Global Europe Brief: Military mobility on the move

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EDITOR’s TAKE

Military mobility has been seen as the ‘silver bullet’ for EU-NATO defence cooperation, meant to ensure seamless movement of military equipment across the EU in response to crises.

The military project, which bounced back from being nearly dead on the EU side recently, has also been hailed as one of the EU’s flagship defence initiatives with few political disagreements across the bloc.

Throughout the negotiation process of the EU’s new long-term budget last year, military mobility was on the verge of becoming one of the main casualties, with its money envelope being slashed to the ground in consecutive proposals – a curious way to deal with flagship projects.

According to a recent report by the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), NATO and the EU should now engage “at the highest levels” to push forward military mobility in Europe to deter threats.

The 72-page document suggested both organisations should begin a comprehensive assessment of relevant European transportation infrastructure and networks to identify bottlenecks and pool monetary power for improvements.

It recommends streamlining cross-border movement permissions across member states and improving infrastructure for dual-use needs.

A new dimension of EU’s current Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) policy addresses the implementation and development of a Europe-wide network of railway lines, roads, inland waterways, maritime shipping routes, ports, airports and railroad terminals.

Dual-use (civilian-military) co-funding of transport infrastructure projects has also been proposed within the next Connecting Europe Facility (CEF).

“We need standardisation as much for civil projects that fulfil military requirements as for the latter themselves,” Jörg Vollmer, commander of NATO’s Joint Force Command Brunssum, told an event this week.

The report comes as Washington announced its wish to be admitted to the EU’s project, aimed at easing the flow of military forces across the continent, Defense News reports. Canada and Norway have also expressed interest.

The historic advance by Washington is not too far off – EU member states agreed last November on conditions to allow countries outside the bloc to participate in joint defence projects.

Eastern Europeans, who have for long advocated more EU funds for military mobility, will watch the latest recommendations very closely.

At the same time, NATO officials admit that another open question is linked to the assessment of the extent of Chinese-owned key infrastructure junctions throughout Europe.

“I have my doubts if we really clearly understand where we have Chinese influence,” Vollmer admitted.


EU IN THE WORLD

MERCOSUR TALKS. Portugal said its EU Council presidency team is working with Mercosur countries on “additional clarification” on environmental standards in the trade agreement negotiated with the EU.

But it seems that mere “political commitments” will not be enough to ratify the agreement between the EU and Mercosur countries, a French cabinet minister told EU trade ministers, citing environmental and agricultural concerns.

BREXIT DEAL. As the EU and UK agreed their Trade and Cooperation Agreement just in time for the New Year’s Eve deadline, Brexit was supposed to finally be done. EURACTIV’s Brexit Editor Benjamin Fox explains why both sides are counting the early costs of the new trade arrangement and why there is still plenty of unfinished business.

At the same time, the Brexit row continues as the EU has accused the UK government of breaking international law after it moved to unilaterally extend grace periods for Irish Sea border checks.

RUSSIA SANCTIONS. The US on Tuesday imposed sanctions to punish Russia for what it described as Moscow’s attempt to poison opposition leader Alexei Navalny, acting in concert with the EU, which imposed largely symbolic sanctions on four senior Russian officials close to Putin, a move agreed by EU ministers last week in response to Navalny’s jailing.

However, Washington and London are weighing additional penalties against Russia over the use of chemical weapons, with options ranging from sanctions against oligarchs to the extreme step of targeting the nation’s sovereign debt. Hitting Putin where it hurts had been one of the main demands of Navalny’s aides during talks with EU foreign ministers in Brussels, before EU sanctions were agreed.

SPUTNIK APPROVAL. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) began a rolling review of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine in a first step towards granting the approval of the jab across the EU. “Geopolitics has nothing to do with the fact that whether EMA considers a vaccine safe and efficient or not,” a Commission spokesperson told EURACTIV.

So far, two EU countries, Hungary and Slovakia, have pushed ahead with their own plan for the vaccine. Hungary is already using the Russian vaccine, while Slovakia has received its first doses of the shot.

