difficult choices to make, but we have a very good result.

We reaffirmed our commitment to fight illegal migration, we reaffirmed our commitment to support our western Balkan partners – this is the part of the growth plan that is in that budget – and the southern neighbourhood.

We will also increase our ability to deal with natural disasters in member states and humanitarian crises such as Gaza.

And furthermore STEP will support the much-needed development of critical technologies in Europe, including on defence, and increase our competitiveness.

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French farmers’ unions suspend protests

Two major farmers unions in France have announced a decision to suspend protests and lift road blockades, the Associated Press reported.

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Speaking to reporters after the summit, the European Council president, Charles Michel, said today’s deal on funding for Ukraine shows Europe’s unity and leadership.

Addressing the issue of military aid for Ukraine, Michel said:

We have made good progress in supporting Ukraine through the European Peace Facility. We have decided to task our ministers to finalise work. We understand how it’s important to deliver.

And this debate today was extremely useful to make very clear that we are determined to make more efforts and to make sure that Ukraine will get the military equipment they need to defend their country and to defend their future.

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Commission president and two prime ministers to meet farming lobby

The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, and the prime ministers of Belgium and the Netherlands will meet the representatives of farming groups today.

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Farmers continue Brussels protest

Here are photos of farmers protesting in Brussels today, from the Guardian’s correspondent, Lisa O’Carroll.

Farmers protest in Brussels. Photograph: Lisa O’Carroll/The Guardian
Police and farmers face one another in Brussels. Photograph: Lisa O’Carroll/The Guardian
Farmers protest in front of the European parliament. Photograph: Lisa O’Carroll/The Guardian

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Summit over

The European Council summit has officially ended.

Stay tuned for more updates as leaders brief the press.

Balázs Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán’s political director (no relation), has offered the following interpretation of today’s summit:

Regarding support for Ukraine, we faced two threats – firstly, an attempt to send money without control mechanisms, and secondly, a concern that the money of the Hungarian people might end up being sent to Ukraine.

Today, we managed to avoid both threats. At the end of the first year, aid to Ukraine must be renegotiated, and at the end of the second year, the entire issue will be reconsidered in the context of the EU budget for the next period.

Hungary’s rightful EU funds will remain with its people, with the European Council guaranteeing fair negotiation procedures for accessing them with the commission.

To counter pro-war sentiments in Brussels, the people of Europe must unite, working together to bring about change in the upcoming European parliament elections.

His comment, however, is not in line with what the leaders formally agreed.

The summit conclusions, which all leaders agreed to, state:

On the basis of the commission annual report on the implementation of the Ukraine facility, the European Council will hold a debate each year on the implementation of the facility with a view to providing guidance.

If needed, in two years the European Council will invite the commission to make a proposal for review in the context of the new MFF [Multiannual Financial Framework].

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Orbán welcomes deal – but presents own version of events

After a long silence, Viktor Orbán has taken to social media to declare victory in the summit.

He said Hungary had negotiated a “control mechanism” that “guarantees the reasonable use of the money” for Ukraine. “We got a guarantee that Hungary’s money can’t end up in Ukraine,” he added.

The Hungarian leader also said he is happy the markets reacted positively to the deal.

Mission accomplished. Hungary’s funds will not end up in Ukraine and we have a control mechanism at the end of the first and the second year. Our position on the war in Ukraine remains unchanged: we need a ceasefire and peace talks. pic.twitter.com/vui5NxPzGw

— Orbán Viktor (@PM_ViktorOrban) February 1, 2024

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Watch the Guardian’s Brussels correspondent, Lisa O’Carroll, ask the European parliament president, Roberta Metsola, about the summit’s deal.

European parliament president welcomes deal with Orban to release aid to Ukraine – video

Lorenzo Tondo

Lorenzo Tondo

Hungary’s Viktor Orbán is increasingly isolated within the EU. But Hungarian leader sees the Italy’s prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, as a friendly colleague, and is also exploring joining the European Conservatives and Reformists party, which she leads.

Nevertheless, the two don’t see eye to eye on all issues, and in recent days a new issue has sparked tension between Budapest and Rome.

An Italian teacher and antifascist activist, who was brought to court in chains in Hungary for allegedly attacking neo-Nazis and whose case has sparked a row and protest in Italy, has written a letter denouncing the degrading conditions in which she is being held in prison.

Images of Ilaria Salis, 39, with her hands cuffed and chained, and her feet locked together as she sat in court, made the front pages of Italy’s major newspapers, amid growing outrage over her case, with Italian ministers summoning Budapest’s ambassador.

The teacher from Monza, near Milan, was arrested in Budapest in February last year after a counter-demonstration against a neo-Nazi rally.

“For a total of one month, divided into three periods, I have been in cells that measure less than 7 sq metres, excluding the bathroom,” Ilaria wrote in a letter in October, first published on Wednesday by the TV broadcaster La7.

“You spend 23 hours out of 24 in a completely closed cell … Besides the bedbugs, the cells and corridors are full of cockroaches and mice.”

She said that she was supposed to undergo a medical examination last March for a breast ultrasound, as she allegedly has a lump.

