Global Europe Brief: Seeking a truce in Libya

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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QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“We hope that the Europeans will continue to hold Iran accountable. We’d like them to join our diplomatic efforts, of diplomatic isolation and economic pressure which are the conditions to get to a new and better deal.”

– Brian Hook, US Special Representative for Iran

EU IN THE WORLD

SAHEL. French President Emmanuel Macron hosted on Monday (13 January) his counterparts from five Sahel countries seeking more backing in the fight against a murderous jihadist uprising. Recently rising “anti-French tensions” in the region, however, promised to make the talks a tricky matter.

While French-led 4,500 soldier-strong Operation Barkhane was supposed to be France’s contribution to driving jihadists from the Sahel region, one of its main spheres of influence in Africa, Macron is instead increasingly isolated – both in Africa and in Europe, writes EURACTIV’s Benjamin Fox. While Macron managed to secure only some cosmetic commitments at the six-way summit, there is little sign that other EU countries are likely to share the burden any time soon.

IRAN. With the prospects of a potential US-Iran war fading, EU foreign minister said during an emergency session last Friday they are willing to maintain the Iran nuclear deal as long as Tehran fulfils its commitments in order to achieve it. Effectively this means they are ready to risk a rift Washington, ironically, for having their own foreign policy for once.

But Europe is not ready to maintain the deal at any cost, showing that European patience to preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme might have its limits: As a response to renewed violations of the deal by Tehran, its European signatories (France, Germany, UK) triggered the agreement’s dispute resolution mechanism.

While the E3 hope that by activating the mechanism, they could bring Iran back into full compliance with its JCPOA commitments, a failure of the talks could effectively lead to the re-imposition of UN sanctions and the death of the troubled nuclear accord.

Meanwhile, INSTEX, the EU-Iran trade mechanism, has become a point of contention between Europe and the Trump administration, with Washington effectively threatening to sanction anyone using the mechanism. However, European efforts to ensure continued trading with Tehran despite the sanctions have so far had little impact and no transactions had been made so far, EURACTIV’s Alexandra Brzozowski has found.

LIBYA. Russia and Turkey have attempted to broker an open-ended ceasefire agreement between the two warring sides in Libya but failed to agree to end the nine-month war over the capital Tripoli. Although the head of the UN-supported Government of National Accord, Fayez al-Sarraj, signed the agreement, Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the eastern-based Libyan National Army, did not.

“From a European perspective, it has been troubling to see that the EU has found it challenging to play a meaningful role in Libya while Russia and Turkey have taken the lead,” security expert Niklas Novaky told EURACTIV. “The Berlin Libya conference will be a key moment for Europe to reclaim some influence and develop a role for itself in the peace process,” he added.

No single geographic location makes the EU more vulnerable these days than Libya. Regrettably, the situation in this Mad Max country is likely to get worse before it gets better, writes EURACTIV’s Georgi Gotev in his commentary.

Meanwhile, Germany’s decision not to invite Greece to a conference on the Libya crisis next Sunday (19 January) while Turkey will attend the meeting, has left the Greek government smarting from a perceived diplomatic snub, writes EURACTIV’s Sarantis Michalopoulos.

The EU, on the other side, is getting prepared for a potential migration wave resulting from the crisis, an EU spokesperson confirmed on Wednesday (15 January. “Being prepared, not acting ad hoc is a very important strand in our thinking for the migration policy,” said Dana Spinant.

VENEZUELA. With the ongoing economic and political crisis dragging on in Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro said he was open to allow United Nations and European Union observers to monitor legislative elections slated for later this year. The EU had expressed its full support to Juan Guaidó as president of the National Assembly and described the voting session that led to the “election” of Luis Parra as “not legitimate as it did not respect the legal procedures, nor the democratic constitutional principles”.

CFSP. In a resolution assessing the state of play on the EU´s common foreign and security policy, EU lawmakers had expressed their full support for new European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s decision to transform the EU executive into a ‘geopolitical Commission’. “With the beginning of a new political cycle, there is an urgent need for a stronger, united and proactive EU,” Foreign Affairs Committee chair David McAllister (EPP, DE) said, adding that the role of the European Parliament should be reinforced. Notable point in the resolution: MEPs have called for stronger EU engagement in the Arctic.

