Global Europe Brief: Operation Saving Summer

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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BACK TO THE FUTURE OF TOURISM

Attention, your summer might be saved! The European Commission set out plans for a phased restart of travel this summer, proposing a gradual lifting of borders in an attempt to kick start a tourism sector hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Travel and freedom of movement restrictions aimed at combatting the virus have already had a devastating impact on Europe’s tourism sector, which in total accounts for 10% of GDP and 12% of jobs.

Southern countries in particular, like Greece, Italy and Spain, Europe’s top holiday destinations, are already struggling with debt and the impact of COVID-19.

The EU is proposing a three-stage approach on opening borders, starting with the current situation in which most non-essential travel across borders is banned.

But while the decision over reopening internal Schengen borders belongs to the member states, and the recommendations are as non-binding as WHO advice, it is expected that each member state is likely to approach the end of its lockdown a bit differently.

As part of its ‘summer package’, the EU executive decided to keep the bloc’s rights rulebook unchanged, meaning that travel companies are still obligated to refund passengers for cancelled trips if they request reimbursement.

As the tourism industry looks forward to reinventing itself, popular tourism destinations look at ways to drastically reduce tourist masses and others seek to attract new groups of customers in an environmentally-friendly way. Will the EU Internal Market Commissioner’s proposal to use the crisis as an opportunity to set out a roadmap for sustainable tourism across Europe fly?

EU IN THE WORLD

OBSERVER SUPPORT. More than 100 members of the European Parliament and member states’ national assemblies have called upon EU health ministers to lobby for Taiwan’s participation in next week’s World Health Assembly in Geneva to share its experience in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an open letter obtained by EURACTIV. So far, Taipei is effectively locked out of WHO membership due to its complex relationship with China.

IRISH QUESTION. With a month until UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen agree on whether an EU-UK trade pact can be finalised this year, it is hard to find anyone who thinks a ‘no deal’ scenario is not the odds-on favourite. Progress has been, to be kind, minimal, and the UK shows no interest in extending the talks beyond the end of its post-Brexit transition period in December, writes EURACTIV’s Benjamin Fox.

DEFENCE CORNER

BUDGET HEADACHES. The European Commission is expected to present a revised MFF budget proposal by 20 May. It might further slash defence initiatives funding as EU countries are under pressure from the economic fallout of COVID-19. It was clear that the pandemic is “very likely to deteriorate the security environment in the years ahead”, EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell told EU defence ministers, urging EU countries to avoid cutting defence spending under pressure from the economic fallout of the coronavirus and warning that the COVID-19 crisis could spark unforeseen security challenges.

ARMED DRONES. Germany has reopened a controversial debate over whether its armed forces should be trusted to operate armed drones. While an agreement seems far off, the debate could soon get a European twist. “We urgently need an EU-level legal framework to prevent the abuse of armed drones,” Green MEP Hannah Neumann told EURACTIV. “If we send our soldiers into a conflict, we need to do everything to protect them in the best way possible. Armed drones might be part of this, but we must refrain from an approach that makes war easier and more deadly.”

ENLARGEMENT

SCHENGEN PLUS. Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told EU lawmakers, the EU must go “back to the future” of open borders after COVID-19 “as soon as possible”, she also said she supports the accession of Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia, the only three members outside Schengen, to the passport-free area.

EURASIA DIGEST

VICTORY DAY. Russian Ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, discussed Victory Day, Russia’s relations with its wartime allies, conspiracy theories about COVID-19, sanctions, disinformation and more with EURACTIV’s Georgi Gotev.

‘MAFIA’ OBSTACLE. Following presidential and parliamentary elections held in the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region despite international criticism and the coronavirus pandemic, a high official of Azerbaijan pointed at mafia-type relations between the unrecognized authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh and the government in Armenia as an obstacle for solving the long-lasting conflict.

BANKING LAW. Ukraine passed a banking law that prevents the return of insolvent banks to previous owners, removing the last obstacle for getting aid from the EU and the International Monetary Fund, much needed to prop up Ukraine’s developing economy amid the coronavirus storm.

VISA AGREEMENT. The European Parliament has approved the agreements on visa facilitation and readmission with Belarus, almost six years after Brussels and Minsk started the talks on the agreements on visa facilitation and readmission. Next step is the ratification by the Council of the European Union. After that, Belarus and the EU will be able to exchange the instruments of ratification and thus complete the ratification procedure. The agreements will come into force on the first day of the second month after the completion of the ratification procedure, in July at the earliest.

US ELECTION WATCH

It is 173 days until the US presidential elections and just like Europe, America is arguing about sensible ways to reopen the country as some 84,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 over the past 14 weeks.

TRADE TRUCE. The European Commission will present on Friday (15 May) its new strategy towards the US to trade officials from the 27 member states, some of whom are wary of the latest efforts to make fresh inroads with US President Donald Trump. EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan hopes the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic will spur efforts to heal US trade ties, bogged down in a tit-for-tat tariff feud.

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.
  • Foreign Affairs Council
    | Friday, 15 May 2020 | videoconference
  • WHO Annual Meeting
    | Monday, 18 May 2020 | videoconference
  • European Parliament’s AFET Committee
    | Tuesday, 19 May 2020 | videoconference

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