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The European Commission published its 2021 work programme this week, containing new legislative initiatives across priorities presented during Commission chief Ursula Von der Leyen’s recent State of the Union.
“Throughout the next year, the Commission will ensure that Europe plays its vital role in this fragile world,” the document states.
On external action, however, the EU’s plans are a bit thin, especially in light of a crisis shaken-year (which has not ended yet).
In 2021, the EU executive is set to propose a ‘Joint Communication on strengthening the EU’s contribution to a rules‑based multilateralism’, targeted at reforms to the World Health Organization and World Trade Organization.
It also will propose a ‘renewed partnership with our Southern neighbourhood’, most likely a box ticking exercise for those left wondering how badly the crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean was managed this year.
The long-overdue ‘Communication on the Arctic’ is another point on the list: Four years after the EU adopted its Arctic Policy, it is preparing work on a new strategy document. In the meantime, the race for the Arctic accelerates.
A new strategic approach to support disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of ex-combatants will also be presented, as well as a new approach to EU humanitarian aid.
EU IN THE WORLD
EU-MAGNITSKY ACT. The European Commission has finally proposed a bill slapping travel-bans and asset-freezes on individuals responsible for human rights violations worldwide, informally known as the ‘European Magnitsky Act’. If adopted, it would allow the EU to target those responsible for serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide, no matter where they occur.
THREE SEAS. The Three Seas Initiative virtual summit saw further consolidation between its 12 members. The US has started seeing the project as a vehicle to win the geopolitical battle for ‘hearts and minds’ in the region, in a bid to reduce Chinese and Russian influence there.
SAKHAROV PRIZE. The European Parliament awarded its annual Sakharov Prize for human rights to the democratic opposition movement in Belarus led by the exiled Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. Almost all the figures linked to Tikhanovskaya – and the Coordination Council – have been imprisoned, placed under house arrest or forced into exile.
Belarusian police over the weekend had detained more than 200 people as tens of thousands marched against strongman Lukashenko in defiance of police threats to open fire after weeks of demonstrations.
FUTURE EU-AFRICA PACT. The EU and African Union must use a new ‘strategic partnership’ to deepen their trade and investment relations, stakeholders agree. However, as policy-makers in Brussels and Addis Ababa plough ahead with plans for what is billed as an ambitious ‘strategic partnership’ between the EU and Africa, civil society groups complain that they have been repeatedly shut out from having any influence over EU-African relations.
NON-PROLIFERATION. European lawmakers called for a stronger European commitment to nuclear non-proliferation, including support for a key UN treaty, amid global uncertainty over nuclear arms control. The call comes as another international treaty banning nuclear weapons is on the verge of coming into force, with the last few required ratifications expected within weeks.
At the same time, the US and Russia are nearing a short-term extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, their last remaining nuclear nonproliferation agreement, which is due to expire in February 2021. US Ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, told reporters in Brussels an agreement was closer after a move by Russia earlier in the week and added that when this is sealed “negotiation on a long-term, new New START” could start
SUBMARINE SECURITY. NATO defence ministers discussed the protection of critical infrastructure such as submarine cables under the Atlantic, amid growing concerns those could be cut or tapped.
SPACE CENTRE. NATO defence ministers approved a plan to create a new space centre at the alliance’s Air Command in Ramstein, Germany, in response to growing concerns over protecting satellite and navigation assets from enemy interference. It is meant to gather information about possible threats to alliance satellites and likely be further developed into a command centre for defensive measures. However, the push comes only a few months after the US decided to withdraw almost 12,000 troops from Germany in a “strategic” repositioning of its forces in Europe…
WOMEN IN SECURITY. Women and girls make up for half of the world’s population, but in foreign and security policy, they remain clearly underrepresented. Green MEP Hannah Neumann, in cooperation with a number of security think tanks and organisations, launched the #SHEcurity campaign to raise awareness about women participation and equal opportunities. Join the conversation here.
SWEDISH DEFENCE. Sweden will increase its military budget by up to 40% by 2025 if the bill proposed by the minority government of Social Democrats and the Greens is adopted. Given that it is backed by the Centre Party and the Liberals in opposition, parliament will most likely vote in its favour. The move comes after last month Finland, Norway and Sweden signed an agreement that is to bolster Nordic defence cooperation.
DRONE CONTRACT. Airbus and two Israeli arms companies received €100 million to fly unmanned drones over the Mediterranean that will be used to identify boats loaded with migrants trying to reach Europe.
NEW TEAM. Serbia’s new government will have a shorter term, as the next general election will be held in April 2022 at the latest, simultaneously with the presidential polls and municipal elections in Belgrade, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić announced. It is also likely that ethnic Croats will prop the new government, a move closely watched by neighbouring Croatia.
HINT OF STRATEGY. After years of balancing pressure and dialogue with Russia, Germany is becoming noticeably more confrontational, a process that was sparked a year ago by a shooting in Berlin. But the country still lacks a long-term strategy.
TRADING ACCUSATIONS. A flurry of meetings in Brussels largely failed to re-assure over the Nagorno-Karabakh peace settlement. Armenia’s Prime Minister Armen Sarkissian said he saw no possibility of a diplomatic solution at this stage in the conflict with Azerbaijan over the mountain enclave.
Earlier, Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other of violating a new ceasefire over the past weekend, as they tried for the second time in a week to bring a halt to fighting over the disputed region.
KAZAKHSTAN POLLS. Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has signed a decree scheduling parliamentary elections for 10 January 2021. The elections are seen as another step in the process of “controlled democratisation” of the former Soviet republic.
US ELECTION WATCH
It’s 11 days until the US presidential election and President Donald Trump and Democrat contender Joe Biden faced-off in their final debate on Thursday night, with less than two weeks to go before the US presidential election on 3 November.
What to watch and why it matters: The last direct encounter was a calmer affair and both remained thin on foreign policy, with the exception of foreign interference. As US intelligence agencies said that Russia and Iran have both tried to interfere with the 2020 presidential election, election security will be the hot topic to watch in the few remaining days leading to the polls.
WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING
- Moving Beyond a Post-Pandemic World [Foreign Policy]
- Europe’s Global Test [Carnegie]
- A 21st-Century Reality Is Dawning on NATO [Defense One]
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.
- World Health Summit
| Monday, 26 October 2020 | Berlin, Germany
- UN 75th anniversary Conference
| Monday, 26 October 2020 | New York, United States
- European Parliament’s AFET Committee
| Monday, 26 October 2020 | Brussels, Belgium
- EU summit on COVID-19
| Thursday, 29 October 2020 | videolink
- European Parliament’s SEDE Committee
| Wed-Thu, 28-29 October 2020 | Brussels, Belgium
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