Global Europe Brief: Westlessness?

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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MUNICH MINUTES

As the world faces an increasingly wayward US, as well as more assertive Russia and China and an internally divided NATO, one word is set to dominate the debates at the Munich Security Conference and has the potential to become the catch-phrase of 2020:

Westlessness’, or the idea that the world in general and ‘Western’ countries themselves are uncertain of their values and their strategic orientation. The word, coined by the authors of the Munich Security Report, is meant to address the changing geometry of global power, the fact that the world has become less Western-oriented and the West has become less Western in itself, too.

High-ranking world leaders descend on Bavaria this weekend for the Munich Security Conference, often dubbed the ‘Davos of global security, as flashpoints across the world multiply and the rift between Europe and Washington widens. With representatives from Europe, the US, Russia, China and the Middle East, Munich will be about taking the temperature of the current global security environment. On Friday afternoon, a 48-hour program kicks off, packed with dozens of events featuring debates between prominent world leaders — including those from hostile and even warring camps.

Alexandra Brzozowski is heading to Munich and she wrote down a couple of issues to watch. Stay tuned at our website and our social media channels as she’ll be taking over our Instagram stories with live updates from behind-the-scenes at Munich.

IMAGE OF THE WEEK | Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the UN Security Council as the body debates US President Trump’s Middle East peace plan. New York, US, 11 February 2020. [EPA-EFE/JASON SZENES]

EU IN THE WORLD

PEACE PLAN FALLOUT. The transatlantic relationship’s latest stress test is US President Trump’s so-called “deal of the century” for Israel-Palestine. Trump’s controversial Middle East peace plan (MEPP), staunchly backed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would unilaterally annul previous UN resolutions on the Palestinian issue. It would give Israel a green light to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and entrench Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided capital.”

The EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, trashed Trump’s Middle East peace plan, and his first diplomatic visit to Washington to discuss the Iran nuclear deal, bilateral and regional issues did not bring any breakthroughs. “International relations travel at the speed of trust and an international agenda based on trust between the EU and the US is key to successfully tackle global challenges that we jointly face. We should always remember that we sit on the same side of the table when it comes to most core challenges, even if we don’t agree on everything,” Borrell commented after his trip.

The EU rejected parts of Trump’s peace plan for the Middle East earlier in February, with Borrell announcing in a statement that Trump’s plan departs from “internationally agreed parameters”. Only this week, a majority of EU lawmakers slammed Trump’s Middle East peace strategy during their Strasbourg plenary session, denouncing the plans for going against international law and being biased in favour of Israel.

The EU’s initial response to the proposal was rather weak, promising to “study and assess” the plan, as several member states issued conflicting statements – Austria, France and Poland “welcomed” the plan, which the UK called a “serious proposal”, while  Hungary blocked a stronger unanimous statement by the EU27 just to later come out in support of it.

TRADE SPAT. And it is not the only matter of contention along the EU-US lines. Relations between the two major economies have lingered for months in a tense truce. “Europe has been treating us very badly,” Trump told a White House event, only to add later on Monday the time has come to ‘very seriously’ pursue trade negotiations with Brussels, which he accused of imposing “incredible” barriers to US goods.
A group of EU member states are unhappy about the lack of information from the European Commission on the trade talks with the US and have expressed their “nervousness” about what could be in the deal, various diplomats and European officials recently told EURACTIV’s Jorge Valero.

PACIFIC RIM. The EU wants a greater security role in the Pacific and will have no problem working with China in a region where Beijing has boosted its influence in recent years, the EU”s ambassador for the Pacific, Sujiro Seam, recently announced.

DEFENCE CORNER

MACRON GOES NUCLEAR. Addressing the top brass at the L’École de Guerre in Paris, President Emmanuel Macron laid out France’s much-awaited post-Brexit nuclear weapons strategy and said Europeans “cannot confine themselves to the role of spectators” in the face of the nuclear arms race. He also urged Europeans to propose together “an international agenda of arms control” at a time when the existing treaties are questioned by other world powers. Alexandra Brzozowski took a closer look.

