Dublin Airport chaos a talking point among Eurocrats at EU summit

Leaders discuss new world order, while elsewhere there is chatter about the state of the continent’s airports

Taoiseach Micheál Martin arrived in the EU capital on Monday afternoon, fairly racking up the air miles. In the last week he has zipped from Dublin to Davos and back again, and then on to Beirut before Brussels, via Istanbul.

First Martin dropped in on the plutocrats at the Swiss mountain resort on Thursday, the gathering of the global elite taking place for the first time in more than two years. There was no US president, no Russians and not even Bono this time — though Leo Varadkar was there, as Martin was no doubt delighted to see.

Saturday, and he was on to Lebanon, where he met Irish soldiers serving with the UN peacekeeping forces in the region. The Taoiseach, who was accompanied by Minister for Defence Simon Coveney and Army chief of staff Gen Seán Clancy, used the opportunity to reiterate the Government’s intention to significantly increase spending on defence in the next budgetary round. Photos with men in uniforms are not things politicians tend to avoid, and they proliferated.

The message about increased military spending is one that finds favour in Brussels these days, where EU member states all agree that they will have to upgrade their military capacity to counter the new threat from Russia. The invasion of Ukraine has changed the EU drastically: it’s hard to overestimate the extent to which the war has remade the mood here, especially among its central and eastern European members. The fallout from the invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing conflict there dominated the two-day summit, which saw EU leaders agree a sixth package of sanctions against Russia, banning the importation of most Russian oil, with some exceptions for oil directly imported through pipelines.


As is frequently the case, the holdouts against the deal were led by the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, the authoritarian who many in Brussels regard as a thorn in the EU’s side, an affront to its values and a barrier to the further co-operation and integration with which they want to counter the threats of a suddenly more dangerous world.

When Orban arrived at the summit, he posted a photo of himself addressing the phalanx of journalists that greets all the heads of government on the long red carpet that leads to the summit venue. “Brussels: battle begins!” bellowed the caption. It’s always a battle between Orban and the rest. President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen expressed little confidence that a deal could be done, but her crystal ball was a bit murky.

Having a politician’s ability to read a room, Orban did not try to block the deal outright, satisfying himself with carve-outs that will ensure Hungary is not left high and dry without Russian oil. The sixth wave of sanctions will “hit Russia”, the Taoiseach said on his way into the venue on the morning after the deal was reached. A few minutes earlier, Latvian prime minister Krisjanis Karins provided a more comprehensive summary.

“Two-thirds of the money we send to Russia will no longer be sent,” he said. “All the member states are determined to move away from Russian energy dependency.”

Russia, he said, would face “sanction after sanction after sanction, ever tighter, ever tighter”.

Elsewhere around the summit, the chatter was about the chaos at many of the continent’s airports, as facilities try desperately to catch up with demand after the long furlough of the pandemic. Ireland is proudly leading the way in this regard, with Dublin Airport’s horror stories outdoing the competitors by some distance, according to anecdotes, at least.

But Brussels is doing its bit too — after their travails in Dublin on Monday morning, passengers were greeted with a 45-minute queue for passport control when they arrived in Belgium. On Tuesday a public transport strike in Brussels crippled the capital. Inside the summit, EU leaders discussed geopolitics and the new world order; the threat of widespread hunger and even famine across the Middle East and Africa is now suddenly, undeniably real. Outside the vast marble and glass fortress of the Justus Lipsius building, the citizens of Europe scrambled for scarce taxis.