The EU has warned that severe food shortages could trigger a major migration wave into Europe from Africa and the Middle East, a risk also highlighted by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during his speech to the two-day summit Monday. The EU’s plan is not final, and details will be discussed by the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has accused President Vladimir Putin of using “hunger and grain to wield power,” decrying Russia’s bombing of grain warehouses, blockading Ukrainian grain ships and preventing wheat from leaving ports in the Black Sea. About three-quarters of Ukrainian harvests are typically sold abroad, and it’s a key exporter to Africa, Asia and the Middle East as well as Europe.
The sum being considered by the EU, which could involve both loans and grants, would be enough to buy about 1.3 million tons of wheat, a tiny fraction of the more than 50 million tons of the grain Africa imports a year. Egypt is the world’s largest wheat importer, where millions of people depend on subsidized bread, and rising food costs were a key trigger for the Arab Spring about a decade ago.
EU leaders will reiterate their commitment “to keep global trade in food commodities free of unjustified trade barriers, enhance solidarity toward the most vulnerable countries and increase local sustainable food production so as to reduce structural dependencies,” according to a draft statement seen by Bloomberg News.
European Council president Charles Michel is planning to meet with United Nations chief Antonio Guterres next week to explore how to export the grain via sea routes. The issue was also at the center of a meeting between Germany’s Olaf Scholz, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Italy’s Mario Draghi Monday.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said earlier Tuesday that various land corridors are being considered through Romania and Bulgaria to the Black Sea coast, as well as through Poland and to Baltic states, but that the most efficient way would be to open the Black Sea ports.
But that poses “a lot of difficulties,” Borrell said, including a need to clear waters of mines and the mobilization of naval militaries to protect the grain ships. He said the EU would consider this if there was a framework agreement at U.N. level.