Russia situation shows need for EU defence union
The EU has extended sanctions against Moscow, but president of the European parliament's Liberal grouping Guy Verhofstadt is calling for further action.
On Monday, the council of foreign ministers extended the EU's economic sanctions, which were levelled against Russia in response to the country's destabilising role in eastern Ukraine. The sanctions, first introduced in July last year, will now run until 31 January 2016.
The restrictive measures target "certain exchanges with Russia in the financial, energy and defence sectors and dual-use goods" and the council in March decided to link their duration to the complete implementation of the Minsk agreements.
These agreements to alleviate the ongoing war in the Donbass region of Ukraine were reached in Minsk in February and are expected to be completed by the close of 2015.
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Verhofstadt welcomed the extension, but said, "First, Europe should speed up its defence cooperation. We need a European defence union with European integrated military forces."
"Second, we should make it very clear that we are not in a dispute with the Russian people, but in a dispute with [Russian president Vladimir] Putin. To strengthen our relationship with the Russian citizens, we should strengthen our cooperation in the field of art, student exchange programmes and visa cooperation."
Fellow Belgian Liberal MEP Hilde Vautmans added her voice to Verhofstadt's, saying, "Due to the changed security environment and budgetary restraints of EU member states, it's necessary for the European council steps up its efforts and create a real European defence strategy.
"Until now the European council has made little progress; we call on the president of the council [Donald Tusk] to show courage and move forward. The European Union needs a European defence union to strengthen Nato."
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