Global Europe Brief: Turkey woes, Russia strategy & China sanctions

Your weekly update on the EU from the global perspective.

Welcome to EURACTIV’s Global Europe Brief, your weekly update on the EU from a global perspective.

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Before you start reading, feel free to have a closer look at the exclusive op-ed ‘The EU needs to take its seat at the Cyprus negotiation table’ by the Cypriot minister of foreign affairs Nikos Christodoulides



Brussels is facing a loaded foreign affairs agenda next week.

  • TURKEY WOES. EU leaders are set to discuss the state of relations with Ankara as one of the issues at their summit in Brussels next week. It will include a report prepared by the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell.

Earlier this week, diplomats from Greece and Turkey failed to reach a breakthrough during the latest round of talks on their stand-off over eastern Mediterranean borders and energy rights.

“We are having very close contact with our American friends on the file to exchange on how we work together with Turkey, both in the transatlantic context, in the NATO context,” senior EU officials said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told EU lawmakers he had “serious concerns” about Turkey, which has now irritated most of its allies over its maritime territorial dispute with fellow NATO member Greece and its role in the conflicts in Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh.

  • RUSSIA STRATEGY. EU leaders will also hold their strategic discussion on Russia at a crucial moment of escalating US-Russia relations.

According to some media reports, some of the most senior EU officials are advocating a shift to a less combative approach towards Moscow.

US-Russia relations have deteriorated since the attempted “reset” in relations signalled between then US President Barack Obama and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in 2011. Biden, Obama’s former vice president, has now struck a different tone, calling Putin ‘a killer’.

The motivation seemed clear. Biden wanted to tell his supporters at home and abroad that, unlike his predecessor Donald Trump, he will leave no room for ambiguity in the US’s relations with Putin’s Russia. In that sense, he has achieved his goal, writes EURACTIV’s Georgi Gotev.

And as the Biden administration weighs additional sanctions to block the construction of Nord Stream 2, German EU lawmaker Udo Bullmann said the pipeline, a hot potato between Brussels and Moscow, needs a “European” perspective to correct the “mistake” of the past.

  • CHINA SANCTIONS. EU foreign ministers are set to approve travel bans and asset freezes on four Chinese individuals and one entity over violations of Uyghur rights in Xinjiang and reform of the electoral system in Hong Kong. Their names will not be made public until formal approval next week.

The move comes as part of a new and wider rights sanctions list under the EU’s shiny new human rights sanctions regime and will also include officials from Russia, Libya, South Sudan and North Korea, EU diplomats said.

China said it is deeply concerned and its ambassador in Brussels warned the EU this week to “think twice” before engaging in confrontation, because China “will not back down”.

At the same time, another confrontation happened in Alaska, as the first high-level US-China talks of the Biden administration got off to a fiery start. It’s clear that both sides have domestic incentives to project strength.


OMBUDSMAN STRIKES. The European Commission should have concluded an updated sustainability impact assessment (SIA) before the EU-Mercosur trade deal was agreed, an inquiry by European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has found.

In future trade negotiations, such assessments be finished ahead of the final agreement, she urged.

“The EU projects its values through its trade deals. Concluding a trade agreement before its potential impact has been fully assessed risks undermining those values and the public’s ability to debate the merits of the deal,” O’Reilly said.

It also would “risk weakening European and national parliaments’ ability to comprehensively debate the trade agreement,” the Ombudsman added.


US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will also attend a NATO meeting next week in Brussels in a show of American support for the alliance, the State Department said Friday. Talks will circle around concerns over China and Russia and “other common challenges”.

Biden’s top diplomat will also confer with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and his EU counterpart Borrell, department spokesman Ned Price said.

SPENDING SPREE. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has massively reduced revenues of national governments in 2020, NATO allies significantly increased their military spending and 11 out of 30 alliance members reached the target of earmarking at least 2% of GDP for defence, according to NATO’s annual report released this week.

Germany, however, the largest European NATO member who had particularly been the target of Trump’s criticism, with him even accusing Berlin of “dishonest behaviour” and announcing plans to withdraw 12,000 US troops stationed in the country, remains below target.

MISSION PROLONGED. The EU will extend for two years its military mission, dubbed Operation Irini, in the Mediterranean policing the UN arms embargo on conflict-wracked Libya, senior EU officials announced this week.

PESCO PITCH. EU officials have offered a positive initial assessment of a recent US request to join the bloc’s program for improving transportation pathways for military forces on the continent, reports Defense News.

WITH OR WITHOUT EU? The UK is set to shift its focus from Europe to the Indo-Pacific region as part of a planned revamp of its foreign, trade and defence policy announced. But although one of the underlying reasons for publishing the review remains the UK’s recently completed departure from the EU, the strategy document made only scarce references to a future EU-UK security relationship.

Boris Johnson is one of life’s optimists – one of the reasons why Britons keep giving him the benefit of doubt. And the promise of a ‘Global Britain’ pursuing its new course outside the EU is a suitably grand-sounding project for him. But wishing won’t make it so, writes EURACTIV’s Benjamin Fox.


CONSTRUCTION SITES. EU-US relations will not return to how they were before the rise of Trump. Still, the transatlantic reset is on its way, although it’s arriving a bit slower than some might have wished. Yet Europeans should remember that even with Trump out of the picture, American interests are still what counts most in Washington.

Looking at a range of policy areas, an improvement in relations will require some give and take. A deeper dive into issues here.


FAILED MEDIATION. After a week of negotiations, the special envoy of European Council President Charles Michel, Christian Danielsson, returns to Brussels empty-handed, after unsuccessful attempts to find solutions for the Georgian political stalemate.



Europe’s everyday business is still stuck in lockdown reality, until further notice. We’ll keep you updated on all relevant EU foreign affairs news, as we enter a busy spring period.

  • EU foreign ministers meet on Russia, Turkey, current issues
    | Monday, 22 March 2021 | Brussels, Belgium
  • Expected release of WHO report following mission to China to investigate origins of COVID-19 (TBC)
  • European Parliament plenary session
    | Mo-Thu, 22-25 March 2021 | Brussels, Belgium
  • NATO foreign ministers meet
    | Tue-Wed, 23-24 March 2021 | Brussels, Belgium
  • Freedom Day opposition protests called by Tikhanovskaya
    | Thursday, 25 March 2021 | Minks, Belarus
  • Olympic torch relay due to start
    | Thursday, 25 March 2021 | Fukushima, Japan
  • European Council on COVID-19 response, Russia strategy, Turkey
    | Thu-Fri, 25-26 March 2021 | Brussels, Belgium

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