Global Europe Brief: State of the ‘Geopolitical’ Union

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A year ago, when Ursula von der Leyen took over the European Commission, her team pledged to push for a more “geopolitical Commission” and for a more assertive voice of Europe in foreign policy.

Since then, the EU has been struggling to address numerous crisis, partly because powers remain largely within the remit of EU member states.

It was only after one hour into her first State of the Union speech, that von der Leyen mentioned geopolitics. But she did dedicate some of her strongest remarks to countries that are eroding the European values around the world, especially China, Russia and Turkey.

And, unsurprisingly, she once again called for the EU to be more courageous in its foreign policy-making.

“Why are even simple statements on EU values delayed, watered down or held hostage for other motives?” von der Leyen asked in her State of the Union speech.

“When member states say Europe is too slow, I say to them ‘be courageous and finally move to qualified majority voting,” she said.

This would allow the EU to act on more issues without the increasingly onerous process of securing unanimity among the EU27.

However, this might not go down well with European capitals. Overriding member states on issues that matter to them will not promote solidarity, as seen in the cases of Belarus or Turkey.

→ Click here for our analysis of the main talking points: EU diplomacy needs more courage to address Russia, Turkey, new White House

While some observers found her “brave on the geopolitical front to something beyond expectation”, as Ignacio Molina, a senior analyst at Elcano Insitute, put it, a majority lamented about the gap between the EU’s words and deeds.

“Last year, von der Leyen promised Europeans a geopolitical Commission that would have a stronger and more unified voice in the world and that could protect European strategic sovereignty – it was a timely idea,” commented Jeremy Shapiro from the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

“Nearly one year on, with a global pandemic scrambling everything, a geopolitical Europe is still absent – and European strategic sovereignty is eroding daily,” he said.

Interestingly, the former German defence minister did not mention European defence policy in her address.


‘EMPIRES ARE BACK’. Russia, China and Turkey are now “coming back with an approach on their immediate neighbourhood and also globally,” EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell told EU lawmakers. His comments came as Europe’s diplomacy prepares for a crucial  Council on 24-25 September, meant to define the EU’s response to Turkey’s activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, the situation in Belarus and a response to the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

EU-CHINA. The leaders of the EU and China agreed to speed up negotiations to conclude a long-standing investment deal during a virtual summit, despite Europe’s lingering concerns over Beijing’s human rights record and its treatment of Hong Kong. The EU pressed China to aim for climate neutrality by 2060 or eventually face punitive carbon tariffs.

MIGRATION PACT. The European Commission’s long-awaited new migration pact will consist of five regulations and a political text, EU sources have told EURACTIV. However, the thorny issue of mandatory relocation, which some EU countries strongly oppose, continues to cause headaches.

Initially, the EU executive was scheduled to present the legislation in February, moved it to 30 September. But after last week’s fire that destroyed Moria, the largest refugee camp on Greece’s Lesbos island, the announcement has been brought forward to next week (23 September). What has the EU been waiting for?

DE-ESCALATION? A Turkish research ship at the centre of a row with Greece over gas exploration has left disputed waters in the eastern Mediterranean and returned to the coast in a move hailed as a “positive first step” by the Greek prime minister. At the same time, European Council chief Charles Michel pledged that the bloc will defend the rights of member state Cyprus in its standoff with Turkey over maritime and energy rights.

UNGA75. UN Secretary-General António Guterres will use his annual address to world leaders next week to push for a global ceasefire until the end of 2020 so countries can fight the coronavirus pandemic, but he said opportunities will be lost because presidents and prime ministers are not physically in New York.

Held every year in September, the annual week-long session of the UN General Assembly in New York is a key milestone in the political calendar. This year’s session, opening on 22 September, is special for two reasons. But it is also likely to be a missed opportunity.

DEAL BREAKERS. EU lawmakers threatened to veto any trade deal with the UK unless Boris Johnson’s government withdraws its plans to tear up parts of its Withdrawal Agreement with the bloc, as negotiations on a future trade deal teetered on the brink of collapse.


ARMS EXPORTS. In a report by Green MEP Hannah Neumann, the European Parliament called for stricter EU-wide controls on EU arms exports, better end-use control of exported arms, more coordination of national decisions on arms exports, a publicly accessible database on national arms exports and, for arms subsidised through the European Defence Fund, a sanctions mechanism for breaches of the eight EU export criteria.

“Where EU money is spent on arms development, we also need a restrictive mechanism for European control of future exports, as is already the case for dual-use goods,” Neumann said after adoption. EURACTIV spoke to her earlier this year about arms exports transparency.


ROADBLOCK. Skopje’s progress towards EU membership has hit another snag. Historic figure Gotse Delchev, considered as a national hero both in Bulgaria and North Macedonia, now appears to stand in the way of its EU path, EURACTIV Bulgaria reports.

BELGRADE-PRISTINA. Unless Serbia and Kosovo normalise their relations, the Western Balkans will remain vulnerable to foreign influence coming from the East, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti warned MEPs on the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee.


GEORGIA PROGRESS. With overwhelming majority, the European Parliament praised Georgia’s progress but called on the EU and NATO hopeful to press on with justice reforms and depoliticisation of the judiciary. Following the adoption of the report, the Georgian government said that “EU-Georgia relations are at the historically highest level in terms of depth and scope of Georgia’s European integration.”

PIPELINE POLITICS. The controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline project has already cost Europe too much, and the stakes for the EU’s security, credibility and independence are growing year by year, said Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, appealing to Germany to abandon it. 

ANTI-CORRUPTION. The Constitutional Court of Ukraine struck down several provisions of the law on the Western-backed National Anti-corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) in the latest blow to the country’s anti-graft drive. Among the parts of the law the court scrapped are provisions that gave the president powers to form the bureau, appoint and sack its director, and appoint members of the commission that runs the selection process for the investigative body’s chief.

RUSSIAN DISINFO. The EU’s foreign affairs branch is monitoring disinformation tactics allegedly used by the Russian state across communications platforms such as Telegram and media including RT and Sputnik on the poisoning of Alexei Navalny and the continuing protests in Belarus.


It’s 47 days until the US Presidential Election and international perceptions of the US has sunk to new record lows, according to a new poll from Pew Research covering 13 countries. The poll highlighted a lack of trust in President Donald Trump’s decision-making on foreign policy, as well as the country’s inadequate coronavirus response.



Europe’s everyday business is 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.

  • Foreign Affairs Council
    | Monday, 21 September 2020 | Brussels, Belgium
  • UN General Assembly 75th session
    | Monday, 21 September 2020 | New York, United States
  • Human Rights Council 45th session
    | Monday, 21 September 2020 | Geneva, Switzerland
  • General Affairs Council
    | Tuesday, 22 September 2020 | Brussels, Belgium
  • European Commission’s new pact on migration and asylum
    | Wednesday, 23 September 2020 | Brussels, Belgium
  • EU summit on foreign policy
    | Thu-Fri, 24-25 September 2020 | Brussels, Belgium

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