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In this week’s edition: Geopolitical season preview, Afghan migration woes and European military dilemma.
After a longer than usual summer break from EU politics in Brussels (thanks, COVID-19), this autumn’s foreign policy agenda promises to be busier than ever.
Here are some key dates and announcements you should look out for:
The EU has put together a long-awaited strategy on the Indo-Pacific in April, in what could signal a seismic shift in how the bloc will in future view the region, beyond China, from a geostrategic point of view.
While the EU is unlikely to get too involved in regional disputes and quarrels, it will attempt to work with ‘like-minded’ states in the region and reinforce ‘democratic values’ and international law. Expect more on 14 September.
Beyond this, the EU is expected to think about the fate of the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), which had been suspended this year, and explore whether to relaunch EU-China summits.
A new pact to tackle the issue was put forward by the European Commission last September but a final deal has yet to be reached. With Afghanistan in disarray, migration is an issue that won’t go away. Will the current fear of a repeat of migration flows towards Europe be pressure enough?
A European Commission migration follow-up package, to be out on 29 September, is meant to include an EU action plan against migrant smuggling and an assessment of the state in migration across the bloc.
- Arctic policy
One of the more overlooked strategy documents will come upon us on 5 October, when the European Commission is set to publish the long-awaited Arctic policy.
Experts and regional stakeholders were surprised after the EU executive’s 2020 work programme had made no reference to plans to update the bloc’s stance on Arctic matters.
As the US and Russia are also ramping up Arctic security narratives that make the region vulnerable to geopolitical competition, the EU’s preference for a human security approach might not entirely stand.
- Western Balkans
Enlargement, the EU’s hot potato, might become even hotter. Slovenia is set to organise an informal Western Balkans summit with EU and regional leaders on 6 October.
China and Russia’s vaccine diplomacy and EU disenchantment during the COVID-19 pandemic and a series of unofficial diplomatic notes suggesting border changes in the Balkans, rocked the region and raised fears of renewed ethnic tensions in the south-eastern corner of Europe.
Bulgaria blocking North Macedonia’s accession talks due to ongoing disputes over common history, national identity, and language might not move anywhere quickly as Bulgaria could be heading for a third general election in less than a year.
In the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue stalemate, a tense atmosphere prevails with no progress. Leaders of both negotiating teams are likely to meet as part of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue in Brussels on 7-8 September.
For a long time now, Western diplomats in the EU and beyond have kept tabs on China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an ambitious infrastructure project that harks back to the ancient Silk Road, with a vast collection of development and investment initiatives that stretch from East Asia to Europe and beyond.
Member states signed off in July on a counter-scheme to the BRI, under the bulky title of ‘Connecting Europe Globally’, but offered little substance about the European push and in how it distinguishes itself from the US and Chinese approaches. Keep an eye out around 13 October for more.
- Eastern Partnership
The Eastern Partnership region has been burning for quite a while already, destabilised by the Armenian-Azerbaijani war, the political crisis in Georgia, and the continued uncertainty caused by the war in Eastern Ukraine.
Belarus announced in July it was suspending its participation in the initiative, a move condemned by Brussels as “another step backwards”. Look out for more sanctions policy updates, too.
At this year’s Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels on 15 December, the newly established ‘Associated Trio’ – Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova – is likely to be pushing for more EU commitments to their countries’ future path. This also involves a number of initiatives to develop practical cooperation on joint infrastructure projects and across a range of policy areas from trade, energy to defence.
Ukraine, on the other hand, will already have an opportunity on 12 October, at the EU-Ukraine summit, to raise issues from Nord Stream 2 and gas security and likely ask for more support in the ongoing war in the country’s East.
GYMNICH TIME | Expectedly, Afghanistan did overshadow the informal meetings of EU foreign and defence ministers in Brdo, Slovenia, this week.
LESSONS LEARNED? | In case the EU wishes to become a more reliable security provider and global actor, it needs to avoid past mistakes and develop credible military intervention forces that are able to project stability in our neighbourhood, Slovenia’s defence minister Matej Tonin told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview on the eve of the meetings.
MILITARY DILEMMA | And indeed, EU officials have once again started, in the context of Afghanistan, considering the creation of a rapid military response force of 5,000 that could intervene early in international crises.
EU defence ministers thus discussed proposals for the potential new capability as well as the possibility to move towards ad-hoc military cooperation between interested EU member states. But not all of them are on board.
Analysts have for long urged the EU to take responsibility for defence, but as one top defence expert asked: If the EU had had the capabilities before Kabul’s fall, would it have used is? A majority (clear, albeit not representative) doesn’t believe so.
MIGRATION WOES | On the same note, before Gymnich, the EU said it is determined to prevent uncontrolled large-scale illegal migration movements from Afghanistan by boosting aid to its neighbours in the region, a more than five-hour-long emergency meeting of EU home affairs ministers concluded. However, they did not discuss sums or resettlement numbers.
