BRUSSELS – European Union leaders will hold a face-to-face summit in Brussels on May 25 to discuss the coronavirus crisis, the battle against climate change and tensions with Russia, a spokesman said.
Several recent EU gatherings have been held by videoconference as a Covid-19 safety measure, but a spokesman for European Council president Charles Michel said next month’s summit would be in person.
Officials have expressed frustration that decision-making is slowed at video summits, where leaders can not meet in smaller huddles on the sidelines and there are privacy concerns.
Next month’s summit was called just as European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced that, after a slow start, the bloc’s coronavirus vaccine program is getting up to speed.
Brussels now expects to have secured enough vaccine doses to immunize 70 percent of the adult population by the end of July, and is now negotiating contracts for second generation jabs to guard against future variants.
The leaders will also address climate change after agreement between the Commission, MEPs and national leaders on binding legislation or emissions cutting targets.
Relations with Moscow are also on the agenda after a Russian troop build-up in occupied Crimea and on Ukraine’s borders sparked concern and a report that Russian agents triggered a 2014 explosion in a Czech arsenal which fueled tensions with Prague.
The Czech Republic has expelled several Russian diplomats in response and some fellow EU members have followed suit in solidarity — but the response has not been coordinated across the bloc.
Separately, Michel and the White House announced that US President Joe Biden would meet Brussels’ top officials at a summit in June during his first European tour since his election.