Global Europe Brief: EU’s diplomatic dilemma

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Welcome to the first edition of 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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LOOKAHEAD FOR 2020

The new year got off to a rocky start and a big bunch of geopolitical issues are already staring Europe right in the face. What will matter in the end is the capacity of the new European Commission, which by the way calls itself geopolitical, to respond to the challenges. EURACTIV’s Georgi Gotev brings you the geopolitical wishes for 2020.

Among the many foreign policy challenges, one of the main themes will be how the EU can assert itself on the world stage against China, the US and Russia, while upholding multilateralism and at least a semblance of global order. Here are eight major issues that will influence the EU’s foreign policy efforts in the year ahead.

Meanwhile, as Europe struggles with financial and political obstacles besetting its joint defence policy efforts, NATO faces internal rifts and an increasingly assertive Moscow and Bejing, and the future seems not so bright for arms control, EURACTIV’s Alexandra Brzozowski wrote down six issues to watch in Europe’s security and defence in 2020

IMAGE OF THE WEEK | Thousands attend funeral ceremony for slain Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Tehran, Iran, 06 January 2020. [EPA-EFE/IRAN’S SUPREME LEADER OFFICE]

EU IN THE WORLD

IRAN. Fearing the fallout from the killing of Iran’s General Soleimani, Europeans have been calling since the weekend for a de-escalation of the crisis, which threatens to collapse the landmark 2015 nuclear deal and puts NATO’s training mission in Iraq in jeopardy.

Go deeper with the latest updates here:

After a chaotic classified briefing by the Trump administration, which one US lawmaker described as “the worst briefing … I’ve seen in my nine years”, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a vote on a War Powers resolution later today to curb potential military action by President Trump toward Iran.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been monitoring the hacking of a government website, which may have been conducted as a revenge attack to the US drone strike that killed Iranian military commander Soleimani, our digital editor, Samuel Stolton, reports.

LIBYA.  Foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany and Italy held emergency talks on Libya in Brussels, with the ambitious aim of bringing about a ceasefire in the North African country. Initially, they were meant to meet in Libya, but as EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters after the meeting, the security situation on the ground was so bad, that such an arrangement was not even possible.

While ministers warned “external actors” to stay out of the conflict in Libya, urging all sides to commit to a negotiated peace, Italy invited ‘everyone’ to the Libyan table after Italian FM Luigi Di Maio pointed the finger to countries that are interfering in the Libyan civil war, turning it into a proxy war, but declined to answer whether he was going to address the issue of external interference at the meeting with Çavuşoğlu.

Additionally, the foreign affairs ministers of Cyprus, Greece, Italy, France and Egypt will meet in Cairo after diplomacy has heated up in the Mediterranean since the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) demarcating maritime zones in the region between Turkey and Libya. EURACTIV’s Gerardo Fortuna and Sarantis Michalopoulos have the story.

In Cairo, Di Maio, also refused to sign a joint document between Egypt, France, Cyprus and Greece, describing it as “too harsh” on Turkey and the GNA.

WANTED: COHERENCE. EU28 foreign ministers are set to hold extraordinary crisis talks in Brussels on Friday afternoon. Although optimists suggest these days that the two crises might be the long-awaited catalyst to strengthen a united EU foreign diplomacy, so far the bloc still continues to desperately struggle for a united response to the two escalating crises.

DEFENCE CORNER

NATO’s NEW DILEMMA. Although US President Donald Trump said in his brief nation address on Wednesday Tehran appeared ready to ‘stand down’ from further escalation, he also called on NATO to increase its engagement in the Middle East. It is, however, a contentious issue for the troubled Alliance as so far there has been a consensus to avoid exactly such a scenario. EURACTIV’s Alexandra Brzozowski took a closer look.

NATO had suspended its training mission in Iraq on Saturday in fear of retaliation, after an Iraqi parliamentary resolution on Sunday had called on foreign troops to leave. Established in Baghdad in October 2018 after three years of war against Islamic State militants, the 500 soldier-strong NATO Iraq mission is a non-combat “train-and-advise” assignment to support Iraqi security structures and institutions to fend off future insurgencies.

