Global Europe Brief: Fighting the ‘invisible enemy’

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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BETWEEN HEALTH AND SECURITY

Besides having become a world-wide health crisis, COVID-19 has turned into a security challenge for Europe.

As NATO in recent weeks has significantly stepped up its efforts to support its member states in the fight against COVID-19, experts have questioned the EU’s slow practical response on the matter.

In an exclusive video interview, EURACTIV spoke to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg about crisis response and threat preparedness, China’s role and the pandemic’s impact on the military alliance.

“We have to deal with COVID-19, but at the same time, we have to make sure that the health crisis doesn’t become a security crisis,” Stoltenberg said.

Access the full video interview here:

 

If you’re, for some reason, in a hurry, here are the crucial bits in short:

“We need both at the same time: to fight COVID-19, but also address the other threats and challenges which we are facing,” Stoltenberg added, referring to the shifting global balance of power with the rise of China and a more assertive Russia.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe, China has been practising ‘mask diplomacy’, while Russia made attempts to change the country’s narrative across the bloc.

Asked whether this is a source of concern to NATO, Stoltenberg said NATO members need “to take seriously any attempt to utilise the health crisis to convey false narratives, disinformation and propaganda”.

“The best response we have to disinformation is a free and independent press. Journalists asking the difficult questions, journalists checking their sources. That’s the best way to make sure that those who are trying to convey disinformation campaigns don’t succeed,“ he added.

Meanwhile, Europe is set to face a severe recession after the pandemic is over and this will put a heavy strain on national budgets. Asked whether NATO will be willing to reconsider the national contributions to the 2% defence spending target, Stoltenberg said that currently “everyone is focused on how to save lives and that’s the main task”.

Stoltenberg emphasised that NATO’s military capabilities are also relevant in dealing with a health crisis, which is why defence spending can “provide the civil society with a surged capability that can be utilised in crises like these” in which “military personnel is helping health workers on the front-line all the time”.

At the same time, a dedicated EU military task force will be set up to support the coordination of national armed forces in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. However, it is unclear whether and how efforts could be coordinated on EU-NATO level to avoid duplication.

EU IN THE WORLD

VIRUS UPDATE. The exit from COVID-19 containment measures should be evidence-based, gradual and coordinated between member states, according to a European Commission roadmap to guide governments’ exit strategies. The EU executive will require countries to notify each other and the Commission itself “in due time” of any relaxation of lockdown measures.

MIGRANT WAVE. Turkey is gathering a high number of migrants at its western coasts and urging them to sail across the sea border to neighbouring Greece, several Greek media reported. According to high-ranking government sources in Athens, the Turkish authorities are encouraging migrants to sail across and reach Greece – which could once again cause turmoil comparable to late February, when Ankara officially decided to let thousands of migrants enter EU territory across the Greek-Turkish land border, reports EURACTIV’s Sarantis Michalopolous.

Meanwhile, the UN’s refugee agency has expressed alarm about the fate of dozens of migrants whose rubber dinghies appear to have capsized after setting sail from Libya for Italy.

RIGHTS DELAY. Despite warnings that COVID-19 may particularly affect the rights of already at-risk populations, the European Commission is looking into the possibility of delaying a host of initiatives intended to improve gender equality and protect human, sexual and ethnic minority rights, according to a draft internal working document seen by EURACTIV.

DEBT RELIEF. The G20 group of leading economies agreed to suspend debt payments owed to them by some of the world’s poorest countries in a bid to cushion the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, under a deal pushed by France’s President Emmanuel Macron. Last week, EU Foreign Affairs chief Josep Borrell said that the EU was “supportive of a co-ordinated response for a debt moratorium for the poorest countries” when unveiling a €15 billion COVID-19 rescue plan.

ENLARGEMENT LATEST

ZAGREB SUMMIT. After initial reports that the long-anticipated Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb, initially planned to take place on 7 May, is likely be postponed to a new date in June, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has suggested the meeting might go ahead as planned and will probably be virtual. (h/t Georgi Gotev)

EURASIA DIGEST

EaP VIRUS ROUNDUP. As EU countries begin mulling exit strategies, EURACTIV’s Vlagyiszlav Makszimov took a closer look at the COVID-19 situation in EU’s Eastern neighbourhood, including the spread of the virus and a short overview of containment measures.

MONEY RAISE. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said it was ready to provide Georgia with increased funding of $450 million this year to help the ex-Soviet country in its fight against the coronavirus and support the economy. In comparison to other countries in the region, the Caucasian country was lauded as a success story in the global fight against the pandemic when it comes to its health core response.

OIL SUPPLY CUT. OPEC and allies led by Russia agreed to a record cut in output to prop up oil prices amid the coronavirus pandemic in an unprecedented deal with fellow oil nations, including the United States, that could curb global oil supply by 20%. The biggest oil cut ever is more than four times deeper than the previous record cut in 2008.

HUMANITARIAN AID. In the context of the COVID-19 crisis, Kazakhstan has offered humanitarian aid to its Central Asian neighbours Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, answering a request by Bishkek and Dushanbe. Kazakhstan has so far been less impacted than other countries in terms of confirmed cases, despite a long land border with China, as the country implemented strict preventive measures relatively early, regardless of the number of people affected.

US ELECTION WATCH

It is 201 days until the US Presidential elections and the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has been endorsed by former President Barack Obama and former Democratic primary contender Elizabeth Warren.

What to watch and why it matters: Biden has committed to choosing a woman as his running mate for VP, and picking Warren could help him to expand his appeal among liberal voters as during the campaign she became the most high-profile progressive woman in the Democratic Party.

FUNDING FREEZE. In yet another blow to an international organisation, US President Donald Trump ordered a freeze on funding for the World Health Organization for “mismanaging” the coronavirus crisis, as world leaders weighed easing lockdowns that threaten to tip the global economy into a second Great Depression. However, to many observers it appeared that with his overreaction to the shortcomings of the WHO the US President is simply trying to divert attention from his own failures to get a grip on the pandemic.

European countries were quick in defend the organisation, the EU said Trump has “no reason” to freeze WHO funding at this critical stage and called for measures to promote unity instead of division.

WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING 

ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT DAYS…

The regular institutional cycle has temporarily ground to a halt. But we’ll continue to keep you updated on all relevant EU foreign affairs news, as operations moved exclusively online.
  • European Parliament’s AFET Committee
    | Monday, 20 April 2020 | videoconference
  • Foreign Affairs Council
    | Wednesday, 22 April 2020 | videoconference

 

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