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LONDON. As NATO marks seventy years of existence, the main talks of the two-day anniversary meetings are set to take place this morning. NATO leaders are expected to consider new threats for the military alliance, including cyber and space, while in a final non-binding communique, allies are set to recommit to mutual defence and for the first time, position themselves in regard to China’s growing military force.
Beijing’s growing influence offers “opportunities”, but also presents “challenges”, the draft declaration states. NATO would not classify China as a “new opponent”, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg assured.
The main question, however, will be whether NATO still finds a common line on more political issues. Instead of celebrating, alliance members are running the gauntlet. Around Tuesday evening’s state dinner at Buckingham Palace, it was all about testy exchanges in side-line talks.
During the day, all eyes were set on French President Emmanuel Macron, whose sobering comments about NATO’s alleged “brain death” took many by surprise and sent shock waves through an alliance, which has been plagued by squabbles over burden-sharing and strategic choices.
While Macron said he stands by his words, his remarks were ripped by US President Donald Trump, who deemed the comments to be “very insulting” to other members. During a rather tense bilateral meeting afterwards, the two leaders exchanged blows over handling the Islamic State, but surprisingly struck an overall conciliatory tone, with Macron saying there was a need within the alliance for a “strategic clarification” on how to deliver long-term peace in Europe.
After an additional four-way meeting with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Britain’s Boris Johnson and France’s Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters she was going “with a sense of optimism” into today’s meetings, despite differences between NATO members over the alliance’s health.
But while NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg was hesitantly optimistic that a solution could be reached on the Turkish threat to block NATO’s eastern defence plans, Eastern European officials struck a less optimistic tone. When asked by EURACTIV.com about the prospect of appeasement, most were rather cautious, with one of them saying that the situation “felt a bit like the region has, once again, become a pawn in great power politics”.
Speaking to EURACTIV on the sidelines of the conference, security experts said it was very unlikely that Turkey will keep blocking NATO’s Eastern defence plan, but the question will be what Ankara might demand in exchange.
And while NATO leaders were received by the Queen, protesters in front of the palace denounced Erdoğan for being a war criminal and made it clear that Trump is not welcome.
Last week, Turkey signed a memorandum of understanding with Libya to demarcate maritime zones in the region triggering the strong reaction of Greece, which wanted to raise the issue at the NATO summit. However, Stoltenberg told Kathimerini in an interview that NATO remains a “neutral observer” of the situation.
“Both Greece and Turkey are two remarkable allies, and both contribute to our common security,” he said.
[Alexandra Brzozowski reporting from London]
Ahead of what is set to be an ill-tempered working session, EURACTIV.com asked EU and NATO stakeholders to assess challenges ahead.
CDU seeks SPD’s commitment to the Grand Coalition. Days after the election of Grand Coalition sceptics, Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken, as the new party leaders of the German Social Democrats (SPD), conservative politicians have tried to put the brakes on any left-ward drift, while trying to keep the government together. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), warned that the party will not move forward with the agreed-upon reforms to the basic pension until the SPD reaffirms its commitment to the Grand Coalition, which includes the CDU, SPD and CDU’s sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). “With regard to the basic pension, we have said that we will only enter the parliamentary process when it is clear that this coalition will be continued,” she told RTL/n-tv. The compromise on the basic pension came after a hard-fought struggle back in November.
Both the CDU/CSU and the SPD agreed to allow people from a lower income bracket who have contributed to the pension fund for at least 35 years, to receive a pension premium as of January 2021. Addressing the left’s calls to increase state investment in the face of the weakening economy, she also reiterated the coalition’s commitment to the ‘Schwarze Null’ (black zero), which refers to zero growth, as well as the so-called ‘debt brake’, which legally prevents the government from spending more than its income. Left-wing politicians have decried these statements, saying Kramp-Karrenbauer and conservatives are playing politics with hard-won compromises at the expense of German citizens.
(Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)
Repatriation. A court in Brussels has ordered the repatriation of a Belgian jihadist and her child from the Al Hol prison camp in Syria. The French-speaking court in Brussels gave Belgium 75 days to repatriate the woman and her child. During this period, Belgium must demonstrate that it has taken steps to do so, such as issuing travel documents. Beyond 75 days, the state will be sentenced to pay a daily penalty of €2,000 per day. This is the second decision of its kind this month after already ordering to a female IS-fighter and her two children a few weeks ago In this case, Belgium was also asked to take initiatives within 75 days, but Justice Minister Koen Geens had indicated that the state would appeal. (Alexandra Brzozowski | EURACTIV.com)
Michel to push for climate neutrality. European Council president Charles Michel will work to “convince” all member states to agree on achieving climate neutrality by 2050 in next week’s summit. He also vowed to pay attention to the “sensitivities” and “interests” of the most economically affected countries.
“Europe could become a green economy leader by investing in research, technology and innovation to guarantee jobs creation and social wellbeing while reducing the climate threat,” Michel told EFE in an interview during the COP25 in Madrid.
(Catalina Guerrero | EuroEFE.EURACTIV.es)
French strike looming. On Thursday (5 December), a nationwide strike against proposals to reform retirement and pension legislation will take place in France, putting the government under huge pressure. The strike is well-supported by French citizens and is expected to be lengthy.
Lots of key sectors have already confirmed their intention to join including the transport sector, electricity supply workers, teachers, students, police officers and streetcleaners. The last strike against the retirement and pension legislation took place in 1995, forcing the government to reverse its plans.
According to an opinion poll by IFOP, the strike is supported by 46% of the French population. The poll also showed that 76% of the people surveyed believe that the retirement reform is necessary but do not trust the French government to implement it. (EURACTIV.FR)
Finland’s PM toppled by postmen. Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne resigned on Tuesday (3 December) after his handling of a postal strike soured relations between him and a member party of the ruling five-party coalition. Sam Morgan has the story.
Calling for a ‘package’. The reform of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) is still dominating the political debate in Italy, causing tensions in the ruling majority. Five Star Movement’s leader Di Maio said his party wouldn’t give the go-ahead to the new eurozone bailout fund, if not included in a broader ‘package’ involving the reform of the banking union and of the European deposit insurance scheme (EDIS).
Italy’s Finance Minister Roberto Gualtieri will be in Brussels today, attending a Eurogroup meeting, with the aim of getting at least a roadmap on the completion of the other elements of the package. But it’s not certain if it will be enough to appease the Five Star Movement. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)
Diplomatic gaffe? The leftist opposition party, Syriza, accused the conservative government of irresponsibility after Defense Ministry sources told Athens News Agency that Greece decided to suspend talks with Turkey regarding Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs), amid growing tensions. A few hours later, the PM’s office said CBMs would continue normally. Mitsotakis will meet Erdoğan later today and is expected to tell him that Turkey’s tactics lead both countries to a deadlock. (Sarantis Michalopoulos | EURACTIV.com)
Tusk vows increased presence in Polish politics. Donald Tusk is trying to make his mark in Poland since his EU Council presidency recently ended. But for now, going into the primaries, he has only voiced mild support for Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, the candidate of his old party, PO. Speaking to TVN, the largest private TV in Poland, he said the only viable coalition against the ruling PiS will be the one with his old party PO and a centre-right junior partner PSL. Tusk sees the future of responsible policymaking in Poland in centre-right parties and said the left might be an alternative to PiS but will not be beneficial for Poland. However, he hasn’t made it clear yet what exactly he’s going to do in Poland, saying vaguely that he will be more present than before and wants to work with young people to bring about change.
