Global Europe Brief: ‘Infected’ budgets, sanctions pressure & armed clashes

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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BUDGET MELTDOWN

With the EU struggling to adjust to the current geopolitical reality and new EU defence initiatives under increasing pressure to deliver results, cuts to the bloc’s defence budget would be counter-productive, EU defence officials and ministers warned ahead of a crucial EU budget summit on 17 July.

European Council President Charles Michel’s latest budget proposal, presented on 10 July, once again decreased the planned defence funding.

Michel’s proposal contains clear cuts to the planned funding for the European Defence Fund (EDF), which is down to €7 billion, while the proposed funding for military mobility (€1.5 billion) and the European space programme (€13 billion) is close to what the European Commission proposed in May.

Even so, the figures remain far below the initial proposal of €13 billion and €6.5 billion, respectively, for the EU’s two flagship programmes.

But as Europe struggles to cope with the COVID-19 crisis, EU defence officials fear the pandemic might also reverse progress made in European defence.

At the same time, EU external and development spending is in line to be the biggest loser from this week’s crunch EU budget summit in Brussels.

The blueprint outlined by Council President Michel includes a reduction of €4.7 billion for the Neighbourhood Development and International Cooperation Instrument in the EU’s next seven-year budget.

EU IN THE WORLD

SANCTIONS PRESSURE. EU foreign affairs ministers decided to explore ways of easing tensions with Turkey in the Mediterranean, giving Ankara one month to change course, warning at the same time that Europe will not hesitate to pick the sanctions option if the situation deteriorates. The ministerial discussion focused on all open fronts between the EU and Turkey, ranging from Turkish illegal drilling activities in the Mediterranean to Ankara’s involvement in Libya and Syria.

WTO HOT-SEAT. COVID-19’s potential to wreak long-term damage on global commerce means the World Trade Organisation (WTO) faces a crucial period under a new director-general, who may end up hailing from Africa for the very first time.

TRADE TIES. Indian and EU leaders vowed to deepen trade ties as both face the economic shock of the coronavirus epidemic and rising tensions with China. Emerging giant India is traditionally defensive of its right to trade independently under global rules, while Europe’s trade deals seek to bind partners to stricter standards. But analysts say Delhi and Brussels increasingly recognise their mutual interests in the face of a more assertive China and the looming global economic slump.

DEFENCE CORNER

NORMANDY FORMAT. Engaging with Ukraine and Russia and pursuing progress in the ‘Normandy format’ talks on resolving the Ukraine crisis will be a priority for Germany during its presidency of the EU Council, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told a meeting of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET) while presenting Berlin’s EU Council presidency priorities.

ARMS EXPORTS. MEPs in the European Parliament’s subcommittee for security and defence (SEDE) adopted a report in support of the Council´s commitment to strengthen the control of EU arms exports, calling on the EU to play an active role in the areas of non-proliferation of arms and global disarmament. “With increasing EU cooperation and EU funding in arms production, EU oversight and regulations are needed more and more,“ rapporteur Hannah Neumann (Greens) said. Ahead of the debate, she spoke to EURACTIV about the lack of transparency and common arms export rules across the bloc.

‘FORGOTTEN’ CONFLICT. Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, whose collapsed health system is unable to cope with COVID-19, has been devastated by civil war, with no end in sight. But contrary to the wars in Syria and Libya, it makes fewer headlines. As COVID-19 and violence peak and humanitarian aid programs collapse due to a lack of funding, it has become the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world, according to the UN and the International Red Cross. But because only a few refugees come to Europe from there, the drama has been hardly noticed.

CONSTITUTIONAL PUSH. The Czech government has thrown its weight behind efforts to amend the country’s constitution and add the right to defend oneself and others with a firearm to the list of fundamental human rights and freedoms. EURACTIV.cz’s Aneta Zachová reports from Prague.

SATELLITE BUDGETThe budget of Luxembourg’s new military satellite project, LUXEOsys, which has troubled MPs for some time now, will be cut by €41 million, Defence Minister François Bausch announced. While Bausch’s Green Party had disapproved the project from the get-go, the current defence minister managed to reduce the budget increase to €139 million rather than the extra €170 million proposed by Schneider, writes EURACTIV’s Anne Damiani.

ENLARGEMENT LATEST

DECISIVE POLLS. North Macedonia’s Social Democrats, who pledged to take the Balkan country to the EU, are set to win the parliamentary vote, state election commission parliamentary results showed. An SDSM victory could be seen as lending momentum to Skopje’s membership talks with the EU.

ROCKY ROAD. Former war foes Serbia and Kosovo will restart talks to normalise their strained relations after a long stalemate, though the road to settling their many disputes is paved with stumbling blocks. After a virtual meeting organised by EU officials last weekend, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo’s new Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti will finally talk face-to-face in Brussels.

EURASIA DIGEST

ARMED CLASHES. Armenia and Azerbaijan are still technically at war over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region of Azerbaijan that was seized by Armenia-backed separatists who declared independence amid a 1988-1994 conflict that killed at least 30,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands.

Eleven Azerbaijan troops and one civilian have been killed in the clashes in three days of fighting that started Sunday between the ex-Soviet republics, as well as four Armenian troops, according to the two countries. However, border clashes erupted again early on Thursday (16 July) between arch-foes Azerbaijan and Armenia after a brief pause the previous day, officials in both countries said.

In an exclusive interview with EURACTIV, Hikmat Hajiev, head of the foreign affairs department of Azerbaijan’s presidential administration, explains the stakes of a recent armed clash at the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which he calls a deliberate provocation from Yerevan.

‘TIK-TOK’ WAR. A Kyiv district court has decided not to order pre-trial restrictive measures against former President Petro Poroshenko, and the country’s prosecutor general accused his defence team of attempting to stall the process by questioning “absolutely everything”.

BARRED CANDIDATES. Hundreds of people protested in the Belarusian capital Minsk after the central election commission refused to register the two main rivals of President Alexander Lukashenko as candidates in the August 9 presidential election.

RELAXATION OFFSET. The international community recognised the successes of the measures taken by Kazakhstan during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring. However, things have changed since then and this time, Kazakhstan needs to respond to an increase of cases resulting from relaxation of measures.

WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING 

ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT DAYS…

With Europe’s everyday business slowing down for summer break, we’ll continue to keep you updated on all relevant EU foreign affairs news.

  • Second Serbia-Kosovo high-level dialogue
    | Thursday, 16 July 2020 | Brussels, Belgium
  • European Council meeting on MFF and EU Recovery Fund
    | Friday, 17 July 2020 | Brussels, Belgium

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