Global Europe Brief: 100 days of crisis

Welcome to EURACTIV’s Global Europe Brief, your weekly update on the EU in the global perspective from our foreign affairs news team: Georgi Gotev and Alexandra Brzozowski.

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IMAGE OF THE WEEK | European Council President Charles Michel chairs the first-ever summit teleconference call with European leaders on Coronavirus, COVID-19, in  Brussels, Belgium, 10 March 2020. [EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ]

EU IN THE WORLD

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE. Europe’s coronavirus epidemic denial has come to a sudden end: Italy faces an unprecedented shut-down and other countries are anxiously preparing for their own potential quarantine measures. The World Health Organisation has declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. To combat it in Europe, Brussels is relying on an intensified exchange of information, flexibility on government deficits and the pledge of €25 billion to weather coronavirus economic impact. However, many suggest it is too little, too late. Europe’s failure to respond truly to Italy’s plea for help is one thing. The other is, what happens if other countries get into the same position? As yet another European crisis is looming, solidarity is, once again, in short supply.

Numbers suggest that other European countries are only a few days away from a similar fate – a piece of information which, if used wisely, could buy the national health care systems precious time to prepare.

To stay up-to-date on everything to do with the coronavirus across the capitals, feel free to check out EURACTIV’s comprehensive overview, which is regularly updated with the help of our network of offices and media partners.

TRAVEL BAN. EU’s top officials condemned US President Trump’s Europe travel ban from the EU’s Schengen area to the US due to the coronavirus crisis, saying the decision was “taken unilaterally and without consultation.” On both sides of the Atlantic, the consequences of Trump’s decision to ban most travel from Europe began to be felt economically, politically and socially.
Europe’s airlines – already reeling from the coronavirus outbreak – are expected to be hard hit by Trump’s 11 March ban on flights from the Schengen area.

TURKEY STANDOFF. A day before Erdoğan first sent migrants at the Greek-Turkish border on 29 February, Turkish foreign minister Cavusoglu had assured Brussels that Ankara would not open its borders with Greece. But after the crisis escalated and brought the bloc back in migration crisis mode, the EU said Turkey must stick to its recent “clear” commitment and stop undermining chances to sort out the ongoing crisis with Brussels by threatening to keep borders open for migrants. As the situation at the Greek border gets remains tense, Brussels now has warned Erdogan not to hinder efforts to solve the current EU-Turkey crisis.

SYRIAN AID. The EU is willing to provide more money for migrants stranded in Turkey, but Ankara must refrain from using them as a bargaining chip, the bloc’s foreign ministers announced after an extraordinary meeting about the crisis in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province in Zagreb end of last week. Beyond “serious concern” over the situation at the Greek-Turkish border they announced a batch of humanitarian aid and the EU will host a Syria donor conference in Brussels in June to raise funds for victims of the nine-year war and surrounding countries.

100 DAYS. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen may have hoped to be an architect during her first 100 days as head of the EU’s executive. Circumstances however turned her into a firefighter dealing with too many fires at the same time, writes EURACTIV’s Jorge Valero in his sum-up of von der Leyen’s lacklustre 100 days.

‘PARTNERSHIP PLANS’. Partnerships on ten policy areas are at the heart of the EU’s plan “Towards a comprehensive strategy with Africa,” which will start a seven-month negotiating process with EU and African leaders, with a view to agreeing a partnership agenda at an EU African Union summit in October. However, there is renewed interest in Africa from other international players, and there is no guarantee that the EU will achieve the influence it desires with its southern neighbours, EURACTIV’s Benjamin Fox explains in this video report.

GERMAN PRESIDENCY. Germany could play a pivotal role in changing the EU’s relations with China and might even force the exclusion of Huawei from the planned 5G expansion across the EU, EURACTIV Germany’s Phillip Grüll reports.

DEFENCE CORNER

MILITARY MOBILITY. Europe’s budget battles continue: Eastern Europeans called on the EU to provide more funds to enable faster military movement across Europe, a cooperation flagship with NATO, after the initiative was erased in the latest MFF budget non-paper in February. The push comes two weeks before the bloc starts a new round of divisive talks over the next seven-year budget.

EU NUCLEAR VIEWS. With evolving technology and changing military doctrines, arms control and nuclear weapons control deserves serious attention once again, but it is “increasingly difficult to come to any agreement among the critical players” in the world, MEP Sven Mikser told EURACTIV in an interview, speaking about the NPT Treaty, European arms control initiatives and the Iran nuclear deal.

With the 50th anniversary of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in March, the United Nations is preparing to review the accord amid growing signs that divisions and distrust are rife among countries that possess nuclear arsenals. After the INF Treaty collapsed in 2019 and with several other accords in jeopardy or set to expire, disarmament experts have called for an “urgent response”, including from the Europeans, who had largely looked on during its demise.

CANCELLED EXERCISES. Norway had cancelled its major military exercise in Europe, dubbed ‘Cold Response’, over coronavirus concerns as a “precautionary measure”, while Washington is considering reduced US troop involvement in Europe’s war games, ‘Defender Europe 2020’, amid the spread of the virus outbreak. “The virus is out of control in the society, and that’s a new situation. Therefore, we have decided to start a controlled cancelling of the exercise,” said Lt. Gen. Rune Jakobsen, Commander at the Norwegian Joint Headquarter, adding that military personnel should not contribute to a further spread of the virus.

EURASIA DIGEST

ARCTIC STRATEGY. Thirteen years after a Russian-led polar expedition planted the country’s flag on the Arctic Ocean sea bed directly under the North Pole, Moscow published its 15-year Arctic masterplan, confirming its growing appetite for the polar region. By 2035, Russia intends to build at least 40 Arctic vessels, upgrade four regional airports, construct railways and seaports and facilitate massive exploitation of Arctic natural resources.

WTO CRISIS. Kazakhstan is suspending all public events and taking special preventive measures due to the global spread of the coronavirus. This also included the 12 June Ministerial Conference of WTO which was expected to take place in Nur-Sultan. The international community and the EU in particular had put high hopes in the WTO ministerial, held at a time of crisis for this organisation, writes Georgi Gotev.

MH17 TRIAL. The first hearing in the trial of four fugitive suspects in the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was set to start in Amsterdam this week, more than five years after the plane was downed in Ukraine.

TURNING POINT. European parliamentarians hailed the political agreement between Georgia’s ruling and opposition parties that promises to resolve the electoral reform conflict that has resulted in a series of protests across the country, reports EURACTIV’s Vlagyiszlav Makszimov.

US ELECTION WATCH

It’s 236 days until the US Presidential election and with Michael Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren dropping out of the Democratic primaries, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are the only Democrats front-runners left in the race.

What to watch and why it matters: Biden rolled to commanding victories in pivotal Michigan and two other states this week, dealing a stinging blow to Bernie Sanders’ fading White House bid. Now it’s all about the VP pick.

‘WORLDS APART’. Although Americans and Germans think transatlantic relations are in slightly better shape than last year, stark differences remain when it comes to defence spending and big power competition, a fresh poll by the Pew Research Center showed. With Donald Trump in the White House, relations between the two countries have cooled significantly, amid growing differences that are preventing Berlin and Washington from aligning on global issues, especially compared to the years under Trump’s Democrat predecessor Barack Obama.

WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING 

ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT DAYS…

Everything and nothing with lots of cancellations and rescheduled events…
Keep an eye on your own mailbox and EURACTIV’s comprehensive overview with all coronavirus-related updates, which also includes a calendar of event cancellations around the globe.

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