His statements come after the Left (a coalition of left to far-left parties) entered the parliament in the last elections and has been very much present in heated debates with PiS. They will also have their own presidential candidate, and Tusk, who is willing to support either Kidawa or possibly PSL’s Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, is afraid that a leftist candidate may obtain too many votes and help secure the next term for PiS-backed Andrzej Duda. (Łukasz Gadzała | EURACTIV.pl)
Abortions again. The Slovak national party (SNS) tabled a legislative amendment requiring a woman seeking an abortion to inform the father of the conceived child about her intentions. The party also proposed to ban a free sale of the “morning-after” pill, which should only be sold on prescription. These amendments are being tabled during the second reading of the law aimed at creating more obstacles for women considering abortion. (Zuzana Gabrižová | EURACTIV.sk)
€17 million to be returned. Czech daily Deník N obtained part of the European Commission’s audit report confirming the conflict of interest allegations against Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO, RE). According to Deník N, EU auditors claimed that Babiš is in violation of both Czech and European rules because he still controls agro-chemical holding Agrofert that is currently placed in trust funds. It means that the Czech Republic should return approximately €17 millions of EU subsidies originally granted to the Agrofert holding. Babiš still denies any wrongdoing and Regional Development Minister Klára Dostálová (ANO, RE) noted that if the government has any disagreement with the audit’s result it can “defend itself at European Court of Justice”. (Aneta Zachová | EURACTIV.cz)
The new head of judicial administration. President János Áder nominated György Barna Senyei to lead the National Judicial Office (NJO). The office decides the appointment of judges and oversees the operation of the courts. The former head of judicial administration, Tünde Handó, was elected to become a member of the Constitutional Court. She is the wife of a Fidesz (the ruling party – EPP) lawmaker and frequently clashed with the self-governing panel of judges, the National Judicial Council (NJC), which accused her of abusing her power over the appointment of new judges.
In May 2019, this conflict escalated so much that the NJC asked the parliament to remove Handó from her office. Critics suggested that her appointment to the Constitutional Court is a government effort to help Handó quietly escape from the international pressure, as her activities were subject to severe criticism: the European Association of Judges said Handó’s activity put the Hungarian judiciary in a “very grievous situation which in some aspects comes close to a constitutional crisis”.
Similarly, the President of the Venice Commission and a recommendation of the European Council expressed concerns as well as the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption organisation GRECO, which said the involvement of the NJO’s president in the candidacy process of judicial leaders “has the potential of introducing discretionary and biased decisions by a single official in the selection process”. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Turks to build a second tube of the Karawanks tunnel. The Turkish Cengiz Holding submitted the lowest bid (€98.6 million) for the second tunnel tube through the Karawanks, a mountain range of the Southern Limestone Alps on the border between Slovenia to the south and Austria to the north. The Turkish company also expressed its interest in the construction of a second rail track from port Koper to Divača, one of Slovenia’s strategic infrastructure projects for further development of the port. (Željko Trkanjec |EURACTIV.hr)
Kosovo to leave Serbia’s energy system. The Kosovo and Albanian power operators KOSTT and OST signed in Tirana an agreement on the establishment of a joint power supply system that will end Kosovo’s decades-long dependence on Serbia’s power grid. The agreement was signed with the knowledge of the European Network of Transmission System Operators (ENTSO) and it is expected to take effect in April 2020.
Serbia reacted calling on the international community to stop the creation of “a Great Albanian energy union”. The head of Serbian government’s office for Kosovo, Marko Djurić, said Serbia is the owner and constructor of the electrical grid in Kosovo and that the agreement revealed “a chauvinist face of Pristina’s policy”.
Meanwhile, Serbian Parliament Speaker Maja Gojković said in a meeting with a European Parliament delegation that Belgrade is ready to open four chapters, adding that the country cannot be happy with the dynamic of their opening. Serbia has so far opened 17 chapters in the EU accession talks. At a meeting in Belgrade with the EPP leader in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber, AFET Chairman David McAllister and EP Rapporteur for Serbia Vladimir Bilčik, Gojković confirmed Serbia’s commitment to the European integration.
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck]