Global Europe Brief: Another US exit in sight

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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Washington’s announcement of plans to reduce the contingent of US troops in Germany by 9,500 troops has drawn criticism from the host country and taken NATO allies by surprise.

It is the latest in a series of US military decisions that have caught allies off-guard in recent months, including the US troop withdrawal from Northern Syria and the targeted killing of an Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani, which forced NATO to suspend its training mission in Iraq earlier this year.

At the same time, Poland has been quick to offer to host some of these forces.

Official communication coming from Berlin this week suggested that the US government might not have sought close consultations with Germany on its withdrawal plans.

While Germany’s defence minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU), insisted on Tuesday (9 June) that the government cannot speculate on the reported US troop withdrawal from her country, as it has so far only seen the news report and not been officially notified, deputy government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday (10 June) that Berlin has been  “informed” about Washington’s intentions, but “there is no final decision yet.”

Tables turned quickly as outgoing US ambassador to Germany took centre stage once again.

“American taxpayers no longer feel like paying too much for the defence of other countries,”  said Richard Grenell, who earlier this month formally resigned as ambassador to join Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign.

“There will still be 25,000 soldiers in Germany, that’s no small number,” he added.

“No one should be surprised that Donald Trump is pulling troops and bringing them home. There has been a lot of discussion,” the outgoing ambassador said, adding that the withdrawal of troops was also discussed at the NATO summit in December.

According to Grenell, troops are also to be withdrawn from Japan and South Korea.

The announced move raised eyebrows in Germany, but also back in America, where Republican lawmakers expressed concern about a possible partial withdrawal.

“We believe that such steps would significantly damage the United States’ national security and strengthen Russia’s position to our detriment,” read a letter to Trump, signed by more than 20 Republican House Armed Forces Committee members.

Next week, NATO defence ministers are meeting to discuss another contentious topic,l the US withdrawal from the arms control Open Skies Treaty.

EU IN THE WORLD

RACE BLINDSPOTS. Thousands of people have taken to Europe’s streets not only to protest the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in the US but to denounce police brutality and structural racism, which is an issue on this side of the Atlantic as well. Police brutality and structural racism are a problem in Europe too.
In much of Europe, institutional racism is so deeply ingrained that millions of white people don’t even notice it. Those in much of provincial Europe could be forgiven for not seeing it. But we delude ourselves if we believe that our societies offer equal opportunities, writes EURACTIV’s Benjamin Fox.

CIVIL UNREST. Civil unrest has doubled in the past decade as citizens protest against issues ranging from economic hardship and police brutality to political instability, according to this year’s Global Peace Index. The COVID-19 pandemic could make things worse.

GRAND OPENING. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the closure of national borders across the EU with very limited exceptions, such as the “green corridors” for truck drivers. With pressure mounting to restart the tourism industry to rescue many countries’ aching economies, the EU will fully open internal borders by the end of June and begin lifting restrictions on travel to and from other countries in July, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said.

WTO RACE. A majority of EU member states support agreeing on a single European candidate to succeed Roberto Azevedo as the World Trade Organisation chief, a bid that EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan said he is considering. The deadline to submit candidates is open until 8 July, and the new WTO chief should take over in September. Member states will try to reach an agreement on a single name over the next two weeks.

DISINFORMATION QUEST. The European Commission has come out with an unambiguous message against China’s efforts to spread disinformation related to the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe. It is the first time the EU executive has publicly called out China for its role in spreading fake news.
Meanwhile, EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell said China may be a ‘systemic rival‘ to the EU, but it’s not a threat to world peace. “I understand that for China to be presented as a systemic rival is something that looked a little bit controversial. We talked a lot about it, words matter and sometimes they matter a lot,” he said in Brussels.
“China has a global ambition, but at the same time I don’t think that China is playing a role that can threaten the world peace,” he concluded.

RESHUFFLING CARDS. Italy and Greece reached a critical deal on demarcating Exclusive Economic Zones in the Mediterranean between them. Athens is now eyeing a similar deal with Egypt, in a move that will probably make the Mediterranean puzzle even more complex.

ARCTIC STRATEGY. Under the helm of the Finnish presidency last autumn, the EU’s new maritime and space policies made special reference to the Arctic region, and ministers agreed to update the EU’s Arctic policy strategy drafted in 2016. But the European Commission’s work programme for 2020 made no reference to plans to update the bloc’s stance on Arctic matters, in a setback for those hoping it would step up its engagement with the region. It’s work in progress, EU’s new Arctic Ambassador, Michael Mann, said.

NO BREAKTHROUGH. The stalemate on EU-UK trade talks remains unbroken, both sides conceded, with the EU again accusing London of attempting to backtrack on the commitments made in the Withdrawal Agreement that took the UK out of the bloc in January.

