Global Europe Brief: EU’s leverage in Libya

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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QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“Space is the new frontier of global politics.”

– Josep Borrell, EU’s chief diplomat

IMAGE OF THE WEEK | World leaders gather for the International Libya Conference in Berlin to thrash out a shaky Libya ceasefire. Germany, 19 January 2020. [EPA-EFE/ALEXEI NIKOLSKY]

EU IN THE WORLD

SHAKY CEASEFIRE. The EU was once again side-lined as world powers gathered at the Berlin Conference, attended by the main backers of the rival Libyan factions, to thrash out a shaky Libya ceasefire, committing to end military support for the civil war parties and uphold an existing UN arms embargo. Alexandra Brzozowski has the details of the summit’s 55-point concluding paper.

The remaining question of how the legally non-binding decisions are meant to be upheld remains so far unresolved.
With a revamped ‘Operation Sophia’, EU foreign ministers are keen EU to revive a maritime surveillance mission in the Mediterranean to enforce a potential cease-fire in Libya and a UN arms embargo against the country’s warring parties. Meanwhile, the bloc is scrambling to avoid being drawn into a conflict that threatens to destabilise the whole of the Mediterranean.
UN envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, has expressed his hopes that the 5+5 Military Committee could potentially meet in Geneva next week to the discuss the next steps in the peace process.

DAVOS DEBUT. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made her debut in Davos. “We must do more when it comes to managing crises as they develop,” she said in her big speech on Wednesday. “And for that, Europe also needs credible military capabilities and we have set up the building blocks of the European Defense Union – it is complementary to NATO and it is different.”
She also met with US President Donald Trump, vowing to move forward the transatlantic agenda after a period of tense relations and trade threats between the two allies. Meanwhile, Trump did not go easy on Europe, after having sorted out his trade spat with China. For all the other meets and glimpses, follow EURACTIV’s Beatriz Rios and her Davos Diaries.

MERCOSUR BLOCKAGE. The Latin American trade bloc is heading into a decisive year, with Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay ready to sign the historic EU-Mercosur free-trade agreement – one that took more than 20 years to negotiate.
“In a challenging context for the WTO and transatlantic relations, the EU-Mercosur deal is part of the Commission’s attempt to reinforce rules-based global trade,” says Gustavo Müller, a researcher at the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies (GGS).

Even so, quite some delay is looming. In Europe, there’s a strong sense of déjà vu, writes Georgi Gotev, as Belgium’s region of Wallonia is trying to block the EU-Mercosur deal, just like it previously attempted with CETA, the EU-Canada free trade agreement.

After translation, the text still must be ratified by the European Council, the European Parliament, and the four Mercosur countries itself – a process that may take many more years. Plus another spat looms on the climate front: The controversial trade deal may be incompatible with the EU’s commitment to carbon neutrality and “may undermine global efforts to avert runaway climate change”, an analysis conducted for the Greens in the European Parliament found.
“The ratification process will test the Commission’s capacity to convince a multitude of stakeholders, but politics in Brazil and Argentina might look quite different by then,” Müller told EURACTIV.

VENEZUELA. President of the National Assembly of Venezuela and self-proclaimed interim President of the country, Juan Guaidó, asked the EU leadership during his Brussels trip to impose economic sanctions on the regime of the Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro. EUROEFE EURACTIV has the story.
The EU has so far refused to impose economic sanctions on Venezuela (contrary to the US) to avoid penalising the population as a whole, although it does maintain restrictive measures against the persons it considers responsible for undermining human rights. It also maintains restrictions on export of weapons and telecommunications equipment that can be used for internal repression.

DEFENCE CORNER

SPACE RACE. With the continuous militarisation of space, EU policymakers have started dropping their opposition to plans linking Europe’s civilian space assets with defence elements. But as the political tide is slowly turning, cuts proposed in the EU’s draft budget threaten the new ambition. Alexandra Brzozowski followed the debate.

NUKES DEBATE. It’s one of Belgium’s worst kept secrets, out in the open once again.  Belgian lawmakers narrowly rejected a resolution asking for the removal of US nuclear weapons stationed in the country and joining the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). For a long time, and in contrast with other countries, there has been no public debate about the presence of nuclear weapons on Belgian soil.
The controversy over a potential phase-out of the nukes was sparked by a debate to replace the US-made F-16 fighter aircraft in the Belgian army with American F-35s, a more advanced plane capable of carrying nuclear weapons. Alexandra Brzozowski took a closer look at the debate.

STRAIT MISSION. A European-led maritime surveillance mission in the Strait of Hormuz (EMASOH), a global shipping passage and key route for global oil transport impacted by military tensions in the Middle East, has won the political support from eight EU members states. The mission’s main goal is supposed to be to prevent further incidents in the region such as occurred in June 2019.
EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell welcomed the initiative of what he called “coalition of the willing” as a “contribution to de-escalation to the region as it is to ensure a safe navigation environment”, which he stressed is different in nature from the previously proposed US initiative.

