Good morning and welcome to Europe Express.

Today’s EU leaders’ summit could be a long one, after France and Germany torpedoed what was meant to be a relatively uneventful meeting with demands to revive talks with Vladimir Putin. EU ambassadors spent the late evening trying to thrash out a way forward after a host of countries objected to being bounced into potentially holding summits with the Russian president.

Hungary’s anti-LGBT+ law, migration and relations with Turkey will also keep leaders busy today alongside Covid-19 and a chat with UN secretary-general António Guterres.

Summitry aside, we will chart the fortunes of Poland’s embattled Civic Coalition, the political family of former European Council president Donald Tusk. Finally, North Macedonia’s naming dispute with Greece is back in the spotlight. We look at what it means for Skopje’s EU membership aspirations.

Today’s summer EU summit has been jolted to life by a Franco-German ploy to place relations with Russia front and centre of leaders’ minds, writes Mehreen Khan in Brussels.

The FT broke the news of an eleventh-hour attempt by Paris and Berlin to heighten the bloc’s engagement with Moscow — including the resumption of meetings with Vladimir Putin. The effort provoked anger among a host of member states and will make for a testy meeting in Brussels this afternoon.

The Franco-German intervention included a series of areas for the union to “selectively” engage with Russia and review “existing formats of dialogue”. The latter request hints at reinstating regular EU-level meetings with the Kremlin, which have been junked since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

The context for the surprise intervention was last week’s meeting between US president Joe Biden and Putin in Geneva. “If the Americans are taking the initiative to speak to Putin, why can’t Europe?” said one diplomat.

But the manner and timing of the Franco-German push — which was presented to EU ambassadors yesterday — sparked widespread dismay from countries in western Europe and those in Russia’s immediate neighbourhood, which were caught unaware. One EU diplomat said the surprise was designed to “bounce us into a rapprochement with Russia”.

Toomas Ilves, former Estonian president, lambasted the “arrogance and hubris” of the idea, saying: “Merkel and Macron are either clueless or have learnt nothing from 80 years of history and the nations betrayed by the Germans.”

The draft wording from Paris and Berlin was tabled hours after the Kremlin said it had fired warning shots at a British warship in the Black Sea near Crimea. The UK government denied the HMS Defender was targeted.

The task falls to Charles Michel, European Council president and summit chair, to prevent sensitivities over Russia from hijacking the gathering. Tensions were already set to run high as the Benelux countries are gearing up to confront Hungary’s Viktor Orban over a controversial anti-LGBT+ law. A handful of countries will also sign a joint letter condemning Budapest today.

EU diplomats met late last night to try to soothe tensions over Russia. Some cosmetic changes will be made to the draft text ahead of the summit, but the stickiest points — referring to possible meetings with Putin and areas for EU-Russia dialogue — will be left to leaders to sort out over dinner.

Defenders of the Russia entreaty said the Franco-German text condemned Moscow’s “malign” activities and threatened additional economic sanctions against parties guilty of “destabilising actions”.

“With a good night’s sleep, we can let bygones be bygones and look at this with fresh eyes,” said one diplomat, suggesting that despite initial fury, a compromise could be brokered.

The summit is also likely to be Angela Merkel’s last as chancellor of a sitting government before September’s federal elections. It may well be marked by a final, dramatic Franco-German gambit.

Line chart of Total waste (billion tons) showing EU waste is increasing steadily

The European Environment Agency has warned that the EU will miss its target of reducing waste generation. Mineral wastes from mining feature in big quantities, but other, more environmentally impactful waste streams have also increased, the agency said.

Not for the first time, Poland’s political circles are abuzz with speculation that Donald Tusk could be headed for a return to politics in his home country, writes James Shotter in Warsaw.

The former prime minister left Polish politics in 2014 to take up the position of president of the European Council. When his term ended in 2019, he became the president of the European People’s party, an umbrella grouping of centre-right parties that includes Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

In his absence, Civic Platform (PO), the centre-right party he co-founded and turned into Poland’s dominant political force, has stumbled from one defeat to another.

Even before Tusk left Poland, PO was beginning to look jaded. Its fortunes were further undermined by a scandal over recordings of comments made by some of its top MPs in swish Warsaw restaurants.

After Tusk’s departure, PO was beaten by the conservative-nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS) in parliamentary elections in 2015 and 2019 and narrowly lost a presidential election last year. Recent opinion polls have suggested that the new centrist Poland 2050 party could overtake it as the biggest opposition force.

The party has tried to regroup, joining forces with smaller allies in 2018. But there are some, particularly in PO’s old guard, who regard the immensely experienced Tusk as the only person who can revive it. Tusk, who led the party to election victories in 2007 and 2011, fuelled speculation earlier this month, saying in a TV interview that he was “prepared to do everything [to ensure] that PO is not consigned to history”.

Yet his return would not be straightforward. A younger generation, headed by figures such as Rafal Trzaskowski, the Warsaw mayor who came a close second in last year’s presidential poll, has its own ambitions and is likely to want a big say in the party’s future.

“The key to a successful return for Tusk is finding a compromise between him and Rafal Trzaskowski,” said one Civic Platform MP. A spokesperson for the EPP could not be reached for comment.

The broader question is whether Tusk’s return would solve his party’s woes, said Aleks Szczerbiak, professor of politics at the University of Sussex.

“PO might get a short-term boost from Tusk coming back because he does rally the anti-PiS vote. He has quite an appeal to that camp,” he said. “But he also puts off people.”

The decades-long naming spat between Greece and its neighbour — now known as North Macedonia — is back and reaching fever pitch during the Uefa Euro 2020 championship, writes Eleni Varvitsioti in Athens.

“Today, from the stadium in Amsterdam, I offer my strong support to the Macedonian national football team”, North Macedonian prime minister Zoran Zaev wrote on Twitter on Monday.

Greek officials seized on Zaev omitting the qualifier “North”. A Greek government spokesperson demanded “the full implementation of the Prespes agreement and its spirit”, a reference to the 2018 deal that ended the three-decade-long naming dispute.

“We call on Mr Zaev to refrain from the divisive rhetoric, especially in such a sensitive issue as football,” the spokesperson said.

The diplomatic spat has off-the-pitch consequences: three co-operation memoranda between Greece and North Macedonia were expected to be ratified by the Greek parliament in the coming weeks, but Athens is stalling on the vote as a warning to Zaev that he must follow the agreement to the letter.

Adding to the injury, Skopje this week made no progress on getting EU accession talks formally started because of another bilateral dispute, this time with neighbour Bulgaria. Sofia has refused to lift its veto on the start of talks over unresolved issues related to history, identity and language.

A Greek spokesperson added that its neighbour’s accession to the EU hinged on “implementing the agreement in good faith”.