Global Europe Brief: Hot rentrée, Greece-Turkey standoff & Novichok

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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HOT RENTREE

While most of political Europe was still on summer break, in Berlin, the EU‘s credibility when it comes to crisis management in its neighbourhood was being determined by how well it can address Belarus and Turkey.

Last week’s foreign ministers’ meeting was overshadowed by a dispute over the EU’s sanctions policy as some member states attempted to link punitive measures against Belarus with the EU’s diplomatic response to Turkey.

In the end, they reached a political agreement on sanctions against high-ranking supporters of Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko to pressure him into holding new elections. But the progress of the sanctions remains difficult, with some countries, especially Cyprus, trying to raise the stakes.

At the same time, the EU, it seemed, is facing it’s very own ‘brain death’ over Turkey. It was for sure the bloc’s relation with Ankara face make-or-break moment, with the German presidency trying hard to play the ‘honest broker’ alongside muscle-flexing France, and the EU being a hostage of its own failure on migration.

While EU foreign ministers agreed on a list of sanctions against Turkey in the event that Ankara does not de-escalate its actions in the Eastern Mediterranean, including illegal drilling for oil and gas, all eyes are on the next EU summit on 24 September in Brussels. If Ankara continues to escalate, these sanctions will receive final approval.

And now enter the Russian agent. To be more precise, the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok, with which Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was “beyond doubt” deliberately poisoned, according to Germany. The European Commission said the bloc could slap new sanctions on Moscow only after a probe has revealed who was responsible.

Once more, the EU will face the need to think of a coordinated approach on sanctions in the very near future.

EU IN THE WORLD

DEFIANT TURKEY. If Greece expands its maritime borders in the Aegean Sea, this will be a cause of war, Turkish foreign affairs minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said shortly after EU member states decided to sanction Turkey in case Ankara does not withdraw its naval forces from the Eastern Mediterranean.

NO EUROPE FIRST‘. Only if Europe is able to defuse crises in its neighbourhood on its own will Europe remain an attractive ally for the US, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said a few days the bloc struggled to find a common approach to the crisis in Belarus and Turkey. However, according to him, “European sovereignty never means ‘Europe First’”.

DISINFO TARGETS. A fresh spate of coordinated disinformation campaigns emanating from Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) has sought to target Western and European targets, Facebook has said.

POST-COTONOU DEAL. In early March, Commissioner Urpilainen’s team had set an ambitious timetable to conclude the talks on the long-delayed successor to the Cotonou Agreement between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) community by the end of April, leaving a seven-month window for the new treaty to be subject to legal scrubbing, with a view to being formally signed in late November. Now it appears to be approaching the finish line with a ‘99%’ chance of success this year, according to both sides.

DEFENCE CORNER

POLICY FORECAST.  The second half of 2020 will be crucial for a range of European defence initiatives. It will also be crunch-time for Europeans to make yet another attempt at sorting out security matters on the global stage. We have looked at all developments in the European defence policy agenda since the start of this year to give you a lowdown on the key areas to look out for in the coming months.

THREAT ANALYSIS. EU defence ministers agreed to work closer together militarily and develop a common strategic culture, highlighting the growing need for Europe’s common defence policy at a time of escalating challenges in the bloc’s neighbourhood. For long, Berlin had been criticised, mostly by France, for staying away from international military missions and not investing enough in defence. Now, the compass project has become one of the main objectives of Germany’s EU presidency, but some dark clouds might be gathering when it comes to prioritisation of threats inside the bloc.

ARMS PURCHASES. Greece is in talks with France and other countries over arms purchases to boost its armed forces, according to a government official, as tensions grow over energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean.

NEW START TALKS. After the latest round of nuclear disarmament talks in mid-August, the US and Russia remain at odds over several key issues, but open the door an inch towards a possibly temporary extension of the New START Treaty, which is set to expire in less than six months.

ENLARGEMENT LATEST

POLICY FORECAST. In the wake of an “enlargement summit” in May that had omitted the word enlargement altogether, the Western Balkans region is set to stay high on the Brussels agenda this autumn and possibly even mark one or two milestones in the drawn-out process. The Commission, armed with a shiny new methodology for joining the bloc, is expected to publish in the autumn its long-delayed enlargement package that will analyse the entire process and contain detailed country-specific reports on the progress of the candidates and EU hopefuls.

BELGRADE-PRISTINA TALKS GO US. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić is travelling to Washington this week for talks between Belgrade and Priština in the hope of discussing the economy while Kosovo Premier Avdullah Hoti insists that mutual recognition is the only topic he can discuss with Serbian officials.

MONTENEGRO POLLS. Long-reigning President Milo Djukanovic’s pro-Western ruling party suffered a major setback in Montenegro’s tightly contested parliamentary election, final results showed. The party won most votes but fell short of a majority, giving a chance to an opposition bloc to try to form a government.

EURASIA DIGEST

SHOWING WEAKNESS. The only Belarusian opposition leader who has not gone into exile, Maria Kolesnikova, is positive about the future of the pro-democracy protests in the eastern European country. Embattled Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, she said, has shown weakness by repeatedly turning to the Kremlin for support.

MOSCOW ARMS? An Azeri presidential aide claimed that Russia has been supplying Armenia with weapons since a clash between the two former Soviet republics in July. More than a dozen Armenian and Azeri soldiers were killed in July at the border between the two, which have long been at odds over Azerbaijan’s breakaway, mainly ethnic Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

US ELECTION WATCH

It’s 61 days until the US Presidential election and Democrats worry that a fear campaign could work with battleground state swing voters as US President Trump leans into a law-and-order message.

What to watch and why it matters: Digital platforms Facebook, Google, Twitter and Redditare holding regular meetings with one another, federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies to discuss potential threats to election integrity and game-play potential chaos scenarios for election day, Axios reports.

WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING 

ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT FEW DAYS…

Europe’s everyday business is picking up after summer break and so does this newsletter. We’ll keep you updated on all relevant EU foreign affairs news, as operations start to move exclusively online.

  • Belgrade-Pristina talks in Brussels
    | Monday, 7 September 2020 | Brussels, Belgium
  • Eighth round of EU-UK talks on post-Brexit trade
    | Monday, 7 September 2020 | London, UK
  • Tikhanovskaya to address Council of Europe
    | Tuesday, 8 September 2020 | London, UK
  • Michel gives keynote at Brussels Economic Forum
    | Tuesday, 8 September 2020 | Brussels, Belgium
  • European Parliament’s AFET Committee
    | Thursday, 10 September 2020 | Brussels, Belgium

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