Afghan officials see strategies in the neighbourhood as a short-term solution.
“Over the long term, the only thing that will help stem the tide of migration is ensuring that there is a safe place in Afghanistan where all Afghans can live without fear of Taliban violence,” a member of the Afghan parliament told EURACTIV on condition of anonymity.
If the Taliban are allowed to use fear, intimidation and violence to impose their will and brutal form of governance on all Afghans, “then the migration crisis will only continue to get worse”, the politician added.
“The EU must continue to focus on the needs of the people of Afghanistan, not just now because it is in the headlines, but in the coming weeks, months and years,” he said.
“The people of Afghanistan are living through a disastrous humanitarian crisis and they are in urgent need of food, shelter and medical support from the EU.”
CRUCIAL QUESTION | The most crucial question for Afghan citizens, however, is to avoid recognition of the Taliban as legitimate rulers of their country.
To help the people in Afghanistan, particularly the most vulnerable and those who have worked for the EU, this “requires engagement with the Taliban,” the EU’s chief diplomat, Joseph Borrell, told reporters but stressed this would not equal recognition.
“We expect the EU to not give legitimacy to the Taliban regime – this means not recognizing the Taliban government unless and until it can be verified on the ground by independent observers that they implement an inclusive and participatory system,” the Afghan parliament member said.
“One where officials are elected and respect international norms and the rights of all Afghan citizens, especially women, ethnic minorities and those who oppose Taliban rule,” he added.
Thus, handy that EU foreign ministers agreed on five benchmarks for Afghanistan engagement.
EU IN THE WORLD
SUPPORT REQUEST | In other news, Tunisia’s democrats need more support from the EU and European nations as the North African country faces up to months of government by presidential decree, said Ahmed Gaaloul, an Ennahdha party official and former youth and sports minister.
Last week, President Saied announced a second month of suspension, a move described by Ennahdha and many other political parties as unconstitutional and a coup.
VACCINE HUBS | The EU will provide financial support for vaccine manufacture on the African continent with the specific aim of supplying Africa, as it seeks to fight back against accusations of ‘vaccine nationalism’.
TRADE OPTIMISM | The EU’s trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis said on Friday he had become more optimistic that the bloc could resolve its dispute with Washington over US import tariffs on steel and aluminium.
Dombrovskis recalled that one of the joint conclusions of the June EU-US summit had been to work to resolve the issue by the end of the year.
“After the EU-U.S. summit I am more optimistic that the solution will be found, so we are now engaging closely with the relevant departments in the U.S. administration,” he told a session at Brussels think-tank Bruegel.
REGULAR FEATURE | Slovenia’s EU presidency will host an EU-Western Balkans summit in early October, and its desire is to make these summits a regular annual event as a means of accelerating the EU enlargement process.
BIG MEET | Ukraine’s President Zelenskiy (finally) went to Washington, and although it was his first visit, it was much more than a social call. He raised concerns about the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and sought to hear Joe Biden’s vision of his country’s chances for joining NATO, as well as a time frame for such a move. The two countries said in a joint statement after the meeting that they both oppose Russia’s gas project and “support efforts to increase capacity for gas supplies to Ukraine from diversified sources.”
The get-together took place as European leaders are taking stock of Biden’s abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan, a move that prompted some allies to raise general questions about US security commitments. Though there was not much progress on the other issues, Biden offered Kyiv $60 million in new security aid, which senior Biden administration officials said would include Javelin anti-armour systems and other “defensive lethal and nonlethal capabilities”.
EU REBUKE | Following the Georgian government’s decision not to take the second instalment of loan assistance worth €75 million from the EU, Brussels said that Tbilisi had failed to fulfil the reform conditions attached to the assistance, the latest sign of an increasingly rocky relationship.
WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING
- China, Russia Look to Outflank US in Afghanistan [Foreign Policy]
- Historical Parenthesis? Afghanistan, EU Foreign Policy, and The Future of the Liberal Order [CEPS]
ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT FEW DAYS…
We’ll keep you updated on all relevant EU foreign affairs news, as Europe’s everyday business is back from summer break.
- Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) military bloc holds exercises
| Tuesday, 7 September 2021 | Kyrgystan
- Conference on Afghanistan, with Ahmad Wali Massoud
| Tuesday, 7 September 2021 | Geneva, Switzerland
- Start of trial of defendants in November 2015 Paris attacks
| Wednesday, 8 September 2021 | Paris, France
- European Parliament’s SEDE Committee
| Thursday, 9 September 2021 | Brussels, Belgium
- Russia’s President Putin hosts Belarusian counterpart Lukashenko
| Thursday, 9 September 2021 | Moscow, Russia
- Russia, Belarus hold joint military exercises
| Friday, 10 September 2021 | Belarus
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