FLIGHT LINKS. German Lufthansa hopes to resurrect direct flights between Belgrade and Pristina soon, more than two decades since commercial services flew between the two capitals after conflict in the region escalated and NATO bombed Serbia in 1999 to halt its crackdown on its southern province. EURACTIV’s Sam Morgan has the story.
The decision was also welcomed by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg as “important step, which will make the circulation of people and goods easier and faster within the Western Balkans region”. So far, the Alliance’s KFOR Mission still retains the authority in the airspace over Kosovo, according to UN Security Council Resolution 1244.

ENLARGEMENT LATEST

STABILISER ROLE? The Visegrad countries will need some time to close the ditches they have dug in recent years, Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček told EURACTIV.cz in an exclusive interview. Petříček also voiced doubts about the need for a reform of EU membership negotiations, demanded by France, saying the process is already reversible at any stage. “If we [Europe] want to play the role of a stabiliser there, then we fail. We are unable to provide our partners with a trustworthy enlargement process,” he said.

DELAYS, DELAYS. According to the European Commission announcements, EU countries should “very soon” reach a consensus on new enlargement methodology. However, sources suggested the publication of the new draft enlargement methodology is likely be postponed to 5 February or later. The final proposal for the new enlargement methodology and decision is meant to happen in March when EU leader’s meet for a summit in Brussels, but it remains questionable if the timeline holds.

MEMBERSHIP DREAMS. Details remain unknown and it is not clear if the enlargement reform will also apply to Montenegro and Serbia, which are further along the accession path than the Western Balkans’ other EU hopefuls. Serbians, meanwhile, want EU membership. More than half would vote to join the bloc, the country’s European Integration Ministry said. According to its poll, 54% would vote for EU membership, while 24% would vote against and the result, according to to Serbia’s European integration Minister Jadranka Joksimović, demonstrated the country’s continued support for EU membership, EURACTIV Serbia reports.

EURASIA DIGEST

SECOND CHANCE. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy rejected his prime minister’s resignation letter and told him to stay on and tackle the unpopular issue of high salaries of some public officials and multimillion-dollar bonuses paid to executives at the state gas company. The back and forth came after audio tapes leaked last week suggested he had criticised the president’s understanding of the economy as “primitive.” EURACTIV’s Vlagyiszlav Makszimov has the latest update.

WTO HOPES. The Croatian EU Council Presidency has praised Kazakhstan for its initiative to host a ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation at a time when the world trade body is facing a deep crisis, writes Georgi Gotev.
“There are no over-expectations, definitely, from this conference. But our aim is to put on the agenda that all member states should follow the fundamental rules which were designed in the framework of WTO”, Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Radman said.

US ELECTION WATCH

Reminder: It’s only 284 days until the US Presidential Election and the plot thickens.

IMPEACHMENT RULES. The US Senate voted 53-47 to approve rules governing the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on early Wednesday morning, including delaying a debate over whether to call witnesses until the middle of the trial, which allows opening arguments from House lawmakers prosecuting the case to begin. It kicked off up to six days of presentations on the question of whether Trump should be removed from office.

WILL TRUMP WIN? Our Davos crew caught Trump on camera speaking about how ‘tremendous’ everything is over there. World leaders, however, may already be restoring their relationship with Trump with one eye looking beyond November’s elections. Ian Bremmer, founder and president of Eurasia Group, told EURACTIV’s Jorge Valero: “They think he’s going to win. Generally speaking, the mood here is that he probably gets a second term, and they’re more concerned about the left wing of the Democratic Party.”

WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING 

ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT DAYS…

  • Doomsday Clock Announcement
    | Thursday, 23 January 2020 | Washington D.C.
    The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists will make its yearly announcement of the Doomsday Clock status, an indicator how closer the likelihood of man-made global catastrophe as a number of “minutes” to midnight.
  • EU’s enlargement charm offensive No. 2
    | Friday, 24 January 2020 | Western Balkans
    After Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi payed a visit to the Western Balkans last week, European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will now travel to Albania and North Macedonia to smooth the way for EU enlargement talks later this spring.
  • Arctic Frontiers
    | Mo-Fri, 27-31 January 2020 | Tromsø, Norway
    Annual conference on arctic issues that brings together policymakers, business and science to discuss global solutions and sustainable development of the Arctic. Look out for our special coverage from Europe’s High North during the whole week.
  • EU-Ukraine Association Council  
    | Tuesday, 28 January 2020 | Brussels, Belgium
    Ministers will review the implementation progress of the Association Agreement and developments related to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
  • Brexit (?)
    | Wed-Fri, 29-31 January 2020 | Brussels, Belgium
    The European Parliament will meet on Wednesday to debate the agreement, its ratification is expected to prove a formality. The UK will officially leave the 27-member bloc at 23:00 GMT on Friday – more than three and a half years after the country voted for Brexit in a referendum in June 2016.

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