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In this week’s edition: EU’s Olympic (flag) politics, Cyprus plans and Nord Stream 2 deal, challenged.
When the lights go on in Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium and athletes make their round of honour before the games kick-off, Slovenia’s athletes will not be flying the EU flag alongside theirs.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) rejected a proposal made in a letter to its President Thomas Bach from European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas and Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša earlier this week to allow the team to fly both flags.
An IOC spokesperson said that “an Olympic team can only use one flag, one emblem and one anthem adopted by its National Olympic Committee and approved by the IOC Executive Board.”
“For obvious reasons, there are no exceptions allowed, as the IOC would then face numerous requests from numerous institutions who, like the EU, share the values which are at the core of the Olympic Games,” the spokesperson added.
In response, Schinas tweeted that although it won’t happen this time round, he is “confident the rules will catch up with our values soon enough,” adding: “Next step Paris 2024.”
Peut-être, but rather unlikely.
Anyone disappointed to miss the opportunity for a political rant need not worry, as one thing is clear: these games will be everything but short of politicking – be it telling female athletes what to wear, gender politics or taking a stand for racial equality.
Postponed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and now set to take place largely without spectators inside the stadiums, the Olympic Games in Tokyo are set to run from later this Friday until 8 August.
IOC President Bach said the Olympic flame was a symbol of overcoming the pandemic together.
But these games won’t be like any others before, as COVID-19’s mark on the event will be glaring. And while the gold medal goes to the virus, these games might lack some Olympic spirit.
Restricted freedom of movement, no international sports fans, Japanese citizens are discouraged from public gatherings, and international media barred from using public transit.
COVID-19 is spreading across Japan at its fastest rate in months, and the capital is bracing itself for what experts warn may be another series of restrictions.
Some critics have even questioned whether the games should have gone ahead at all. But the accusation that the Olympic Games were only pushed through for the sake of economic gain remains too simplistic.
Since sprinting into life in 1896, the modern Olympics have been cancelled three times, all on account of a world war. So cancelling the Tokyo Games for many would have been a big blow.
EU IN THE WORLD
CYPRUS PLANS. Brussels and Washington have reacted strongly to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to partially reopen a coastal resort town emptied of its original Greek Cypriot residents as well as his proposal for a two-state solution on the island of Cyprus.
At the same time, the National Council of Cyprus has called on Greek Cypriots to avoid appealing to a commission established by the pseudo-state occupied by Turkey in northern Cyprus in order to take back their properties, saying this would pose severe threats for national security.
As the situation remains tricky and Brussels, diplomats were wondering whether an extraordinary EU foreign affairs ministers meeting would be convened for the next week. However, the idea was killed as some member states were not keen and argued that the Commission’s official condemnation should have been enough.
PROTOCOL WOES. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has insisted that the EU would not reopen the controversial Northern Ireland protocol, a key part of the Brexit agreement with the UK, just a day after Boris Johnson’s published a paper setting out its plans to renegotiate it.
DEAL SEAL. The conflict between Berlin and Washington over the construction of the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline bringing Russian gas to Germany has been laid to rest with a joint declaration this week.
A number of German politicians, however, have called for a re-examination of the deal, with some calling it ‘detrimental’ to Europe as a whole.
Ukraine, meanwhile, was promised assistance for its energy security, with an initial donation of €148.3 million. Though both, Kyiv and Warsaw, condemned the deal for having “created political, military and energy threat” in Eastern and Central Europe.
PEGASUS HACK. The United States earlier this week accused Beijing of carrying out a massive hack of Microsoft email servers and charged four Chinese nationals as it rallied the EU and other allies in a rare joint statement condemning “malicious” cyber activity from China.
CARBON TAX. Democrats in the US Senate are considering a “polluter import fee”, similar to the EU’s recently unveiled carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM), to help fund President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion recovery package.
The US import fee would mimic the EU’s recently proposed CBAM, which seeks to put a carbon price on imported goods as a way to equalise costs for European industry and prevent them from leaving Europe for countries where it is cheaper to pollute.
DON’T FORGET. Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said this week he “would like NATO not to forget that apart from an alliance of countries, it is an alliance based on specific values. And this obliges NATO, when one of its members makes a mistake, to state it clearly. It has not done it so far.”
Dendias was referring to NATO’s neutral stance on Turkey and the recent crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean, in which the alliance did not take any side. He called on Athens and Ankara to ease tensions and de-escalate the situation in the region.
CZECH FIREARMS. The Czech Senate this week approved the right to own weapons to defend oneself and others under legal conditions to be embedded in the constitution. This comes as a reaction to the EU’s tendency to regulate firearms acquisition and possession, EURACTIV.cz Ondřej Plevák writes in to report.
SOFIA-SKOPJE. There is great disappointment and trauma among the citizens after the blockade of Macedonia’s European path, but the country will not look for alternatives, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told DW’s Conflict Zone in an interview. Bulgaria’s centre-right party, meanwhile, said it supports North Macedonia EU integration.
ASSOCIATED TRIO. Until now the Associated Trio initiative was met with suspicion in Brussels, because it changes the format of relations with the six former Soviet republics in the EU neighbourhood – Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
For its initiator Tbilisi, the presence of European Council President Charles Michel at a meeting of the three countries in Batumi this week has been perceived as a milestone. Dig into our Special Report with a closer look at the messages from the summit.
Though most EU countries welcome deeper integration with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, their “Associated Trio” initiative finds more support within Eastern and Central Europe, while the Commission and Western member states remain hesitant to adopt the term.
CAUCASUS SOFTPOWER? In the Georgian Black Sea resort Batumi, taxi drivers, who usually talk about the likes of football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, are talking about European Council President Charles Michel. One person might, however, not be too happy each time Michel gets bored of his Brussels routine, dresses in his Superman costume and goes to the Caucasus.
COURT CASE. Russia said Thursday it had filed a complaint against Ukraine with the European Court of Human Rights, blaming Kyiv for the 2014 crash of a Malaysian airliner and civilian deaths in Russia and Ukraine.
WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING
ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT FEW DAYS…
This newsletter takes a hiatus until late August and will be back with all relevant EU foreign affairs news after the summer break.
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[Edited by Benjamin Fox]