Singapore Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing met several key EU leaders to seek rapid ratification for the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EUSFTA). In Southeast Asia, the EU has also started FTA negotiations with Malaysia and Indonesia. However, both countries have been upset with a European Parliament resolution early this year that sought to ban palm oil biofuels by 2021. While the EU continued to raise its engagement with Asia, the transatlantic ties is under increasing scrutiny with Trump riding into Brussels for the NATO summit launching a tirade against NATO allies for falling short of the 2% GDP defence spending target. The “soft” Brexit strategy that Prime Minister May rolled out in at Chequers late last Friday (6 July) was well received by her EU colleagues but not by some of her cabinet colleagues. Leading Brexiteers Boris Johnson and David Davis resigned from the cabinet, with the latter commenting that UK was “giving too much away, too easily”. Migration issue continue to hoard the headlines. Official migration figure to the EU via Spain from Africa rose in June 2018, amidst the Merkel-Orban and Merkel-Seehofer ideological clashes. Click on the image to read more.
Despite a trilateral migration swap deal amongst Spain, Greece and Germany, and a compromise between Angela Merkel and Horst Seehofer being struck, the migration crisis in the EU remains contentious. On the economic front, the EU remains united against the trade wars initiated by US President Donald Trump, and collectively expressed its intent to retaliate should the planned automobile tariff be enacted. Meanwhile, Brexit negotiations between the EU and the UK remain at an impasse owing to disagreements on the Irish border. MEPs also expressed “four big concerns” regarding the UK’s plans for EU citizens post-Brexit. Click on the image to read more.
The mid-year EU Summit took place on 28-29 June, and migration again topped the agenda and proved to be as divisive. After marathon meeting through the wee hours of Friday, with threats and rising temper, a broad agreement was reached on some concrete measures to be taken to address the migration / refugee crisis. Last Saturday (23 June) marked the two-year anniversary of the Brexit referendum, and tens of thousands of people gathered in London to march and campaign for a second referendum. However, it is not clear if a second referendum would lead to a different result. Click on the image to read more.
The announcement of the start of negotiations of an EU-Australia comprehensive trade agreement reaffirm the commitment to open trade by the EU and an important partner, Australia. The EU has been making concerted efforts in demonstrating its support for free trade amidst ongoing trade tensions, particularly in relation to the US’ increasingly protectionist stance. Migration/refugee issues took the limelight once again at the recent Franco-German meeting on Tuesday (19 Jun). The meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron had originally been intended to approve and ratify a partial eurozone budget deal and to focus on EU financial reforms. More twists and turns in the British Parliament on the government’s Brexit negotiations. The Withdrawal Bill has finally been approved through Parliament and will become law after going for Royal Assent. Click on the image to read more.
The annual G7 summit that took place from 9-10 June in Quebec, Canada concluded on a bitter note as the US President Donald Trump left early, and then instructed his staff not to endorse the final joint communiqué. EU’s unity is tested by its own divisions on the migrant issue. Italy’s decision to refuse a migrant vessel to dock in Italian ports was criticised both at home and from the wider international community. British parliamentarians seem to send mixed signals regarding the post-Brexit relationship. British Prime Minister Theresa May reportedly agreed to draft a new self-imposed deadline in the Brexit talks: 30 November 2018, stating that the government will return to the House of Commons for discussion if no deal has been reached with Brussels by then. Click on the image to read more.
Italy finally has a coalition government installed after months of political negotiation. The cabinet was officially sworn in on Friday last week (1 June), comprising of ministers from the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and far-right League parties respectively. Next, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent state-visit to Vienna on Tuesday (5 June) reaffirmed warm relations between Russia and Austria, with promises to further strengthen business and investment ties.. While such trips are generally routine, Putin’s visit to Austria comes at a difficult time of tense relations between Russia and the EU- a result of both recent and long-term challenges. Lastly, Brexit negotiations have been stalled for some two months over disagreements within the British government on their preferred post-Brexit customs relationship with the EU given the complexities of the Northern Irish border issue. The UK is reportedly examining a “third way” customs plan which would involve EU border checks being carried out selectively between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain. Click on the image to read more.
EU Foreign Ministers met in Brussels on Monday (28 May) and agreed to strengthen security cooperation with Asia. While the EU is stepping up its cooperation with Asia, its relations with its traditional ally, the US, is heading towards tumultuous time as the US announced that tariffs would be imposed on steel and aluminum from the EU, Canada and Mexico. Next, domestic politics in member states also continued to worry the EU. The Five Star Movement and The League attempt to form a government was thwarted after the country’s president Sergio Mattarella rejected the Five Star-League coalition’s proposed candidate for finance minister, Eurosceptic Paolo Savona. Meanwhile, the EU also remains divided on the management of the refugee/migration crisis. Despite calls by Members of Parliamnet (MEPs) for governments to no longer delay progress on migration reforms, European leaders remain torn due to divergent positions. Somewhat related to the issue of migration, the Commission has officially announced its long-term plans for cohesion policy on Tuesday (29 May). The proposed cohesion fund uses a new criterion to distribute funds, taking into consideration unemployment levels and the Member States’ receptiveness towards migrants besides assessing the country’s economic output. Click on the image to read more.
After months of closed-door negotiations, the EU has formally approved the free trade agreement (FTA) directive proposed by the Commission to negotiate with Australia and New Zealand. Next, the much anticipated EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into full force on Friday (25 May). The GDPR seeks to give citizens greater control over their personal data as well as strengthen individual privacy rights. In light of the GDPR and the recent data scandal involving Facebook’s mismanagement of customer information, the “apology tour” by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to Europe could not have been more timely. Finally, the coalition between Five Star Movement and The League in Italy has named a political novice to be the country’s next prime minister. Click on the image to read more.
Ongoing talks between Iran and the EU continue as the Union struggles to salvage the landmark nuclear deal since the US’ withdrawal. US plans on re-imposing sanctions on Tehran have sparked outrage from its European partners, with European Council President Donald Tusk condemning the Trump administration for its “capricious assertiveness”. The EU also finds itself having to contend with the domestic politics of some of its Member States. In Italy, the possible coalition government of The League and Five Star Movement has raised alarm bells for the Union. Spain’s problem with Catalan has led to Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy skipping the EU informal summit with the Western Balkan states. The summit held in Bulgaria seemed to fall short of the Balkan countries’ aspirations of joining the Union. Click on the image to read more.
The announcement of US’ withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal, while not entirely unexpected, brings further complications for Europe and its relations with Iran. Despite relentless attempts, the US’ European allies have failed to prevent Trump from abandoning the deal. While EU leaders are united in their commitment to the Iranian deal, differences remained in the EU with regards to the migrant/refugee issue. The EU continues to struggle to manage its external borders and integrate asylum seekers successfully. Underlying political cracks in the British Cabinet have come to the forefront in light of ongoing Brexit negotiations. Clashes between Theresa May’s softer-Brexit position and Boris Johnson’s hardline stance on UK withdrawal from the EU continue to stall negotiations regarding post-Brexit arrangements. Click on the image to read more.