EU Finance Chiefs Grapple With Economic Fallout From Attack | Business News

BRUSSELS (AP) — After the political outrage against Russia comes the economic reckoning.

Finance ministers of the 19 countries that use the euro gathered Friday in Paris to weigh the economic fallout of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the resulting European Union sanctions. The EU, and allies like the US, are trying to starve Russia of international capital and key industrial technologies.

The finance talks will be “devoted exclusively to the Ukrainian question, to the economic consequences and to what we can do to protect our economies,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told reporters in televised remarks.

At an emergency meeting Thursday evening, EU government heads approved new penalties that aim to make Russian President Vladimir Putin pay a hefty price for an invasion that has rattled the post-Cold War security order. The sanctions will be finalized and submitted for approval to the EU foreign ministers Friday.

They target Russia’s financial, oil and transport industries and cover goods with both military and civilian uses. Like the US, the measures stop short of excluding Russia from the SWIFT international payments system — a move Ukraine demanded but some EU countries, including Germany, resisted.

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While the EU’s 27 national leaders said the sanctions would “impose massive and severe consequences on Russia for its action,” some acknowledged pain would also be felt in Europe.

“All these measures are going to be expensive, also for us,” Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said Thursday. “But peace also has a price.”

The EU faces considerable costs because of close economic ties with Russia, particularly the bloc’s imports of Russian energy.

BusinessEurope, which represents a range of EU-based companies, appealed to European authorities for “supporting measures” to ease the impact of the new sanctions against Russia.

“European businesses will be bearing the burden, including companies trading and operating in Russia,” the Brussels-based group said.

The EU is going beyond more targeted economic penalties introduced in 2014 after the Kremlin annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea and began supporting separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. Russia retaliated at the time by banning imports of farm goods from the EU.

While those curbs by each side remain in place, trade in goods between the EU and Russia is still sizable. It totaled more than 174 billion euros ($195 billion) in 2020, making Russia the EU’s fifth-biggest trade partner and the bloc the largest Russian commercial ally, according to the European Commission.

Of the roughly 95 billion euros in EU imports from Russia in 2020, when the economy slumped during the COVID-19 pandemic, around 67 billion euros — or 71% — were petroleum products.

Even before the invasion, Europe was facing economic difficulty.

Euro-area inflation hit a record 5.1% in January, fueled by surging energy prices. The European economy has also entered a soft patch, reflecting other factors including the omicron variant of COVID-19 and a shortage of semiconductors that are used in everything from cars to game consoles.

This combination poses a tricky test for policymakers as they seek to protect consumers from rising prices and keep stimulating business activity.

Two weeks ago, the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, predicted that economic growth in the euro zone will slow from 5.3% last year to 4% this year and 2.7% in 2023.

Paolo Gentiloni, the European commissioner for economy, signaled Friday that those forecasts may already be out of date.

“We will pay a price economically for this war,” Gentiloni said in Paris.

While European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the new EU sanctions would “gradually erode Russia’s industrial base,” including by hindering the country’s ability to refine oil, she highlighted the bloc’s reliance on Russian fossil fuels and urged speedier development across Europe of renewable energy .

“This will be our new strategy we have to intensify,” she said in Brussels early Friday.

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