POPULARITY BLOW. Confidence in NATO sharply declined in France, Germany and the US after Trump and Macron questioned the value of the Western alliance, according to a new Pew Research Center study. Although NATO is overall seen favourably in 16 EU member states, with 53% of people with a positive opinion, there are major reservations about the fulfilment of obligations linked to collective defence.

SPANISH DELAY. Waiting for Spain, North Macedonia’s parliament unanimously ratified NATO’s accession protocol, taking Skopje a step closer to becoming the military alliance’s 30th member in the coming weeks. The document had been stuck in the Spanish parliament since June 2019.
Asked by EURACTIV what the obstacles are and what the expected timeline for ratification is, a Spanish MFA spokesman said there had been “no other obstacles to the ratification except for the parliamentary agenda”, which has been on constant stand-by due to repeated elections and the text has been just sent to the newly composed Parliament. “It is expected to be completed as soon as possible through a special urgent procedure but at the end of the day, it depends on both Houses’ legislative agenda,” the spokesman added.

ENLARGEMENT LATEST

CREDIBILITY QUESTION. The European Commission’s new proposal for enhanced accession process of the Western Balkans is ‘a small masterpiece of European compromise’ that could foster momentum and reforms. But it still lacks details on funding and convergence and realistic target years, write EPC Belgrade’s Milena Lazarević, Sena Marić and Strahinja Subotić in a commentary for EURACTIV.

EU lawmakers in Strasbourg overwhelmingly endorsed the enlargement methodology proposal when it was presented to MEPs by Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi. MEP Nathalie Loiseau (Renew) France’s former minister for European affairs and Macron’s voice in Brussels, however, also warned that “what counts is what’s actually happening, not what’s written on a piece of paper.” Something she could maybe suggest to her boss in Paris?

EURASIA DIGEST

AZERI HOPES. Long-term President Ilham Aliyev’s ruling party won a majority of seats in Sunday’s snap parliamentary election, according to exit polls. The main difference compared to past elections is that many more young and Western-trained people are expected to fill the 125-seat Azeri Parliament, writes Georgi Gotev, who was on the ground in Baku.

As modernisation appears to be the keyword in Azerbaijan in recent months, with opportunities being given to young and well-educated professionals replacing a Soviet-time old guard, EURACTIV took a closer look in this Special Report.

US ELECTION WATCH

It’s 264 days until the US Presidential Election and the next week will see several caucuses: from North Carolina (13), Nevada (15),  Arkansas (17), Texas and Utah (18) to Arizona (19).

What to watch and why it matters: Democratic insiders see an increasing possibility that left-wing Democrat Bernie Sanders — who tied Pete Buttigieg in Iowa by a razor-thin margin and edged him in New Hampshire with 26% of the vote — will be their nominee.

WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING 

ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT DAYS…

  • Munich Security Conference
    | Fri-Sun, 14-16 February 2020 | Munich, Germany
  • Informal EU-Western Balkans meeting
    | Sunday, 16 February 2020 | Brussels, Belgium
    Leaders of Western Balkan countries are to meet with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel. The meeting comes ahead of EU-organised International Donors’ Conference for Albania to support the reconstruction efforts after the earthquake that struck the country at the end of November.
  • Foreign Affairs Council
    | Monday, 17 February 2020 | Brussels, Belgium
    EU foreign ministers are set to discuss the Libya crisis after they moved the meaningful discussion to this meeting. Also on the agenda: US Middle East peace plan proposal, EU-African Union relations, Venezuela and the Western Balkans.
  • European Parliament’s SEDE Committee
    | Mo-Tue, 17-18 February 2020 | Brussels, Belgium
    MEPs are set to discuss PESCO, post-Brexit security and arms control issues as well as the recent crises in Libya and Iran.
  • European Council on first post-Brexit budget
    | Thursday, 20 February 2020 | Brussels, Belgium

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