Global Europe Brief: Budget struggles, Arctic race & ceasefire deals

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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ARCTIC RACE

Four years after the EU adopted its Arctic policy, it is preparing work on a new strategy document.

On Monday (20 July), the European Commission and the EU’s diplomatic service (EEAS) jointly launched a public consultation on the EU’s Arctic policy, which according to EU officials is meant to lead to a “broad reflection” on the bloc’s future strategy for the region, including the EU’s ambitions under the Green Deal and security.

The Commission said the consultation seeks input on the strengths and shortfalls of the existing policy, with a view to possibly preparing an updated approach.

Experts and regional stakeholders had been surprised earlier this year that the European Commission’s work programme for 2020 had 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 a genuine attempt to get frank input, which will help us shape the process of updating the policy and once the consultation closes, we will obviously need some time to process it,” EU’s new Arctic Ambassador, Michael Mann, told EURACTIV, adding that “2021 will be a year of intensive work on the EU’s future Arctic policy.”

But with geopolitical trends accelerating, the bloc might find itself seemingly racing against time.

An increasing number of European countries have produced their own national Arctic strategies, while global powers such as Russia and China, a non-Arctic state, are vying for increased influence in the region.

On another note, a year after the US and Denmark butted heads over President Donald Trump’s offer to buy Greenland, his secretary of state Mike Pompeo is visiting the Nordic country this week, with Arctic issues at the top of the agenda.

Pompeo stated bluntly that the US and its allies were ‘late to the party’ in the Arctic and have been too slow to react to Chinese and Russian interests in the region. “I think we have all been a little bit naive to watch not only the Russians but the Chinese interest there continue to become more and more aggressive,” Pompeo told DR during a diplomatic visit in Copenhagen. “We are a little late. That’s alright, I’ve been late to parties before and had a great time.”

Greenland is home to a strategic American asset, the Thule Air Base, the US Air Force’s northernmost military base. In 2018, China unveiled a vision for a “Polar Silk Road,” and in the same year, a state-owned constructions company entered a bid to renovate airports in Greenland, an Arctic territory covering over two million square kilometres.

>> For more on the region, have a look at our Global Europe Arctic Special from earlier this year.

EU IN THE WORLD

DRILLING AFFRONTS. “Regarding Turkey’s drilling in the eastern Mediterranean, we have a very clear position — international law must be respected, so progress in EU-Turkey relations is only possible if Ankara stops provocations in the eastern Mediterranean,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said during a visit to Athens this week.

The comments come amid growing tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, with Greece’s navy saying it had deployed ships in the Aegean in “heightened readiness” after Turkey announced plans for energy exploration near a Greek island.

VIRTUAL ASSEMBLY. World leaders will send videos instead of gathering physically at the United Nations in September due to the coronavirus pandemic, the General Assembly decided, a move that paves the way for people wary of travelling to the United States – like North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un – to participate.

DEFENCE CORNER

PARTIAL VICTORY. After marathon discussions, the European Council reached a deal on a €1.074 trillion EU budget, which for the first time includes money for initiatives related to EU defence cooperation. Although the amount of the budget’s financial firepower was highly embattled in the previous proposals and the agreed budgets are significantly lower than what the European Commission initially proposed in 2018, in the end, funding had won the war and no deeper cuts were made.

“The agreement can be seen as a partial victory for EU defence cooperation as the budgets for the EDF, EPF and military mobility could have decreased even further as the member states focus on addressing the immediate socio-economic fallout from the pandemic,” Niklas Novaky, a research office at the Wilfried Martens Centre in Brussels wrote in an op-ed for EURACTIV, adding that the established funding for European Defence Fund, military mobility and European Peace Facility “seem unimpressive from a Union that wants to learn the language of power in an age of growing great power competition.“

LEADERSHIP CRISIS. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is facing an unprecedented leadership crisis, after failing to agree an extension of its four most senior posts, leaving many in Europe worried about how it will continue to work until successors are chosen in December.

BATTERY POWER. The defence company behind the British air force’s new fighter jet has teased the prospect of electric-battery systems playing a substantial role in powering the RAF’s next-generation Tempest warplane, due to enter service in the 2030s, EURACTIV’s Sam Morgan reports.

ENLARGEMENT LATEST

DIFFICULT TALKS. The continuation of the Belgrade-Priština dialogue, supervised by the EU, and the first face-to-face meeting with Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti in Brussels “weren’t easy talks”, according to Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić. EURACTIV Serbia has looked into details of the meeting.

At the same time, Quint ambassadors and the head of the EU Delegation to Serbia told Serbia’s leadership that the rule of law, and particularly the right to assemble and media freedom, are crucial for Serbia’s EU path.

EURASIA DIGEST

CEASEFIRE DEAL. Ukrainian, Russian and OSCE reached an agreement on a full ceasefire between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine from 27 July. Although major combat ended with a ceasefire agreed in the Belarus capital Minsk in 2015, sporadic clashes still regularly kill civilians, Ukrainian soldiers and separatists. European leaders had demanded a truce before they would agree to hold new Normandy talks.

DE-ESCALATION CALL. In a three-way call with the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia, the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, called for an end to armed confrontations following a flare-up of tensions last week along the international state border between the two countries.

US ELECTION WATCH

It’s 103 days until the US Presidential election and more than a quarter of the 15 million COVID-19 cases worldwide are to be found in the United States, where President Donald Trump warned that the pandemic was likely to get worse before it gets better.

What to watch and why it matters: With only a few steps away from the momentous ‘100 days’, public health experts believe that a variety of conditions could induce a second wave of COVID-19 cases—just in time for the November election. Here’s a good overview of whether American elections are actually pandemic-proof.

WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING 

ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT DAYS…

Europe’s everyday business slowing down for summer break and so does this newsletter. We’ll be back on 20 August with all relevant EU foreign affairs news.

  • Informal meeting of foreign/defence ministers (Gymnich)
    | Wed-Fri, 26-28 August 2020 | Berlin, Germany
  • European Parliament’s AFET Committee
    | Tuesday, 1 September 2020 | Brussels, Belgium

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