Global Europe Brief: ‘Severe’ sanctions, migration flows & pipeline politics

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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“SEVERE” SANCTIONS OR DIALOGUE?

Europe’s East Med diplomacy gears up for a crucial September summit meant to define the EU’s response to Turkey’s activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.

In the latest episode, it’s the European Parliament taking the spotlight with EU lawmakers set to discuss a resolution on the EU’s position on Turkey next week.

Several Socialist lawmakers in the European Parliament have floated the idea of imposing an arms embargo, along with sanctions, on Ankara.

That idea that might not go down well with EU presidency holder Germany, whose arms sales to NATO ally Turkey totalled €242.8 million, making up for almost a third of Germany’s defence industry business.

At the same time, some member states will be pressing for sanctions against Turkey at the EU summit, with France urging Europe to show a united front against Ankara’s “unacceptable” conduct as it prepared to host a summit of Mediterranean states.

Greece’s deputy foreign minister told a parliamentary committee meeting in Brussels that EU leaders should impose “severe” economic sanctions on Turkey for a limited time if Ankara does not remove its military vessels and gas drilling ships from waters off Cyprus.

Last week, Athens denied a statement by NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg that Greece and Turkey had agreed to technical talks to defuse tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Greek diplomatic sources said the only way to de-escalate was for Turkey to withdraw its warships from Greek waters. The Turkish foreign ministry issued a statement commending Stoltenberg for the initiative.

However, Stoltenberg later clarified he had earlier spoken about “technical talks” aimed exclusively at de-escalation at the military level, but not about negotiations to resolve the conflict politically, which would only aim to complement the diplomatic part that remains in the hands of EU presidency-holder Germany.

EU IN THE WORLD

MIGRATION FLOWS. More than a billion people are at risk of being displaced by 2050 due to rapid population growth, shortage of food and water and increased exposure to natural disasters, which could lead to increased migration flows to Europe.

Asked by EURACTIV whether the patterns of future migration will resemble the situation of the past crisis, Institute for Economics and Peace founder Steve Killelea said that “without something being done to address these ecological issues, it will be on a vastly larger scale than what we’ve seen in the last few years”.

The report comes as the EU is struggling to reform its Common European Asylum System (CEAS), for which negotiations have stalled since the 2015-16 migration crisis. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen plans to present a new proposal this autumn (so far scheduled for 30 September).

AFRICA SPENDING. The European Court of Auditors, which monitors EU spending, has called for an overhaul of the bloc’s development spending programmes for African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries to prioritise domestic manufacturing and energy.

PIPELINE POLITICS. Europe’s leaders this week held their own competition on who could serve the most magisterial admonishment to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin following the deliberate poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Poland called on Germany to halt the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, as Warsaw sees the project as a threat to the stability of the region. The situation is making Finland cast doubt about the completion and future of Nord Stream 2, particularly as Germany is now also considering whether to withdraw its support.

For the moment, there’s little sign that Europe is going to match its words with action, but it would be time to play the Nord Stream card, writes EURACTIV’s Benjamin Fox.

SCHENGEN MADNESS. National criteria for introducing restrictions on the movement of people have differed from country-to-country since the start of the pandemic in March. The European Commission now proposed a set of recommendations to prevent discriminatory measures applied by member states in a new attempt to harmonise the very fragmented COVID-19 travel restrictions across the bloc.

BREAKING LAWS. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government put itself on a collision course with the EU after publishing a bill that would breach key parts of its Withdrawal Agreement with the bloc. In particular, the bill appears likely to override requirements in the Protocol for new customs arrangements in Northern Ireland, intended to prevent the return of checks at the Irish border from next year.

