Global Europe Brief: Budget Battles Reloaded

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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EUROPE’s RECOVERY FIGHTS

Thursday (23 April) will see the fourth EU coronavirus summit in seven weeks where the bloc’s leaders aim to narrow their deep-running differences and agree on a common strategy to lift the pandemic measures and cushion the economic impact.However, Northern reluctance (read: German and Dutch opposition) to the idea of common debt is likely to once again overshadow this get-together.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has argued in favour of using the EU’s next seven-year budget as the basis for recovery.

Europe’s south wants flexibility in the EU budget when it comes to money transfers among different files, as well as a single market that not only works for goods but also for free movement, which will be crucial for this summer’s holidays to mitigate the damage to many Southern member states’ battered tourism industries.

An EU diplomat told EURACTIV that according to the latest talks, the EU will borrow money from the markets and pour it into the EU budget. The big question is how this money will  be distributed to member states – in the form of long-term loans, grants or a combination of the two.

But whatever the recovery plan looks like, experts consulted by EURACTIV’s Beatriz Rios have warned against linking it to the EU budget.

EU IN THE WORLD

TOURISM QUARANTINED. As tourism is one of the hardest-hit sectors from the health crisis in Europe, a special summit in September or October could be organised to deal with the fallout of the pandemic and set out a roadmap for sustainable tourism across Europe, Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton told MEPs on the European Parliament’s Transport Committee.

However, with a ban on non-essential travel and some countries in complete lockdown, the European tourism sector is still looking at a pandemic-imposed collapse in the upcoming summer season. A helping hand from the EU is far from close: there is little sign of financial support any time soon, communication is thin and the sustainability question can only be addressed if there still is a sector to reform.

Nevertheless, once recovery becomes reality, the current global situation will see a shift toward promoting local and regional tourism and toward regeneration and sustainability, Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary-General of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) argues in an exclusive op-ed for EURACTIV.

FAMINE FEARS. The COVID-19 pandemic could lead to ‘biblical famines’ and almost double the number of people suffering acute hunger, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned as it released a new report on food crises around the world.

ASYLUM LAWS. Regardless of the COVID-19 crisis, the registration and processing of asylum applications must continue and member states must comply with asylum law, the European Commission has warned.

DEFENCE CORNER

MILITARY MOBILITY. The Commission’s latest non-paper on the bloc’s next seven-year budget put forward in February has revealed the threat to hamper flagship defence initiatives more than previous proposals. Some MEP’s are not impressed and have written a letter to EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell, seen by EURACTIV, arguing that the current COVID19 crisis has demonstrated the added value of military mobility in response to civilian crises.

“The military mobility in Europe would provide for increased flexibility for prompt action in preventing and responding to crises, demonstrate the resolve of EU and NATO to potential geopolitical adversaries and also would be instrumental for delivering aid in civilian crises,” write MEPs Rasa Jukneviciene (EPP) and Attila Ara-Kovacs (S&D).

DEFENCE BUDGETS. Europe’s armed forces are rightly being applauded for their efforts in limiting the disastrous effects of COVID-19, but the test of whether European militaries are truly valued will be measured over the next few years as pressure on defence budgets mount, write Daniel Fiott, Torben Schützand Marcin Terlikowski in an op-ed for EURACTIV.

NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has encouraged members to maintain their military spending despite the economic shock of the pandemic, suggesting that military can play a role in helping to mitigate the crisis. He also told EURACTIV military capabilities are also relevant in dealing with a health crisis.

COVID-19 DISINFORMATION. A forged letter purporting to be from the NATO Secretary-General to the Lithuania’s defence minister Raimundas Karoblis has been making rounds this week, according to which the Alliance allegedly decided to withdraw the NATO battlegroups on the Eastern Flank due to a heavy pandemic outbreak amongst its troops.

“This letter is fake. NATO is committed to maintaining its presence in the eastern part of the Alliance, including with four multinational battlegroups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland – no troop withdrawals are under consideration,” NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu told reporters.

“This fake letter shows the importance of being vigilant for ongoing disinformation campaigns and NATO will continue to work closely with Allies and partners to identify, expose, and counter disinformation,” she added.

PEACE PROCESSES. As Europe takes tentative steps to ease the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, it cannot neglect the virus’ potential to wreak havoc in the poorest and most fragile states around the world, writes Michael Keating in an op-ed for EURACTIV.

The calls for more engagement in peace efforts comes after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that in countries stricken by conflict, where health systems have already collapsed, “the worst is yet to come”.

GERMAN JETS. Berlin confirmed it aims to replace its ageing fleet of Tornado fighter-bombers with aircraft from both European manufacturer Airbus and US-based Boeing, eager to balance European and American alliances via its military aircraft-buying scheme. But the decision to move ahead with the US purchases has angered some politicians who have complained of a lack of transparency.

ENLARGEMENT LATEST

WESTERN BALKANS. EU lawmakers in the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee gave green light to a draft report with recommendations on the Western Balkans ahead of the 2020 summit. Next step it the vote in one of the upcoming plenaries.

LOAN PACKAGE. The European Commission has announced a €3 billion loan package for ten enlargement and neighbourhood countries to limit the economic fallout of the pandemic. The so-called “macro-financial assistance,” a complement to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) support, will be given in the form of highly favourable loans designed to improve the macroeconomic stability of countries, freeing up national resources.

EURASIA DIGEST

LOOKING EAST. European foreign affairs ministers agreed that “the current crisis is an opportunity to demonstrate that the EU is the most reliable partner” for Eastern Partnership countries, EU‘s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said. He also confirmed that his first visit following the easing of coronavirus-related restrictions will be to Ukraine, in a bid to affirm the EU’s leadership in the region.

BORDERISATION. While pro-Russian separatists in occupied Georgian territory are taking advantage of the COVID-19 outbreak to press on with illegal borderisation, the population of these areas puts hopes in the success of Tbilisi in fighting the pandemic.

US ELECTION WATCH

It’s 194 days until the US Presidential elections and US President Donald Trump has announced that he will issue an executive order that will temporarily suspend some kinds of immigration to the US for 60 days.

What to watch and why it matters: “By pausing immigration, we will help unemployed Americans be first in line for jobs as America reopens. So important,” Trump said. It took many administration officials, members of Congress and immigration hawks by surprise.

VACCINE FIGHT. The UN General Assembly has demanded equal access for any future COVID-19 vaccine but its seeming unanimity was a fluke. The US actually opposed the resolution but acted too late to stop it, diplomats say.

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.
  • European Council
    | Thursday, 22 April 2020 | videoconference
  • European Parliament’s Subcommitte for Security and Defence (SEDE)
    | Monday, 27 April 2020 | videoconference

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