With 22 days to the Brexit deadline, the UK government believes that Brexiteers’ attitude to the Withdrawal Agreement is softening. However, Brexiteers want more legal guarantee that the backstop provision is only temporary. French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday (4 March) laid out his vision for a “European Renaissance,” proposing multiple new institutions and a major conference to overhaul the Continent’s political structures.Macron’s manifesto is seemingly directed at the upcoming Parliamentary elections. Vice President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip sat down with Huawei rotating chairman Ken Hu on Monday (4 March) in an encounter described as “conciliatory” by Huawei officials. The meeting came a day before the opening of a Huawei’s Cyber Security Transparency Centre in Brussels. On Tuesday, 5 March, the European Council approved a set of new rules to scrutinise foreign direct investments on the grounds of security or public order, which will come into force in April. The greater scrutiny towards Chinese investments even without the new rules had already slowed down Chinese investments in the EU. Click on the image to read more.
The inaugural EU-Arab League Summit was held from the 24-25th Feb in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt with 49 countries including 24 EU member states attending. The leaders of the two blocs focused on finding common ground on regional security issues and economic relations; international migration was also one of the main themes. Theresa May met with EU leaders on the sidelines of the EU-Arab League Summit on Monday (24 Feb). Despite pressures from the EU, she refused the option of delaying Brexit. However, on Tuesday (26 Feb), after three Tory ministers threatened to quit if a no-deal is not prevented, May cleared the way for a possible Article 50 extension by making the commitment to hold three consecutive votes in Parliament. The US has been putting pressure on their transatlantic allies to take action on Chinese telecom companies. However, the European Union is not conforming to U.S. pressures and opted for the “Third way” approach by installing a series of midway network security measures. Opposition politicians in Italy on Friday (22 Feb) called for an explanation from Matteo Salvini, the deputy prime minister, about reports that his party secretly sought financing from Moscow. Salvani has since denied the allegations that his party was offered funding by Kremlin. The unity of EPP has recently been challenged over whether Viktor Orban’s Fidesz Party should be expelled from the group.
Theresa May is still seeking changes to the Irish backstop and says she plans to speak to every European Union leader before returning to the House of Commons for another vote next week (27 Feb). According to senior EU officials, the only way for May to see a breakthrough in negotiations is if she narrows her demands to a single concrete proposal plus a “technical extension” to Article 50 at the March 21 meeting. Migration issue continues to hoard headlines even though numbers of asylum applications are at the lowest and have returned to its pre-crisis level. Greek MEPs have pushed for urgent action and support from the EU to alleviate conditions at overpopulated migrant centres in Lesbos and Samos. Over 600 politicians and world leaders gathered last Friday (15 Feb) for the 55th Munich Security Conference (MSC). Demands for a stronger EU and a more cohesive foreign policy, more commitments to NATO and concerns over Russia’s assertiveness were the major themes of the 3-day conference. Donald Trump on Sunday (17 Feb) called on Britain, France and Germany to repatriate and put on trial its citizens who have gone to fight for ISIS in Syria. This comes after Trump decided to withdraw US troops from Syria, raising the question of what they should do with the people that have surrendered or been captured by the troops. Click on the image to read more.
The European Parliament on Wednesday (13 Feb) voted to give consent to three landmark agreements between the European Union (EU) and Singapore. These are the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EUSFTA), EU-Singapore Investment Protection Agreement (EUSIPA) and EU-Singapore Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (ESPCA). While there is good news on the EU-Singapore relations, the EU relations with Cambodia suffers a setback as the EU began the process of temporarily suspending Cambodia’s preferential trade access to EU markets under the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme. Last week, UK Prime Minister Theresa May met with EU leaders including Jean Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk in Brussels to discuss the Irish border issue. The EU maintained that the withdrawal deal is not up for re-negotiation but agreed to further meetings at the end of February. While Brexit continues to hoard the headlines, events in other EU member states are also worth noting. In Germany, new Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party chair Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer held a “workshop discussion” on 10 and 11 February to review German and European asylum and migration policies. Click on the image to read more.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s fifth visit to Japan came three days after the new free trade deal between Japan and the European Union came into force on 1 February.The new pact removes nearly all tariffs between the two economic zones that accounts for 28 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. Theresa May was in Belfast on Tuesday (5 Feb) to assure North Ireland that there will be no hard border between the north and south after Brexit. May said she does not want a “U-turn” on the backstop but rather a time limit should the provision be triggered. With the European Parliamentary election approaching on May 26, French President Emmanuel Macron is considering holding a referendum on the same day as part of a series of concessions to the “yellow vests” demonstrators that has rocked his presidency. The political response to Macron’s move has been divisive. The European Union (EU) on Wednesday (6 February) blocked the planned Alstom-Siemens merger due to “serious competition concerns.” Brussels concluded that the deal was “incompatible” with the internal market and would harm competition in markets for railway signalling systems and high-speed trains. Click on the image to read more.