BREAKING RULES. Fifteen EU member states have breached bloc-wide rules in agreeing bilateral commercial deals with China as part of Beijing’s ambitious belt and road initiative (BRI), according to a damning report published by the European Court of Auditors.skr

DEFENCE CORNER

NO NATO SANCTIONS (YET). A special meeting of NATO ambassadors condemned the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and the use of chemical weapons as an “unacceptable breach of international law” and announced “consultations on further steps regarding Russia”. The meeting, however, stopped short of sanctions like the alliance had previously imposed in the 2018 Skripal case.

CANCELLED TALKS. France has postponed a visit to Moscow next week by its foreign and armed forces ministers as European powers seek answers from Russia to Germany’s findings that Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was poisoned.

Amid the circumstances, the scheduled meeting has been frowned upon by most security observers, as it is becoming increasingly clear that what Macron might see as a smart, fine line of French foreign policy, in reality, could be destroying the West’s unity over Russia.

SUSPENDED ACTIVITIES. Serbia’s government has decided to suspend all military exercises and activities with all of its partners for the next six months to preserve its position of military neutrality, Serbia’s defence ministry announced only a day ahead of the beginning of the Slavic Brotherhood 2020 exercise to be hosted by Belarus. The Belarusian defence ministry had previously reported that the Serbian army, together with Russian troops, would take part in tactical military manoeuvres hosted by Belarus in the second half of September.

MAJOR THREATS. The risk of climate change and the spread of infectious diseases are seen as the top threats by the majority of people in 14 economically advanced nations, a recent study by the Pew Research Center has found.

ENLARGEMENT LATEST

BELGRADE-PRISTINA. Former Balkan foes Kosovo and Serbia have agreed on a historic pact to normalise economic relations, US President Trump had announced at the White House last week, hailing the agreement as “historic”. However, the deal came with a catch: Serbian President Vucic, from the looks of it, quite unknowingly, promised to move his country’s Israel embassy to Jerusalem. The EU was not amused and voiced “serious concern and regret” over Belgrade’s commitment, casting a shadow over the resumption of Serbia-Kosovo talks

At the same time, EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, Miroslav Lajčak, said in Brussels that “full progress” had been made in negotiations between the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo on topics opened earlier in the dialogue under the EU’s auspices.

EURASIA DIGEST

PRESSURE GAME. The EU led calls for Belarus to immediately release more than 600 people arrested for protesting against a controversial election that extended strongman Alexander Lukashenko’s 26 years in power. Germany and Britain meanwhile demanded answers on the whereabouts of senior opposition figure Maria Kolesnikova, who allies say was snatched off the streets in central Minsk along with a spokesman and executive secretary of the Coordination Council.

US ELECTION WATCH

It’s 54 days until the US Presidential election and according to a new book by Bob Woodward (yes, the one who broke the Watergate scandal), US President Donald Trump knew COVID-19 was deadlier than the flu before it hit the country but wanted to play down the crisis.

What to watch and why it matters: In the first months of the crisis, Trump had experienced the rally-around-the-flag effect in polls. But since then some 190,000 Americans have been recorded as dying with COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.

As on Wednesday some US media released parts of the interviews between the president and the journalist, revealing his reported remarks on the outbreak as well as race and other issues, the question is whether this will leave a mark on the road to election day.

WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING 

ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT FEW DAYS…

Europe’s everyday business is back after summer break and we’re heading into a busy autumn season. We’ll keep you updated on all relevant EU foreign affairs news, as operations start to move exclusively online.

  • EU-China summit, attended by Chinese President Xi
    | Monday, 14 September 2020 | videolink
  • European Parliament’s plenary session
    | Mo-Wed, 14-16 September 2020 | Brussels, Belgium (!)
  • International Court of Justice hearings on Iran-US sanctions row
    | Monday, 14 September 2020 | The Hague, Netherlands
  • ‘Tobruq Legacy 2020’ NATO air defence exercises
    | Monday, 14 September 2020 | The Hague, Netherlands
  • Israel-UAE agreement signing at the White House
    | Tuesday, 15 September 2020 | Washington DC, US
  • State of the European Union speech
    | Wednesday, 16 September 2020 | Brussels, Belgium

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