PARIS (Reuters) – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will dominate the agenda of planned European Union finance ministers’ talks on Friday and Saturday, officials said, as the EU will try to assess how much the war on its border will hit the economy of the 27-nation bloc this year.
“The Russian aggression will definitely feature prominently in tomorrow’s discussions and the main focus for all finance ministers will be to assess the economic consequences of the escalation as it evolves,” an EU official said.
The finance ministers will discuss the impact of the invasion as well as painful EU sanctions on Russia that were to be decided by European leaders on Thursday evening and potential Russian counter-sanctions.
Before the invasion, the ministers were to discuss economic recovery after the pandemic, changes to their fiscal rules and speeding up the development of the bloc’s capital markets.
“The focus has shifted now,” a second official said.
“Ukraine will be the dominant topic on Friday’s and Saturday’s agenda. Finance ministers will discuss the economic outlook for Europe, but the EU Commission’s winter forecast is rather obsolete now,” the official said.
The European Commission forecast earlier in February that economic growth in the 19 countries sharing the euro would be 4.0% this year, less than the 4.3% expected last November, because of another wave of COVID-19 infections, supply chain bottlenecks and record high inflation caused by energy prices.
But the war in Ukraine creates a new risk factor for the economy, not only because many EU exporters will no longer be able to sell their goods to Russia under the sanctions regime, but also because Moscow may retaliate by curbing gas and oil deliveries to Europe. Russia is the EU’s main energy supplier.
European Economic Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said before the full-scale Russian invasion that developments in Ukraine made the 4.0% growth forecast more uncertain.
Over the last year, Russia has not raised spot gas deliveries to Europe despite soaring demand, which helped boost energy prices and euro zone inflation to record highs. Fast price growth has become a political problem for EU governments.
(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski and Christian Kraemer; Editing by Alex Richardson)