Can the EU remain a united union?
It will be interesting to note if the European Union’s summit in Brussels on March 19 and 20, 2015, shows a genuine union of like minds or a union under stress, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.
The north-south financial and economic tensions in the eurozone will challenge European leaders, especially those from the eurozone. UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and leaders from some of the countries not using the euro, may watch an unfriendly meeting between German and Greek delegates from a somewhat more relaxed perspective.
There could be some fireworks or worse for European cohesion with the Greek bailout issue raising the thorny transfer problems back to the table.
The more important topic will be extending the sanctions against Russia. This will be a test case for unity in foreign and security policy. The current sanctions were introduced in July 2014 for one year. They expire in July 2015.
There are different camps on this. The UK and countries strongly exposed to Russia, such as Poland and the Baltics, favour more sanctions. Other countries, either with strong trading ties with Russia, such as Austria and maybe Slovakia, are likely to favour milder sanctions. This is also true for those countries further from Russia, such as Spain, which feel less threatened.
France and Germany, which feel responsible for the Minsk ceasefire, may want to link sanctions to the effectiveness of the ceasefire. This would mean continuing sanctions at least until Ukraine is in control of its border with Russia, including the Donbass. Minsk expects this by no later than the end of 2015.
Respecting the Minsk ceasefire is the more important for Germany, as Germany opposes arming Ukraine. Germany believes the economic sanctions are a sufficiently strong weapon.
The differing positions on sanctions, exacerbated by existing eurozone tensions, could allow Russia to disrupt European unity and try to weaken European-American relations further. This could be a logical step from Russia's point of view.
Only a clear, united and strong European policy can secure a long-term, peaceful framework for relations with Russia - relations based on mutual respect.
This week’s summit will be a test case for Europe's ability to act. It is important the summit succeeds in framing a common, robust policy.