DEFENCE CORNER

CSDP. In the annual resolution on common security and defence policy, EU lawmakers in Strasbourg warned that the EU has been slow to react and adapt to the new “uncertain and unpredictabile security environment”. According to the resolution, insufficient defence investments, lack of capabilities but above all, a “political reluctance to implement the robust provisions provided for in the European treaties” hampers the EU’s ability to play a decisive role in external crises. “In full respect of alliances and partnerships, Europe must assert its strategic autonomy and strengthen its capabilities in order to be a real actor and not a spectator,” said rapporteur Arnaud Danjean (EPP, FR).

ENLARGEMENT LATEST

ACCESSION TIMELINE. Meanwhile, Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi is currently visiting North Macedonia and Albania, where he is likely to stress the European Commission’s commitment to the EU accession perspective of the two countries. “We stand by our proposal to open accession talks with both countries and we are working to make it happen very soon”, Várhelyi said ahead of his first trip to the Western Balkans since taking office in December.

According to sources, the new accession methodology lobbied for by French President Emmanuel Macron is to be presented on 29 January, followed by two European Commission mini-reports on North Macedonia and Albania in February, while the final proposal for the new enlargement methodology and enlargement decision is to be expected in March.

KOSOVO TALKS. EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell spoke on the phone with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi about the latest developments in both countries, noting the importance of working towards a resumption of the Belgrade-Priština talks, as EURACTIV Serbia reports. Borrell reiterated his intention to travel to both capitals in the coming weeks.

EURASIA DIGEST

POWER GRAB. In a rather unexpected announcement, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his cabinet stepped down to give President Vladimir Putin room to carry out the changes he wants to make to the constitution. Putin’s intended reforms would effectively give him scope to extend his grip on power after leaving the presidency. Russia’s ruling party on Thursday (16 January) unanimously backed President Vladimir Putin’s surprise choice for prime minister, Mikhail Mishustin, a man with almost no political profile.

Meanwhile, Moscow’s international influence has led to stronger cooperation between German Chancellor Merkel and Russian President Putin. But what can both leaders achieve? EURACTIV’s media partner Der Tagesspiegel tries to find some answers.

ABKHAZIA TROUBLES. In four days, Abkhazia, the breakaway region of Georgia, has seen government buildings smashed, protests to depose the de facto president Raul Khajimba come to fruition, a court decision that annulled previous elections published and new snap-elections called, a caretaker president appointed and opposition candidacy declared. EURACTIV’s Vlagyislav Makszimov has the story.

OIL SUPPLY. Kazakhstan and Belarus will discuss an oil supply deal before 20 January, Kazakhstan Energy Minister Nurlan Nogayev told reporters on Wednesday (15 January). Belarus depends heavily on Russian energy and also serves as an important transit route for Russian oil and gas to Europe. Minsk, having failed to agree terms with its main oil supplier, Russia, has sent proposals to Ukraine, Poland, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and the Baltic states to buy oil from them.

JOURNALIST DETENTION. Police in Kyrgyzstan said they were holding four suspects over the beating of a journalist known for investigating corruption, an incident that triggered international condemnation. Bolot Temirov, 40, editor-in-chief of investigative website Factcheck.kg, was attacked outside his media outlet’s office in the capital Bishkek last Thursday.

WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING 

ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT DAYS…

  • Libya Conference
    | Sunday, 19 January 2020 | Berlin, Germany
    German Chancellor Angela Merkel is hosting talks aimed to end the crisis in Libya and has invited the US, Russia, China, UK, France, Italy, EU and the UN as well as the two rivals for control of Libya Faiez el-Serraj, Prime Minister of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and the Tobruk-based Libyan National Army, led by General Khalifa Haftar. An invitation was also sent to Turkey, the African Union, the Arab League, the Republic of Congo, Algeria, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
  • Foreign Affairs Council
    | Monday, 20 January 2020 | Brussels, Belgium
    EU foreign minister will discuss Libya and Venezuela, the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Sahel and climate diplomacy.
  • EU-Kazakhstan Cooperation Council
    | Monday, 20 January 2020 | Brussels, Belgium
  • Africa Investment Summit
    | Monday, 20 January 2020 | London, UK
    The UK government will host a summit as it seeks to increase its trade and investment relations with the continent post-Brexit. 
  • AFET Committee 
    | Tue-Wed 14-15 January 2020 | Brussels, Belgium
  • European Space Conference (with large focus on defence)
    | Wednesday, 22 January 2020 | Brussels, Belgium
  • SEDE Committee 
    | Wed-Thu 22-23 January 2020 | Brussels, Belgium

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