Global Europe Brief: Transatlantic rifts, Chinese risks

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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TRANSATLANTIC RIFTS, CHINESE RISKS

Sometimes it seems the US and Europe are like an old married couple: the kids have left the house, there is still some love left and divorce is out of the question, but deep-down, some fundamental issues need to be sorted out for peaceful coexistence.

US President Donald Trump’s “America First” approach has seen ties with Europe lurch from crisis to crisis, but EU officials are determined to keep talking to Washington, even if little progress is apparent.

Recently resurfaced plans for a US troop withdrawal from Germany were seen as posing a serious question mark over America’s decade-long involvement in Europe’s security architecture.

Ahead of Monday’s get-together of EU foreign ministers, a senior EU official insisted that the partnership with the US is still the EU’s “most important bilateral relationship”, while the US Ambassador to NATO told EURACTIV, commenting on Washington’s troop withdrawal plans from Germany, that “most certainly, there is no sign of American retreat from Europe’s security structure“ and America remains deeply committed. However, at the same time, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed that US President Trump had decided on the withdrawal without informing the alliance in advance.

But as EU foreign ministers met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, transatlantic rifts seemed to have widened over Israel, international organisations and how to deal with China, after EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell ruled out “aligning” with the US against China and played down the idea of “systematic rivalry” with Beijing.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there have been accusations of China covering up the disease, spreading misinformation and launching its controversial “masked diplomacy”, but those events have not led Brussels to conclude that Europe should cool its relations with Beijing.

While the EU is still struggling to find a common position, China hopes to boost ‘strategic trust’ when its leaders hold a video summit with European Council President Charles Michel and Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen next Monday (22 June).

Europe, it seems, is once again caught in a geopolitical triangle, only this time, it’s not Moscow but Beijing.

EU IN THE WORLD

TOURISM RESTARTED. After nearly three months of COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns and in a bid to save Europe’s summer, the bloc is slowly reopening its internal borders. However, nearly every member state is playing by its own timetable and rules. EURACTIV’s media network took a closer look at Europe lifting its internal border restrictions.

The European Commission spelled out on 11 June recommendations to member states to fully reopen the bloc’s internal borders on Monday (15 June) and then allow travellers from selected countries to enter the bloc from 1 July.

But with so far largely empty squares, deserted beaches and cancelled trips, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on Europe’s tourism industry. Will we be able to go on holidays this summer? Will Europe’s travel industry survive the pandemic? And what is the EU doing in all this? Have a look at our explainer video about the future of Europe’s tourism sector.

KICKING THE BREXIT CAN. Trade talks between the EU and the UK will be stepped up in July with a view to brokering a deal in the autumn, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen agreed this week. The renewed verbal commitment will also put pressure on the German government, which takes over the EU’s six-month rotating presidency in July, to broker a compromise, writes EURACTIV’s Benjamin Fox.

DEFENCE CORNER

CONTINUED COMMITMENT? There is no sign of a US retreat from Europe’s security structure, the US Ambassador to NATO told EURACTIV, commenting on Washington’s plans for troop withdrawal from Germany. At the same time, NATO secretary-general confirmed that President Donald Trump had decided on the withdrawal without informing the alliance in advance. Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchinson also spoke about the situation in Libya, China and the future of arms control. Watch the full video interview here.

COOPERATION REQUEST. Some member states have called upon the EU to coordinate a request for NATO’s participation in Operation Irini as EU foreign ministers met with their US counterpart, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, amid a widening transatlantic rift over a range of foreign policy issues. A senior EU official had confirmed that the bloc had contacted NATO to see “how we can have arrangements” with the military alliance’s Operation Sea Guardian in the eastern Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, Turkey angrily accused France of exacerbating the crisis in Libya and violating UN and NATO decisions by supporting the forces of Khalifa Haftar against the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

WOMEN, PEACE, SECURITY. As Germany prepares its latest plans to promote the objectives of UN Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, a group of 17 German NGOs, including UN Women Germany and the International Rescue Committee, have weighed in on changes they want to see.

ENLARGEMENT LATEST

POST-COVID POLLS. Serbia will hold parliamentary, provincial and local elections this weekend, which the ruling Serbian Progressive Party is expected to win hands down. The biggest opposition bloc plans to boycott the vote, saying it will not be fair and legitimate.

Meanwhile, North Macedonia’s president announced the end of the state of emergency, indicating that general elections in the EU candidate country will go ahead in early July despite a spike in new COVID-19 cases.

EURASIA DIGEST

EASTERN PARTNERS. EU and Eastern Partnership leaders, as well as European institution chiefs, are e-meeting to underline the strategic importance of the partnership and discuss long-term objectives. However, the virtual get-together of EU leaders and the six partner countries — Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, — is set to produce no final declaration. An in-person summit is planned for early 2021. Here’s a run-down on what to look out for around this summit.

US ELECTION WATCH

It‘s 138 days until the US Presidential election and in a withering behind-the-scenes portrayal, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton accused him of sweeping misdeeds that included explicitly seeking Chinese President Xi Jinping’s help to win re-election.

ICC SANCTIONS. Ramping up pressure on the Hague-based court to stop its probe of alleged war crimes in Afghanistan, US President Trump issued an executive order to block all US property and assets of anyone involved in probing or prosecuting American forces. The EU, meanwhile, has voiced ‘serious concern’.

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.
  • European Council
    | Friday, 19 June 2020 | videoconference
    EU leaders set to discuss MFF and Recovery Fund
  • Serbian parliamentary and local elections
    | Sunday, 21 June 2020 | Belgrade, Serbia
  • EU-China Summit
    | Monday, 22 June 2020 | videoconference
  • European Parliament’s AFET Committee
    | Monday, 22 June 2020 | videoconference
  • US-Russia-(China?) nuclear arms control talks
    Monday, 22 June 2020 | Vienna
  • US Democrats hold presidential primary
    | Tuesday, 23 June 2020 | New York, US
  • European Parliament’s SEDE Committee
    | Thursday, 25 June 2020 | videoconference

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