EAST-MED PIPE. Greece and Egypt are discussing the possibility of changing the route of East-Med gas pipeline in order to tackle the technical difficulties of the project as well as respond to the question of its economic viability, Greek journal To Vima has reported.

DIPLOMATIC FEUD. Ethiopian diplomats have stoked a growing diplomatic feud with the EU after the bloc’s foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, and his envoy, Finland’s Pekka Haavisto, harshly criticised the government’s handling of the conflict in the northern Tigray province. Haavisto had warned that the crisis in Tigray appeared to be “out of control”, adding that the Ethiopian government was “in denial” about the scale of the problem.

EU SOVEREIGNTY. The demand for more European sovereignty within the EU is strong despite disparities between member states, according to a study. The poll comes at a time when ambitions for the EU to be a true ‘geopolitical actor’ remain thwarted by persistent deep divisions among member states, some of which are pushing for a more autonomous EU path, especially in foreign and security policy.

DEFENCE CORNER

DEFENDING EUROPE? NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned on Thursday that Europe’s defence depends on close transatlantic bonds and not on a quest for the continent’s strategic autonomy’. Stoltenberg said he welcomed Brussels’ efforts to boost spending and streamline its defence industry. But he was doubtful about calls for the continent to develop “strategic autonomy” of the kind championed by France’s President Emmanuel Macron, as the bloc doesn’t have an army of its own.

WARSHIP MOVES. German government officials said this week a German frigate would set sail for Asia in August and, on its return journey, become the first German warship to cross the South China Sea since 2002. The US hailed the German plan, calling it welcome support for a “rules-based international order” in the region, something Washington says is threatened by China.

TRANSATLANTIC LINK

BIDEN SUMMIT(s). Portugal’s EU presidency is working to have a meeting with US President Joe Biden in the first half of the year, the Secretary of State for European affairs, Ana Paula Zacarias, announced. Just after Biden’s election, European Council President Charles Michel invited Biden to an EU summit in Brussels, but so far the COVID-19 situation has not allowed for such a meeting.

At the same time, NATO officials told EURACTIV they hope their NATO summit with Biden can take place “no later than June” and possibilities are explored whether both could potentially be part of the same overseas travel.

EURASIA DIGEST

MICHEL MOVE. In an unusual move, European Council President Charles Michel invited Georgia’s ruling and opposition parties for talks under his mediation over dinner during his visit to Tbilisi this week. Michel’s visit to Georgia came with the parties mired in a deepening political crisis that risks derailing the former Soviet republic from its European path. Progress in talks between the ruling party and the opposition will be assessed in two weeks, on 15 March.

CONFLICT LINES. The Kremlin urged France and Germany this week to use their influence with the Ukrainian government to make sure that events in the part of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed rebels did not “cross a dangerous line”.

Ukraine pushed back against the remarks, saying Russia should instead order the forces it controls in Donbas to observe the ceasefire and blamed Moscow for obstructing progress in new prisoner swaps and troop withdrawals.

RESOLUTION RISKS. The European Parliament’s recent resolution on Kazakhstan passed with 598 votes in favour, 43 against and 52 abstentions, and was highly critical of the human rights situation in Kazakhstan and of the way the recent parliamentary elections were held there. It is “clumsy” and detrimental both for the bilateral relations and the credibility of the EU, Bulgarian MEP Ivo Hristov (S&D) told EURACTIV.


WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING 

ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT FEW DAYS…

Europe’s everyday business is still stuck in lockdown reality, until further notice. We’ll keep you updated on all relevant EU foreign affairs news, as we enter a busy spring period.

  • European Parliament plenary session
    | Mo-Thu, 8-11 March 2021 | Brussels, Belgium
  • Informal meeting of home affairs ministers on migration
    | Tuesday, 12 March 2021 | videolink, public session
  • Informal meeting of foreign and home affairs ministers on migration
    | Tuesday, 12 March 2021 | videolink

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