DEFENCE CORNER

MILITARY MOBILITY. Meanwhile, a cross-party group of 45 MEPs called on European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell and Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn to maintain the bloc’s ambition on military mobility in the next seven-year budget. Their call comes after the European Commission increased the total financial firepower of the EU budget to €1.85 trillion and reversed some of the more severe cuts in the future defence part of the budget.

CHINA, CHINA. While NATO  “does not see China as the new enemy”, it must be ready to face up to the country’s growing might, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said upon kick-starting the reflection process about the military alliance’s future. NATO‘s expert panel, created in response to the acrimonious 70th-anniversary meeting in December, is set to determine how to revive ‘brain dead’ alliance. According to Stoltenberg, NATO must work more closely with like-minded countries like Australia or Japan to preserve global rules and institutions, taking into account new security threats that are shifting the global balance of power.

NEW START? A US-Russian preliminary agreement to resume nuclear arms talks could become a historic opportunity for a safer world – but many question marks remain. With the only remaining nuclear arms control treaty between the two largest nuclear powers poised to expire in less than a year, the Washington and Moscow have agreed to start nuclear arms negotiations in June. China, which has not been part of agreements to limit nuclear arsenals in the past, has been invited to join.

ENLARGEMENT LATEST

BARRIERS GONE. Kosovo’s newly elected government has removed all trade barriers for goods produced in Serbia, paving the way for a resumption of talks with Belgrade on an agreement that could enable the tiny Balkan country to get UN membership.

ONE-MAN SHOW. An excuse to dominate the airwaves, sideline the opposition and cast himself as a saviour: Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić has emerged from the coronavirus crisis stronger than ever as he looks to extend his vice-like grip on the country’s troubled democracy just ahead of the Balkan country’s general elections on 21 June.

EURASIA DIGEST

THAWING RELATIONS? The EU has called for the release of a vlogger arrested in Belarus in May, as the challenges to the more than 25 year-long rule of the country’s strongman Alexander Lukashenko mount in the run-up to the presidential election in August. Frosty relations between Minsk and the West have been thawing recently, with the resumption of bilateral relationships and high-level political visits.

TRANSITION PROCESS. When Nazarbayev surprisingly stepped aside in March 2019, he announced that Tokayev, the speaker of the Senate, will serve as interim leader before the next presidential election, which Tokayev convincingly won. As Nazarbayev retained the role of chairman of the Security Council and the title ‘Leader of the Nation’, many wondered if the transition was genuine. EURACTIV had a closer look at the process.

At the same time, Kazakhstan adopted a new law on peaceful assemblies, continuing its path of “controlled democratisation” with more liberal legislation that analysts said is helping to develop strong multi-party democracy.

SANCTIONS COMING. US Senators announced a bill expanding sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 and Turkish Stream natural gas pipelines and targeting the projects Washington says will boost Moscow’s economic and political influence in Germany and other European countries. The new bipartisan legislation could stop the Nord Stream 2 project by expanding sanctions to include penalties on parties involved in pipe-laying activities and parties providing underwriting services, insurance or reinsurance on the project.

US ELECTION WATCH

It’s 145 days until the US presidential elections and as police fired rubber bullets at demonstrators rallying against police violence, President Trump ordered tear gas to be thrown at peaceful protestors to clear the way for a photo-op. The images and videos are brutal, violent, horrifying. What they are not, however, is “shocking.” Anyone who is surprised by George Floyd’s killing and the reaction has not been paying attention, writes EURACTIV’s in-house American Sarah Lawton.

WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING 

ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT DAYS…

The regular institutional cycle has temporarily ground to a halt. But we’ll continue to keep you updated on all relevant EU foreign affairs news, as operations moved exclusively online.
  • Foreign Affairs Council
    | Monday, 15 June 2020 | videoconference
  • NATO Defence Ministerial
    | Wed-Thu, 17-18 June 2020 | videoconference
    US withdrawal from Open Skies Treaty tops agenda, more on current events and reflection process
  • Election of five new rotating members of UN Security Council
    | Wednesday, 17 June 2020 | New York, United States
  • UN annual report on world’s refugees, displaced persons
    | Thursday, 18 June 2020 | Geneva, Switzerland
  • European Parliament Plenary Session
    | Wed-Fri, 17-19 June 2020 | videoconference
    EU’s chief diplomat set to brief EU lawmakers on foreign policy consequences of the COVID-19 crisis and Hong Kong; foreign policy votes on Eastern Partnership & Western Balkan recommendations
  • EU-Eastern Partnership Summit
    | Friday, 19 June 2020 | videoconference
  • European Council on MFF, Recovery Fund
    | Friday, 19 June 2020 | videoconference

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