Munich Security Conference – Day #3

EU's chief diplomat Josep Borrell during the Munich Security Conference 2020. Minich, Germany, 16 February 2020. [MSC]

As high-ranking security leaders gathered in Bavaria for the annual Munich Security Conference this weekend, EURACTIV gives you a glimpse into what is driving the conversation on foreign, defence and security policy. Here’s Day 3 in a nutshell.

This is the final version of our Munich update. In case you missed our previous editions, here are roundups for Day 1 and Day 2.


‘APPETITE FOR POWER’. It seemed as if the ghost of French President Emmanuel Macron’s remarks from a day earlier was still lingering in the conference venue on the final day, which saw primarily debates about the direction the EU should take in the future.

EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell warned that EU governments need to be willing to intervene in international crises or risk prolonging paralysis in their foreign policy.

The new EU leadership in Brussels has launched a flurry of diplomatic actions since January, particularly on the Middle East. But efforts to revive a maritime mission off Libya to uphold a UN arms embargo have run into difficulties, the bloc is struggling to influence the situation between Iran and the US, and remains divided over how to react to Donald Trump’s controversial Middle East peace plan.

“Europe must develop an appetite for power,” Borrell said in Munich, in comments which do not necessarily refer only to military power. “We should be able to act … not every day making comments, expressing concern.”

Estonia’s President Kersti Kaljulaid was quick to question Borrell’s remarks: “Where is this power coming from?” she asked.

Translation of the debate: We need to abolish unanimity in EU foreign policy-making. Over to you, Conference on the future of Europe.

EU PRESIDENCY SPEAKS. Europe should reach a new consensus on how to protect its citizens and that consensus should be based on the rule of law, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković told the Munich audience.

Plenković said the EU had fallen short in addressing the 2015 migration crisis of 2015 as “diverging views hampered our ability to meet our citizens’ expectations.”

“Looking ahead, I think we need to remind ourselves of our common objective, making our citizens feel safe … to be a step ahead of others in facing and pre-empting traditional and new security threats, ” he added.

He also said he was satisfied that France’s position on EU enlargement had “evolved” and the prospect of the EU launching accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania was improving.

“I do not expect France to block the opening of talks now that the methodology has been changed,” he told reporters.

#UK-LESSNESS. It took until the very last panels at lunchtime on Sunday for a British official to appear on stage in Munich. Somewhat ironically, Sir Mark Sedwill, the UK’s national security adviser, spoke on a panel on the future of Europe’s foreign policy.

“It’s great you’re here but it would have been even greater if others from your government were present,” the moderator quipped.

Britain’s absence sparked concerns among allies. US Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, said she “hopes it’s not an indication of their commitment to multilateralism.”

Britain’s absence sparked concerns among allies. US Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi said she “hopes it’s not an indication of their commitment to multilateralism.”

GERMAN HEADACHES. European diplomats were also on the lookout for the first hints as to who might be in the pole position to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Merkel had to watch from Berlin as one of the contenders in the race to succeed her called her out on her slow response to Macron’s EU reform shout-outs. A day earlier, Macron said he was “impatient” with Germany’s reluctance to take up his offer to cooperate on implementing EU reforms.

Armin Laschet, co-vice-chair of Germany’s ruling Christian Democrats (CDU), said on Sunday he “would like to apologise” for the German government’s failure to live up to the promise pencilled in its 2018 agreement to create a “fresh start” for Europe.

Eyeing Germany’s six-month EU presidency starting in July, Laschet said there was an opportunity for “a new momentum” on European issues.

German defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, initially tipped as Merkel’s successor, had to watch from the audience as Laschet positioned himself as a strongly pro-EU candidate, scoring points by calling on the EU to “speak with one voice”.

“In a bi-polar world, Europe will only play a role when we overcome our nation-state thinking,” Laschet said, adding that it would be “an absurd idea that 27 member states alone can fight international terrorism or drug trafficking”.

Laschet, of course, refused to confirm that he an eye on Merkel’s job.

A former member of the European Parliament and a long-serving German politician, he is largely seen as a compromise figure between the CDU’s more conservative and centrist factions and bookmakers give him good chances.

LIBYA PEACE EFFORTS. A month after the Berlin Libya conference, participants at follow-up talks on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference on Sunday reaffirmed their commitment to secure the ceasefire. The meeting was the first follow-up as part of the Berlin process organised by the German government together with the United Nations, to keep up pressure to cut off outside military support for the warring parties.

Nevertheless, there had been little room for optimism. UN deputy envoy for Libya, Stephanie Williams, said the truce in Libya is hanging by a thread and the economic situation is deteriorating.

“The arms embargo has become a joke,” she told reporters. “It’s complicated because there are violations by land, sea and air, but it needs to be monitored and there needs to be accountability.”

EU foreign ministers, meanwhile, are set to meet in Brussels on Monday (17 February) to reach a decision on the European contribution and on whether and how to have naval ships enforce the UN arms embargo.

MIDDLE EAST PEACE. The topic was left for the very end of the conference, long after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s delegation left.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh lashed out at US President Donald Trump’s proposal for ending the Mideast conflict, saying it would be “buried very soon” as the US proposal was “no more than a memo of understanding between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump.”

However, he said there was a “slim chance” for a resumption of negotiations if Benny Gantz, the main opposition challenger in the Israeli vote on 2 March, defeated Netanyahu.

“We are open to serious negotiations,” Shtayyeh said. “If Gantz is serious about moving things forward, there is a chance. There is a slim chance for him to say ‘I am ready to respect what had been presented to us’.”

SHADOW PRESIDENT. “Our Congressional delegation came to the 2020 Munich Security Conference to deliver the message that the US commitment to NATO and the transatlantic alliance is ironclad,” Nancy Pelosi told reporters before she took her leave.

“Hearing her speak about multilateralism and her clear vision for transatlantic relations, one could easily forget that there’s someone sitting in the White House who does not really care about what happens in everyday Europe,” a European diplomat told EURACTIV.

After Munich, the bipartisan Congressional delegation heads to Brussels for talks at NATO headquarters with the European Commission and European Council President Charles Michel.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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