On Tuesday, (29 Jan), British Parliament voted on two amendments. The first call for the rejection of a no-deal outcome and the second asked the Prime Minister to seek alternative arrangements to the controversial Irish backstop. The World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos highlighted the message that the world economy is slowing down with political risks abound. According to a survey of 1,000 experts and decision-makers, the outlook of investors and companies for the world economy is pessimistic. Ahead of the European Parliament elections and in line with the Action plan against disinformation, a report on what big players in tech and advertising sectors that have signed the Code of Practice on Disinformation have done to address the spread of disinformation and fake news was published. While the four online company signatories Facebook, Twitter, Google and Mozilla said they have taken efforts to meet their commitments, the EU said that more could be done. Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian Prime Minister, would be running for the European Parliament elections, leading the Flemish Liberals party (Open VLD). Verhofstadt said in a tweet that it was “now or never to reform Europe and to put a halt to nationalism.” Germany, France, and Britain have launched the so-called special-purpose vehicle (SPV), on Thursday (31 January 2019) to adhere to the European Union’s (EU) efforts to keep Iran from quitting the 2015 accord to constrain its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief. The SPV known as INSTEX – Instrument in support of trade exchanges – will help European firms with legitimate business interests to use barter techniques to conduct business in Iran. Click on the image to read more.
Foreign Ministers of the EU member states, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission, Federica Mogherini and Foreign Ministers of ASEAN countries gathered for the 22nd EU-ASEAN ministerial meeting in Brussels, Belgium on 20-21 Jan. At the meeting, the ministers emphasized the two blocs’ special relations as “partners in integration”. As a no-deal Brexit would “inevitably” lead to hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, Theresa May is seeking a bilateral deal with Ireland to remove the backstop provision. May wants to ensure an open border after Brexit via a separate set of principles “to support or reference” the Good Friday Agreement. On January 22nd, France and Germany signed the Aachen Treaty, a renewal of the Elysee treaty which cemented Franco-German relations more than half a century ago.The Aachen treaty is also intended to strengthen the European project but it has been reported as being more reserved in its ambition, proving less concrete than its predecessor. With the next European Parliament election coming up in May 2019, European officials face the worrying prospect of hackers, trolls, and foreign agents interfering with the upcoming poll.Europe has faced a string of cyberattacks and election disruptions in the past years. Click on the image to read more.
On Tuesday (15 Jan), British MPs voted against the Brexit withdrawal agreement 432 to 202 in a historic defeat for Theresa May. The next day, Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn tabled a no-confidence vote against May which she survived narrowly with 325 – 306. The outcome of the vote in the UK parliament was widely reported in the European media and also some parts of Asia. French President Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen have both reached out to the Yellow Jacket movement, albeit through different means, ahead of the European elections. Macron announced a “great national debate” to be held on issues such as taxation, bureaucracy, democracy, and ecological transition. Click on the image to read more.
European Parliament (EP) elections in May is an event to watch this year. Concerns have already been raised on whether the mainstream parties belonging to the European People’s Party (EPP) group and the Progressive Alliance of Socialist & Democrats (S&D) would be able to retain control of the EP. Migration is looking to be a crucial yet divisive topic in the forthcoming European elections as well. One commentator felt that the outcome of the elections and whether populist parties will gain ground depends on the integrity and accuracy of the debates on managing migration. The UK House of Commons have voted in favour of an amendment to legislation that would limit the government’s actions in the case of a no-deal Brexit. To prevent a no-deal scenario, MPs voted another amendment tabled by former minister Dominic Grieve to give the Prime Minister and her cabinet a 72-hour deadline to offer an alternative Brexit plan if MPs vote down the Brexit deal on 15th January. This year, the Euro is celebrating its 20th anniversary. The euro is largely seen to be a success, with membership growing from 11 to 19 countries and the euro-area economy swelling by 72% to 11.2 trillion euros. Click on the image to read more.
As Europe enters a new year, many political commentators have reflected on Europe’s 2018 and voiced their thoughts on key issues that will confront the region in 2019. Alexandra Brzozowski summed up the five key issues in security and defence that Europe will have to pay attention to in 2019. Germany has suggested that its military might undergo a key structural change this year. Last Thursday, the chief of the German army, Eberhard Zorn, announced the possibility of recruiting other EU nationals into the country’s military. In her New Year’s Day message to the country, Prime Minister Theresa May urged the UK to put aside differences and start a new chapter in 2019. She also pushes the agenda of getting Members of Parliament to approve her Brexit deal. Click on the image to read more.