Global Europe Brief: Europe’s ‘appetite for power’

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For decades, the Munich Security Conference has served as a platform to assess the state of health of the transatlantic alliance. Lately, however, it has become more of an emergency room to diagnose whether the patient’s heart is still beating. Those who considered last year’s tense meeting a low point in Europe-US relations have discovered it can slide even further.
Main take-aways:

GERMAN STEP-UP. Germany’s President Frank Walter Steinmeier accused Washington, Beijing and Moscow of jeopardising the international order by stoking global mistrust and insecurity with a “great powers competition”. The surprisingly assertive tone may mark a new page in German foreign policy that helps increase the European role in international security in view of the strained relationship with the US. Although Steinmeier and other German diplomats took a step many in Europe have been calling for in recent years, they were careful not to come too close to the French position of a Europe striving for complete strategic autonomy from Washington.

US SHOUT-OUT. A lot of verbal sparring was on display, but compared to last year’s outburst, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this time struck a more conciliatory tone, saying the West was alive and in good shape. US officials did not spare on warnings towards Europe, but this time it was not defence spending they were after, but China, China, China. The coordinated broadside against Huawei once again indicated that US-Europe relations in the future might largely depend on whether and how Europeans agree on Washington’s strategy toward Beijing.

“There’s no doubt that transatlantic cooperation has become more transactional as America has withdrawn from its role as a determined global leader,” former NATO Sec-Gen Anders Fogh Rasmussen told EURACTIV. According to him, the lack of strong cooperation between the world’s democracies “risks allowing China to set the terms of the next industrial revolution”.
“This would be a grave mistake and would cement the decline of the democratic West,” Rasmussen said, adding, however he took comfort in seeing the large bipartisan US delegation, which he called “a sign that all hope is certainly not lost”.

EU SPEAK-OUT. It seemed as if the ghost of French President Macron’s remarks, where he presented EU reform as antidote of the West’s decline, will hang over Brussels for quite a while, as the contrasts between the different visions of Europe became once again clear in Munich.

“We urgently need a Franco-German debate on how to make our common foreign policy more adapted to the challenges in our neighbourhood – and we need to put our money where our mouth is,” MEP Hannah Neumann (Greens) told EURACTIV. “This is also why the current position of Germany (and France) on the EU budget is unacceptable – a stronger EU needs a bigger budget,” she added.
Europe’s wish to have more global influence will require more “ability to act” on the bloc’s foreign policy decisions. Translation: We need to abolish unanimity in EU foreign policy-making. Over to you, Conference on the future of Europe.

CONFLICT BOG-DOWN. With more backroom diplomacy than ever, the conference could not bring any breakthrough in any of the unresolved conflicts, whether it was Libya, Ukraine, Nagorno-Karabakh or Serbia-Kosovo.
“It was telling and depressing that there were more mentions of Huawei than Idlib. The divisions in the West were on full display, and the absence of coherent Western leadership was striking,” David Miliband, International Rescue Committee, (IRC) told EURACTIV.

In case you missed the whole weekend discussions, here are the hot topics of Day #1Day #2 and Day #3, and some articles you might want to follow up on:


IMAGE OF THE WEEK | Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev meet on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. Munich, Germany, 15 February 2020. [Credit: Press Office, Government of Armenia]


“Europe must develop an appetite for power. We should be able to act … not every day making comments, expressing concern.”

– Josep Borrell, EU’s chief diplomat


LIBYA EMBARGO. EU foreign ministers agreed, after Austria lifted its veto, to deploy a new combined aerial and naval military mission to enforce a porous UN arms embargo in and around war-torn Libya.

“We agreed to launch a new operation in the Mediterranean, Operation Sophia will be closed,” Borrell said. Operation Sophia – whose aim was to prevent human trafficking in the Mediterranean – stopped deploying ships last March after Italy said it would no longer take migrants rescued at sea. Here are some details.

The decision – whose details will be finalised in the weeks ahead and agreed at the next EU foreign affairs meeting in March – came after weeks of fruitless negotiations and warnings by the EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, that the bloc risked “paralysis” in its foreign-policy making, potentially leaving Libya’s fate to Turkey and Russia.

In Munich last weekend, where participants at follow-up talks to the Berlin Libya Conference reaffirmed their commitment to secure the ceasefire, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas urged the EU to agree on a naval mission, saying overflights would not be enough.

On 19 January, the twelve participating states pledged to end military support for the civil war combatants and uphold the UN arms embargo, in place since 2011. However, repeated violations of the embargo have since been reported. UN deputy envoy for Libya, Stephanie Williams, said the truce in Libya is only hanging by a thread, and the economic situation is deteriorating. “The arms embargo has become a joke,” she said.

The International Organisation for Migration (IMO) called on the world community to devise a “safe disembarkation mechanism” for migrants fleeing Libya, the day after a port in the capital of the war-torn country was hit by a barrage of rocket fire.

INDIA TIES. India’s top diplomat, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, was the guest of honour as EU foreign ministers met in Brussels with an eye to renewing relations and boosting trade with the south Asian giant. Jaishankar defended his country’s controversial new citizenship law and crackdown in Kashmir, as he came to Brussels to promote what he hopes will be closer strategic ties to the EU.

Relations between the EU and India will also be a key priority of the next Portuguese EU Presidency in 2021, Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said after talks with Indian PM Narendra Modi in New Delhi. An EU-India summit is planned “in a few months” and relations are to be “deepened” during his country’s EU presidency. EURACTIV’s media partner has the full story.