ENLARGEMENT LATEST

PRESIDENCY LEAD. Croatia, the latest EU newcomer, wants to join as soon as possible the Union’s inner circles by pursuing two major national goals – joining the borderless Schengen space joining Schengen and the eurozone, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković announced, just ahead of the inauguration of the Croatian Presidency of the Council of the EU. EURACTIV’s Georgi Gotev is currently on the ground in Zagreb and has the full story.

Meanwhile, Brexit and EU enlargement will be dominating the institutional priorities during Croatia’s six-month presidency of the bloc. Despite big expectations by the candidate countries “we will support what is realistic and possible,” Croatia’s Foreign Minister Goran Grlić-Radman said upon presenting the presidency programme.

‘HISTORIC MISTAKE’ FALLOUT. After European Union leaders in October failed to agree on opening accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania, mostly because of opposition from France, partly backed by the Netherlands and Germany, Skopje’s leader Zoran Zaev resigned way before the initial vote called for April.

DIFFERENT METHODS. French President Emmanuel Macron appeared to soften his tough stance on enlargement this week, saying he was open to change the methodology under which EU accession is determined. Macron also acknowledged the angry reactions from Eastern Europeans following his refusal in October 2019. EURACTIV France and EURACTIV Croatia report.

EURASIA DIGEST

GAS POLITICS. By building Nord Stream 2 and Turkish Stream, Russia has been seeking to circumvent Ukraine for the transit of billions of cubic meters of gas bound to European countries. The trilateral talks between the EU, Russia, and Ukraine regarding the transit beyond the expiry of the existing transit contract, 31 December 2019, had become an end-of-year diplomatic wretch. After months of difficult talks, but just ahead of the looming New Year deadline, a five-year gas deal was brought over the finish line, averting a repeat of the last gas crisis which ended up disrupting European supplies in the winter of 2008-2009.

For a deeper look into the matter, check our Special Report, where EURACTIV’s Georgi Gotev has looked at the issues at stake for Europe with gas transit at its border.

Meanwhile, Turkey and Russia formally launched the Turkish Stream pipeline which will carry Russian natural gas to southern Europe through Turkey, part of Moscow’s efforts to reduce shipments via Ukraine.

KAZAKHSTAN. The recent reforms introducing more democracy in Kazakhstan are also an answer to a global problem – how to respond to the lack of public confidence in leadership around the world, writes Shavkat Sabirov, director of the Institute for security and cooperation in Central Asia, in our opinion section.

WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING 

ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT DAYS…

  • Iran and Libya crisis diplomacy
    – all week –
    Look out for the extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels on Friday (11 January), where EU28 will discuss Libya and Iran. European Council President Charles Michel will raise regional security during meetings with Turkey’s President Erdoğan and Egypt’s al-Sissi in their capitals on Saturday (11 January), while EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell is set to brief EU lawmakers on the situation in Libya in the European Parliament on Tuesday (14 January).
  • G5 Sahel military alliance anti-jihadist summit
    | Monday, 13 January 2020 | Pau, France
    French President Emmanuel Macron will host talks with leaders of five Sahel countries which set to address the French military presence in the region as well as the fight against jihadist organizations.
  • European Parliament votes annual reports on CFSP/CSDP
    | Tuesday, 14 January 2020 | Strasbourg, France
  • Putin’s annual address to the Russian State Duma
    | Wednesday, 15 January 2020 | Moscow, Russia
    This year marks 25 years since Putin has delivered his first address to the parliament in modern Russian history, making 15 addresses in total so far.
  • NATO’s 182th Military Committee Chiefs of Defence Meeting
    | Tue-Wed 14-15 January 2020 | Brussels, Belgium
    Allied Chiefs of Defence will discuss the outcomes of the 2018 London Leaders’ Meeting and focus on NATO’s Deterrence and Defence posture, including operations and missions.

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