Global Europe Brief: Enlargement revival or more of the same?

Global Europe Brief.

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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ENLARGEMENT PROGRESS 

The enlargement process of the Western Balkan states has for years proved more problematic than the one for Central Europe before 2004.

Since then, the EU has opened membership negotiations with two Western Balkan states (Montenegro and Serbia) and Turkey. It also gave the green light for accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia, while Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo are not quite there yet.

Some might argue the enlargements of the 16 years have failed to consolidate democracy in the new member states, which has slowly begun to weaken the EU’s internal cohesion. The main task for the next batch of newbies: avoid mistakes of the past and don’t rush things.

The European Commission published its long-awaited enlargement package on 6 October, in a fresh attempt to revive the stalled process with promises of more substantial economic assistance in exchange for reforms. The package included country-specific reports on the progress of the six Western Balkans countries and Turkey.

The overall tone of the Commission’s documents was more positive than during the EU’s “enlargement summit” earlier in May, which had sent mixed signals by omitting the word enlargement altogether.

While the reports confirmed further progress in the implementation of reforms by Skopje and Tirana and scolded some of the other candidates and hopefuls for reform shortcomings, it struck a notably harsher tone towards Ankara, suggesting Turkey’s EU membership bid is (unsurprisingly) evaporating.

The country reports came together with a Commission investment plan for the Western Balkans region, which the executive hopes will bring investment to the region, spur greening and enhance regional cooperation.

So, could this be the revival of the EU’s enlargement strategy or just more of the same?

EU IN THE WORLD

CARROTS & STICKS. After weeks of bickering, EU leaders broke a longstanding deadlock to impose sanctions against members of the Belarus regime on Friday last week and fired a warning at Turkey over its gas drilling activities in the eastern Mediterranean. Belarus’ written procedure for the Belarus sanctions was concluded on Friday, after all 27 members gave the green light for the list of measures and 40 names of sanctioned companies and person, but not including President Alexander Lukashenko.

NAVALNY POISONING. After the use of the Novichok nerve agent was confirmed by Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Germany, France and Britain directly accused Russia of “involvement and responsibility” in the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, announcing that they will seek EU sanctions over the case.

EU-CHINA. EU leaders will hold a special summit in Berlin on 16 November to discuss Europe’s complicated relations with Beijing, according to an updated European Council work programme. Notable: Without China’s participation.

MIGRATION TALKS. EU interior ministers have the first attempt at discussing the European Commission’s recently unveiled new migration pact proposal when they meet virtually on today. The German presidency is keen on a quick agreement by the end of the year.

At the same time, the UN’s refugee chief lambasted countries which close their doors to desperate migrants and Europe’s “shameful” refusal to allow migrants stranded at sea to disembark quickly.

CARDS ON THE TABLE. European Council President Charles Michel has told the  UK it is “time to put its cards on the table” over a post-Brexit trade deal following a call with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and ahead of a visit to Ireland for more Brexit talks. The comments come before an EU Brexit summit next week, amid EU concerns that London is undermining commitments laid out in the Withdrawal Agreement with the introduction of its Internal Market Bill, which the EU feels could threaten the Northern Ireland protocol.

SYMBOLIC REJECTION. The European Parliament rejected the EU-Mercosur Agreement in a symbolic vote on the EU’s planned trade deal with South American countries with 345 votes in favour and 295 against.

In the adopted document, the Parliament “emphasizes that the EU-Mercosur agreement cannot be ratified as it stands,” citing grounds of concerns over the environmental policy of Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro government. The text says Brazil runs counter to “the Paris Agreement’s commitments, particularly in the fight against global warming and the protection of biodiversity”.

BLACKLIST REMOVAL. The Cayman Islands was removed from the EU’s list of non-cooperative tax jurisdictions, prompting a swift backlash from civil society groups. Meanwhile, the EU added Barbados and Anguilla to the list because of tax transparency concerns.

DEFENCE CORNER

 HYPERSONIC PRESENT. Russia tested a hypersonic cruise missile, dubbed Tsirkon,  in the Barents Sea this week. Speaking to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin by video conference, Valery Gerasimov, chief of the army’s general staff, said the test strike had been carried out from the Admiral Gorshkov vessel located in Arctic waters.

The test comes as New START, the last major nuclear arms control pact in place between US and Russia, is due to expire in February.

ENLARGEMENT LATEST

‘GOOD FAITH’. The implementation of the name-change deal between Greece and North Macedonia, the so-called Prespa agreement, as well as a friendship agreement between Sofia and Skopje should continue to be implemented in “good faith”, an EU spokesperson told EURACTIV. The two ‘historic’ agreements, both signed in 2018, ended long-standing rows in the Balkan region.

HYDROPOWER WAR. Green lawmakers in the European Parliament have hailed the cancellation of a hydropower plant in Albania but now fear that a forthcoming EU investment package for the wider region will promote small hydropower, which activists blame for destroying ecosystems.

EURASIA DIGEST

UKRAINE SUMMIT. During the first live meeting with international partners in Brussels following the outbreak of the pandemic on the continent, the EU and Ukraine leaders met to take stock of cooperation amid what critics say is a risk of reform regression in the country.

KARABAKH CONFLICT. Clashes between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces have displaced half of the population of the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, officials said as international mediators were set to hold their first meeting in Geneva. The EU has a thousand reasons to engage, and not a single one to sit on the fence, writes EURACTIV’s Georgi Gotev.

US ELECTION WATCH

It’s 26 days until the US Presidential elections and Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic challenger Kamala Harris clashed over the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic during their debate on Wednesday, as the White House struggled to contain an outbreak that has infected President Donald Trump and dozens of others.

The policy-heavy, relatively sedate debate stood in stark contrast to last week’s chaotic presidential showdown between Trump and Joe Biden.

What to watch and why it matters: The next debate (15 October) between the two contenders will be held virtually, rather than in person, because of health concerns about the coronavirus, the Commission on Presidential Debates just announced earlier today. Trump already has a strong opinion about it: “I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate, that’s not what debating is all about. You sit behind a computer and do a debate — it’s ridiculous,” he said in a televised interview. Game on.

WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING 

ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT FEW DAYS…

Europe’s everyday business is picking up after summer break and so does this newsletter. We’ll keep you updated on all relevant EU foreign affairs news, as operations start to move exclusively online.

  • Nobel Peace Prize announced
    | Friday, 9 October 2020 | Oslo, Norway
  • Presidential election in breakaway northern Cyprus
    | Sunday, 11 October 2020 | Cyprus
  • European Parliament’s AFET Committee
    | Monday, 12 October 2020 | Brussels, Belgium
  • European Council meeting
    | Thu-Fri, 15-16 October 2020 | Brussels, Belgium
  • Deadline for EU members to submit virus recovery plans to Commission
    | Thursday, 15 October 2020 | Brussels, Belgium
  • European Parliament’s SEDE Committee
    | Thursday, 15 October 2020 | Brussels, Belgium
  • Second US Presidential debate
    | Friday, 16 October 2020 | Miami, FL, United States

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