ARMS CONTROL. EU lawmakers adopted recommendations for the European Council and the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on what stance to take in preparing the 2020 Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT) review process, nuclear arms control and nuclear disarmament options. After the INF Treaty collapse last summer and with several other accords in jeopardy or set to expire, experts have warned  for an “urgent response”.

FRANCO-GERMAN PROJECTS. Germany’s defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced she is willing to open the current Franco-German arms projects to other European partners. This includes primarily Europe’s largest arms project to date, the so-called Future Air Combat System (FCAS) and a new battle tank. “Both projects are a sign of the particularly close cooperation between Paris and Berlin,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said. “We want to open these projects as far as possible in Europe.”

AKK’s comments, made ahead of the annual Munich Security Conference, come barely a week after French President Macron made one more push for more European cooperation on defence matters.

ANGRY GREEKS. A group of five Greek lawmakers walked out of NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly on Wednesday, accusing the chairman of preventing them from expressing their positions and systematically interrupting them during their appearance on the Turkey-Libya Memorandum of Understanding demarcating maritime zones, as well as Turkey’s gas activities in the eastern Mediterranean. EURACTIV’s Sarantis Michalopoulos has the details.

DEFENCE SPENDING. The new ‘Military Balance’ report of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) found global defence spending see its biggest jump in a decade in 2019, driven by the US and China. The 4% rise compared to 2018 was fuelled by competition between major powers, new military technologies and rumbling warfare from Ukraine to Libya. “Spending rose as economies recovered from the effects of the financial crisis, but increases have also been driven by sharpening threat perceptions,” IISS chief John Chipman said, launching the report in Munich.

Both the US and China increased spending by 6.6% respectively, while spending in Asia has grown more than 50% in a decade. Beijing’s military modernisation programme – which includes developing new hard-to-detect hypersonic missiles — is alarming Washington and helping drive US defence spending, the IISS found. Europe, eyeing Russia’s military modernisation projects with new hypersonic missile systems, raised its own spending by 4.2%. With that, the continent’s defence spending is back to 2008 levels, before the global financial crisis saw budgets slashed.


BELGRADE-PRISTINA. Serbian and Kosovo officials, together with US special envoy Richard Grenell, inked a US-brokered deal to restore a railway link between Belgrade and Pristina and to connect the two capitals. It was greeted as a “milestone” and a step toward normalising bilateral relations. According to a regional source, a breakthrough in the EU-facilitated Belgrade–Pristina dialogue “is not far off, even this year and would bring back EU diplomacy back on track in the region after the enlargement fiasco”. Grenell has since been appointed the head of US intelligence by President Donald Trump.

It’s very rare to witness first-hand an acceleration of history, and this is precisely what is happening in the Balkans now. In a very short time, Serbia and Kosovo took huge steps towards normalising their relations. Three developments stand out: Kosovo abolished the 100% tariffs on Serbian imports, the two countries decided to revive direct flights between their capitals and decided to work on building rail and road link. It is remarkable that in all these developments, the broker was Washington, which is more successful than the EU in our immediate neighbourhood, writes Georgi Gotev.

DISASTER RELIEF. Three months after Albania was hit by a 6.4-magnitude earthquake, killing 51 people and leaving 17,000 homeless, international donors pledged €1.15 billion to help Tirana recover, the EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell announced. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said the sum — which exceeds the total recovery bill of €1.08 billion assessed by the UN — was “beyond my wildest imagination”, having begun the day hoping for pledges of only €400 million.


FROZEN CONFLICT. Despite recent rapprochement between Ukraine and Russia, the full implementation of the Minsk agreements is still “miles away” and there is still a risk that the separatist regions could turn into another “frozen conflict”, OSCE Secretary-General Thomas Greminger told Alexandra Brzozowski. He also spoke about rebuilding trust in European security cooperation, progress in resolving the crisis in Ukraine and the prospects for the Western Balkans.

CAUCASUS TENSION. In a rare direct encounter between the two countries, Azerbaijan and Armenia’s leaders, Ilham Aliyev and Nikol Pashinian, sat down and quickly disagreed over the frozen conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. After international negotiators have so far struggled to resolve the more than 30 year-long dispute, the two leaders also made little visible progress. More on their encounter here.

EURASIAN INTEGRATION. Kazakhstan and Russia, which are among the founders of the EAEU, will remain the “locomotives” of Eurasian integration, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said in Munich. Kazakh diplomats have argued in favour of closer ties between the EU and EAEU. However, the European Commission is much more cautions, saying that such relations remain a long-term goal but depend on “political decisions of EU members” and the implementation of the Minsk peace agreement (for Eastern Ukraine).


It’s 257 days until the US Presidential Election and billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has entered the ring.

What to watch and why it matters: As he took part in the Democrats’ ninth televised US primary debate, critical comments about feminism and other controversial statements disqualify him as a candidate, some commentators said, while others see him as a suitable challenger for President Trump.



  • Iran General Election
    | Friday, 21 February 2020 | Tehran, Iran
    Although the outcome appears to be clear cut even before the vote, with hard-liners and conservatives are likely to control the future parliament, look out for implications on the ties with the West.
  • General Affairs Council
    | Tuesday, 25 February 2020 | Brussels, Belgium
    EU’s European Affairs ministers meet to possibly approve the Brexit negotiating mandate for an EU-UK trade deal and will be given a presentation on the new enlargement methodology.
  • UN hosts Libya peace talks
    | Wednesday, 26 February 2020 | Geneva, Switzerland

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