Tension between the UK and Russia has risen in the latest case involving the use of a deadly nerve agent to poison a former Russian spy on British soil. As the EU stood “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the UK on the “confrontation” with Russia, Brexit negotiations entered a period of greater clarity with regards to the Brexit bill. The EU teamed up with Japan to try and seek clarity from the US over Trump’s imposition of steel and aluminium tariffs. In an effort to boost tourism but at the same time better protect the border against security threats and irregular migrants, the EU Commission has proposed an overhaul of its visa application system. Click on the image to read more.
US President Trump signed two proclamations levying tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium imports. The tariffs are supposed to take effect in 15 days. Besides facing the prospect of an escalating transatlantic trade war, the EU also faces internal dissent with regards to the Eurozone reforms. This week, eight Northern EU member states formed an “alliance” to urge caution on the Eurozone reforms proposed by French president Macron. Much needed reforms within the Eurozone could be further challenged by the results of the Italian elections held on 4th March. Italian voters delivered a hung parliament with none of the political groups with the majority to form the government. Italy’s neighbour, Austria is suing the European Commission for agreeing to the construction of nuclear power plant in Hungary. The new nuclear plant will be partly subsidized and will cost up to USD12 billion. Click on the image to read more.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, and Jeremy Corbyn, the UK’s opposition leader, each set out their positions on the upcoming Brexit negotiations this week. Finally, the German government is taking shape as Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, unveiled her cabinet last Sunday. Merkel kept her promises of gender parity and bringing in younger faces. The foreign ministers of EU member states meeting in Brussels tasked Federica Mogherini, EU foreign policy chief, to draw up a proposed list of Myanmar military officers to sanction over the Rohingya crisis. Click on the image to read more.
Transatlantic drift is on display last weekend at the 54th Munich Security Conference (MSC). While the US official blustered against Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 US elections and attempt to undermine Western democracy, Europe, and Germany in particular, saw Russia as an indispensible partner in global efforts to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons. With the second phase of Brexit negotiations about to start, the British government formally published a position paper on how London wants the transition period after March 2019 to work. The UK wants the transition period to be as long as necessary for businesses to adjust to the new environment. The German coalition deal between the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) is awaiting approval by the 450,000 Social Democratic party members, who started voting on Tuesday (20 Feb). The results are expected beginning of March, hopefully putting an end to the political limbo in Germany. The European Commission’s active “policing” to protect European consumers’ data privacy and also against anti-competitive behavior by digital giants, has won “unexpected” praise by George Soros. However, another report in Politico expressed some reservations on Europe’s regulatory zeal and the unintended consequences. Click on the image to read more.
Brexit negotiations appeared on track to become more acrimonious as Brussels toughen its Brexit transition demand. Chinese growing influence in the EU is under the spotlight this week with the release of the report by Mercator Stiftung and Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin. To counter the influence of Russia, the EU has recently “relaunched” efforts to engage the Western Balkans and bring the Western Balkan countries closer to the EU. On Tue (6 Feb) the EU’s foreign chief, Federica Mogherini and the EU’s Commissioner for Enlargement, Johannes Hahn, jointly presented the Commission’s Balkans strategy titled “A Credible Enlargement Perspective for and Enhanced EU Engagement with the Western Balkans”. While the Western Balkan countries are welcomed to the fold of the EU, Turkey’s accession talks with the EU has hit a roadblock. All these thorny issues of enlargement and the EU’s unity in dealing with China, Russia, could hopefully be addressed as the biggest member of the EU, Germany, finally ended 5 months of uncertainty with the announcement that a coalition deal between Merkel’s CDU and its “sister party”CSU and Social Democratic Party (SPD) has been reached. Click on the image to read more.
British PM Theresa May was on a three-day trip to China this week. She unveiled new educational and cultural cooperation programmes in Wuhan, and met with Premier Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping in Beijing. One reason for the pessimism is Ms May’s problems back home, within the ruling Conservative Party. While the EU is enjoying an advantageous position vis-a-vis the UK, it has been targeted by American President Donald Trump, who not only instigated Ms May to take a tougher stance towards the bloc, but also hit out at the EU directly by accusing the EU for being “very, very unfair to the United States”. Apart from Brexit and US hostility, another challenge the EU faces is the on-going differences over how to deal with the refugees and migration issue. The issue has driven a wedge between Europe and Africa this week. In Spain, the Catalonian crisis seems to become more twisted every day. Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Roger Torrent, announced Tuesday to postpone the election of a new regional President, insisting the former leader Carles Puigdemont – who is in self-imposed exile in Belgium – will remain the sole nominee. Click on the image to read more.
Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, announced on Tuesday (23 Jan) that the US social media giant plans to step up its efforts to grant people greater privacy over their data ahead of new EU data protection rules to be implemented in May. The EU-Vietnam FTA has come under scrutiny by the European Parliament over issues of workers’ rights. The FTA was concluded in 2015 and would have seen tariffs on Vietnam’s imports slashed completely within a 7-year frame. Another stumbling block in the EU’s pursuit of FTAs with Southeast Asian countries, was the European Commission’s revision of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) as part of the EU’s Clean Energy Package. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel met on Friday (19 Jan) in Paris, pledging to push forward with EU integration and to strengthen the Franco-German relations, particularly in light of the 55th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty on Monday (22 Jan). The political stalemate in Catalonia remained after the snap elections in December 2017. The separatist parties won the majority and Catalan separatist leader Puigdemont was formally nominated as the candidate for the regional presidency last week. Click on the image to read more.
Japanese Prime Minister (PM) Shinzo Abe embarked on a tour to Europe from 11-15 Jan, visiting Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia, the latter being the only non-EU state. He was the first Japanese PM to visit these countries. Both European Presidents, Donald Tusk (President of the European Council) and Jean-Claude Juncker (President of the European Commission), announced this week (16 Jan) that they would like the UK to stay in the European Union (EU) or to rejoin the bloc after Brexit. The EU often perceived as in the forefront of environmental protection announced on Tuesday (16 Jan) its first-ever Plastics Strategy, proposing to reuse or recycle all plastics by 2030, while reducing the use of plastics by 55 % by 2030. In the aftermath of the banking and sovereign debt crisis in 2011-2012, the European Central Bank (ECB) was given the role as a watchdog over the Eurozone’s 120 largest banks. On Tuesday (16 Jan) the European Court of Auditors published a special report on “The operational efficiency of the ECB’s crisis management for banks”. Click on the image to read more.
The EU is preparing to pledge a 2025 deadline for the next wave of enlargement, potentially accepting candidate countries such as Montenegro and Serbia as new members. This week Europe saw two major cabinet reshuffles. French President Emmanuel Macron went on a three-day tour of China early this week. Click on the image to read more.
Bulgaria took over as the rotating president of the EU Council from Estonia on 1 January. In the first week of 2018, two new sets of EU rules in relation to tax avoidance and financial market regulations took effect. The UK was reportedly looking into the possibility of joining a Pacific trade pact, the 11-nation Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Click on the image to read more.