Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker gave an annual State of the Union address to the European Parliament on 12 September, focusing on issues that continued to divide the EU – migration and the issue of sovereignty. On 12 September, the European Parliament also passed a motion based on the Sargentini report (448 for, 197 against, 48 abstentions) which declared that Hungary is at risk of “breaching the EU’s core values”. Over the weekend, former British foreign secretary Boris Johnson, in the latest of a series of criticisms against the government’s Brexit approach, likened Prime Minister Theresa May’s Chequers Plan to a “suicide vest” which would make Britain a “vassal state”. Click on the image to read more.
In Federica Mogherini’s opening address to the annual EU Ambassadors conference on Monday (3 Sep) , she reiterated the need to “strengthen a global network of partnerships for multilateralism” and asked for solidarity amidst several divisive internal issues and external pressure. Echoing these challenges, budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger described the EU as facing “mortal danger”, from inside and out. On Brexit, ever since the introduction of the Chequers Plan by the British government in early July, Prime Minister Theresa May has been under siege from all fronts. While she vowed “no compromise” over her “precise and pragmatic” plan, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier insisted that he was “strongly opposed” to it for the reason that any plans for a “common rulebook” for goods but not services were not in the EU’s interests. On 5 Sep, Member of European Parliament and leader of the European People’s Party (EPP) group, Manfred Weber declared his intention to “run” for European Commission presidency as his party’s ‘lead candidate’ next year. Both Angela Merkel and Viktor Orban have shown their support for his candidacy. Click on the image to read more.
Transatlantic ties continued to be challenged by Trump’s approach to trade and disregard for multilateral agreement. The Trump administration continued to block the reappointment of another World Trade Organisation (WTO) Appellate Body judge on 27 August, and warned that the US would pull out of the WTO if the latter is not reformed. Tensions over influx of migrants manifested at both national and the EU level this week. On Sunday, 26th August, anti-immigrant protests broke out in Chemnitz in Germany in response to the stabbing of a German citizen by two men who are migrants. British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday (28 Aug) started a three-nation tour to South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya as a display of the UK’s global ambition and to drum up new trade deals post-Brexit. Click on the image to read more.
On Monday, 20 Aug, Greece “exited” its third bailout programme, ending close to a decade of financial assistance under the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) bailouts. These bailouts disburse financial assistance, but are conditional on member states agreeing to implement stipulated fiscal reforms. In Germany, Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer of the Christian Socialist Union (CSU), has pushed through a draft of new immigration act that will allow more vocationally trained immigrants to integrate into the labour market. The draft focuses on the regulation of skilled workers but ostensibly leaves out he question of what Germany aims to do with refugees within their borders. Meanwhile, British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt stated that the risk of a no-deal Brexit has recently increased, and there is “absolutely no guarantee” of a deal being struck. Danish Finance Minister Kristian Jensen also weighed in on this issue, approximating the risk of a no-deal Brexit at “50-50”, and argued that negotiators are running out of time to reach an agreement. Click on the image to read more.
On 10 August, amidst deteriorating bilateral relations, US President Donald Trump doubled tariffs levied on Turkish steel and aluminium. In response, Turkey retaliated by increasing tariffs on American cars, alcohol, cigarettes, as well as by boycotting American electronics. Elsewhere in Eastern Europe, around 80,000 people protested across Romania on 10 August accusing the government of corruption and demanding their resignation. The protests took place at a time where the ruling Social Democratic Party had already overhauled the judicial legislation that saw the sacking of chief anti-graft prosecutor Laura Kovesi in July. Another country that has gone against the EU is Italy. Migrant rescue vessel Aquarius was eventually granted to dock in Malta after five other EU member states – France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and, Portugal – agreed to take in the migrants. Click on the image to read more.
The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini was in Singapore (2-4 August) to co-chair the ASEAN-EU Ministerial Meeting and attend the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). This strengthening of dialogue and cooperation with Asia came at a crucial time when the EU is facing an increasingly unpredictable US and rising tensions in the transatlantic partnership. Due to the US withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal in May, the first wave of American sanctions against Iran went into force on 6 August. Brexit negotiations have continued to stall, and the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit have been described to be “60-40” and “uncomfortably high”. As Spain now takes in more migrants from the Mediterranean, the European Commission has increased their financial support for Spain. Click on the image to read more.
A UK white paper setting out the idea of a “facilitated customs arrangement” with the EU was rejected almost immediately by the EU. EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier argued that a non-member who is not subjected to EU’s governance structures cannot and will not set the rules. Meanwhile, trade tensions eased between the EU and US after Juncker’s visit to Washington last week. A “truce” was negotiated between US President Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in which additional tariffs would be suspended while both further negotiate on “free and reciprocal trade”. While Trump praised Italy for the hard-line measure taken against migrants and refugees, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees asserted that Italy may have violated international laws by repatriating migrants back to Libya, which is deemed an unsafe location. With Italy clamping down on migration, Spain has become the preferred entry point into the EU. Click on the image to read more.
As tensions between the EU and the US heightened with President Trump calling the EU “a foe of the US”, the EU is starting to push back by building its own web of free trade agreements and reaffirming the importance of free and open trade. At the EU-Japan summit on 17 July, the largest ever trade deal negotiated by the EU with Japan was signed. The EU is also pushing back against anti-competitive behavior by tech giants, and Google has been slapped for the 2nd time a hefty fine for abusing its dominant position to limit competition in search engines and browsers in the sector of mobile internet. The fine announced on Wed (18 July) after three years of investigation came not long after Google was fined €2.4 billion in 2017 for manipulating search results. All is also not well with the Brexit negotiations between the EU and UK. The European Commission issued on Thursday (19 July) a Communication warning of the possible repercussions that Brexit might have for businesses and citizens. Click on the image to read more.
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.