“Only in mid-June did they finally take me to a clinic where they performed an ultrasound and mammogram … But I have not received any written report, which has instead been delivered to the prison doctor, who refuses to hand it over to my lawyer.”

The Hungarian government defended its treatment of the Italian antifascist activist on Wednesday.

Meloni, leader of the post-fascist Brothers of Italy party, has been close to Hungary’s nationalist premier.

However, they have diverged over Ukraine, with Rome sending money and weapons to Kyiv to help defend against Russia’s invasion.

According to government sources, Meloni reportedly raised the woman’s case with Orbán in a phone call on Monday.

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Zelenskiy ‘grateful’ for financial aid but calls for more military assistance

Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the Ukrainian president, said he is grateful to EU leaders for their deal on long-term financial assistance to Kyiv – but also urged them to step up on military aid.

In a video address to leaders gathered in Brussels, the Ukrainian leader said the decision on €50bn in aid “is a clear signal that Ukraine will withstand and that Europe will withstand”.

But he also added:

Unfortunately, the implementation of the European plan to supply 1m artillery shells to Ukraine is being delayed.

And this too is a signal of global competition, in which Europe cannot afford to lose.​

And that’s why today your unity is so needed in creating the Ukraine Assistance Fund within our European Peace Facility.​

This is the kind of reliability and long-term support which we now have to set against the corresponding challenges. Not less than €5bn a year, for a term of four years. A clear priority.

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‘Bad signal’: Belgian PM speaks out against farmers’ toppling of statue

Alexander De Croo, the Belgian prime minister, has criticised protesting farmers’ move to topple a statue in Brussels today.

Démonter la statue de John Cockerill, figure emblématique de l’industrie belge, est un mauvais signal. Arrêtons d’opposer agriculture et industrie. Agriculteurs et industriels peuvent s’entendre. Nous avons besoin des deux secteurs pour viser une économie forte et durable.

— Alexander De Croo 🇧🇪🇪🇺 (@alexanderdecroo) February 1, 2024

Metsola welcomes deal on Ukraine funding

Roberta Metsola, the European parliament president, welcomed today’s deal on financial support for Ukraine.

“This is good news … Ukraine is our priority,” the president said, adding that the agreement would “give the credibility, the legitimacy, and the predictability that is expected from us”.

When it comes to the EU budget, Metsola said:

We will still need to scrutinise the details of this deal.

The parliament has been very clear in its priorities and its position that we need to live up to our promises, to boost our competitiveness and to be credible for our citizens.

As we understand, the agreement that was reached includes a modest increase in funding for migration management and for natural disasters, but in reality it also pulls money out of programs that our citizens depend on and which member states agreed on, a few years ago.

With the European elections in sight – and this was one of the points I made with the heads of state and government – we should boost, and not reduce, our funding for heath, EU4Health for example, and research such as Horizon.

Metsola said she also discussed the situation in the Middle East with the EU’s leaders.

“It is possible to break the cycle of history, a two-state solution can offer security to Israel and a perspective for the Palestinian people,” she said.

The parliament president also stressed that “2024 will be a massive year for democracy.”

President of the European parliament, Roberta Metsola, speaks during a press conference. Photograph: Johanna Geron/Reuters

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Lisa O'Carroll

Lisa O’Carroll

More insider information on what went on inside the room where Hungary’s Viktor Orbán finally caved into pressure over the €50bn Ukraine fund.

Asked if any of the leaders threatened the Hungarian leader with repercussions, given the talk about either stripping him of voting rights or undermining the Hungarian economy, a source said:

I don’t think they had to make a big threat, but the last few weeks have shown a great deal of unity among the 26. So I don’t think that the biggest threatening gesture that was made at the weekend [sabotaging the economy] made sense. But it was clear that he was very much on his own.

Sources say they had the impression that Orbán knew the game was up this morning.

“He wasn’t angry or anything, but he already knew,” said the insider who says the agreement would give him the domestic story he wants to claim a victory.

Deal ‘step of historic proportions’, Ukrainian minister says

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, has said that today’s EU agreement on €50bn for Kyiv “is a step of historic proportions”.

“It demonstrates that any talk about alleged ‘fatigue’ or ‘waning support’ is simply false,” the minister said, adding:

Europe has once again demonstrated its strength and ability to make major decisions independent of others. The EU is leading the way and setting an example for the rest of the world to follow.

I am grateful to #EUCO for approving the decision to establish the €50 billion Ukraine Facility in 2024-2027.

This is a step of historic proportions. It demonstrates that any talk about alleged “fatigue” or “waning support” is simply false.

Europe has once again demonstrated…

— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) February 1, 2024

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Orbán goes quiet

While Viktor Orbán was at the centre of attention this morning, he has yet to publicly react to the deal on funding for Ukraine – he has yet to speak to the press or post anything on social media, even as other EU leaders celebrate the agreement.

‘He got nothing’

Lisa O'Carroll

Lisa O’Carroll

Did Viktor Orbán get a compromise before agreeing the deal this morning?

No, say delegates with some of the key member states involved in the negotiation this morning.

“He got nothing,” said one.

Or, as another said: “He just didn’t see any more options. He cashed in.”

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