Last Wednesday (12 Dec), the European Parliament ratified the EU-Japan trade deal, creating the world’s biggest free trade zone, covering 600 million people. The two economies together account for almost a third of global gross production. The European Council held its last summit for the year from 13th-14th December. Key issues discussed besides Brexit included EU’s external relations, migration, the EU’s long-term budget and eurozone reforms.On Eurozone reforms, EU leaders concluded a year-long discussion to bolster the Eurozone by approving extra money to resolve failing banks and additional powers for the European Stability Mechanism. French President Emmanuel Macron has been the most fervent advocate for the budget, which would be a first step towards a fiscal union. The 24th Conference on Climate Change (COP24) in Poland yielded a rulebook, agreed to by 197 nations, that aims to cap rising temperatures at 2°C. Europe is also planning to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030 with a long term plan reaching beyond that.UK Prime Minister May will bring back the Brexit vote to Parliament in mid-January. Meanwhile, preparations are being made on both the EU and UK sides in the possible event of a hard Brexit. Click on the image to read more.
The United Nations Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration was formally approved in Marrakesh on Monday, 10 December. Despite withdrawals from United States and several EU countries, over 160 countries met to ratify the pact. The Hungarian government is also lashing out at the European Parliament’s move three months ago to initiate scrutiny over the country’s democratic institutions. Poland was similarly stopped by the EU recently from forcing out Supreme Court judges. The EU has recently stepped up protection measures on privacy and the spreading of disinformation in anticipation of the European elections in May 2019. Four EU commissioners came forward with an action plan and advocate for an increase in the budget for fighting fake news. On Monday, 10 Dec, Theresa May delayed the Brexit voting, which was to take place on Tuesday and made a European tour, to seek reassurances from her EU counterparts on the backstop provision to avoid a hard border in Ireland. May’s decision to postpone the vote brought on a scene of chaos in the House of Commons and brought the value of the pound down. Click on the image to read more.
European economists have found that the euro is used by 60 countries around the world and is only second to the dollar in terms of usage for international payments and as a reserve currency. As such, there is a case to be made to strengthen the global role of the euro. Belgium’s coalition government is facing an existential crisis because of disagreements over the UN Global Migration Compact. Several EU countries have already withdrawn from the migration pact, most of them being eastern European countries. EU countries failed to reach a decision on whether to impose tariffs on rice from Cambodia and Myanmar; the Commission, which oversees trade policy for the bloc, will take over the matter. Following his trip in Spain last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Portugal on Tuesday (4 Dec) and signed several cooperation agreements with President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. On Tuesday (4 Dec), the European Court of Justice advocate general said that the UK can unilaterally withdraw from Brexit under article 50. The opinion expressed by ECJ further complicates Theresa May’s efforts to push through the Brexit deal agreed with the EU. Click on the image to read more.
There was a collective sense of sadness as EU 27 leaders signed the agreement on Sunday (25 Nov) that will see UK leaving the European Union. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that “this is the only deal possible” against staunch Remainers expressing hopes for otherwise. Slovakia has become the 8th EU country to withdraw from the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Meanwhile, European Parliament lawyers have shown support for EU plans to set up “regional disembarkation platforms” in North Africa and European states. A Eurobarometer survey on democracy and elections has shown that Europeans are worried about cyberattacks manipulating elections, and influence from foreign actors and criminal groups. Concern for the ability of technology to interfere with democratic elections is also present in an international hearing that took place in British Parliament over Facebook’s role in spreading misinformation about elections. On Sunday (25 Nov) Russian forces attacked and detained soldiers on Ukranian naval ships in the Kerch Straits near Crimea. The EU have stressed the importance of dialogue in “de-escalation on both sides”; some commentators believe there is a need for a stronger stance and that EU should be on high alert and be ready to revise its strategy against Russia. Click on the image to read more.
On Monday, 19 Nov, France and Germany’s finance ministers presented a joint proposal on the Eurozone budget to their counterparts at a Eurogroup meeting. France and Germany hope to establish the budget by 2021, describing it as a “major political breakthrough”. As a sign that the EU is gearing up for further reforms as seen in the eurozone budget proposal, and to deepen cooperation, the defence ministers of 25 EU member countries agreed to form a joint EU intelligence school, along with 16 other new military projects. The EU Commission submitted a proposal for more stringent screening on foreign investments to protect Europe’s strategic interests. Although it does not mention any country by name, the proposal is intended to mitigate state-influence from China, given the surge in Chinese investments. Theresa May was in Brussels on Wednesday (21 Nov) to discuss the political declaration which will result in the future relations between EU and UK. She will return on Saturday for more talks before the Brexit summit on Sunday, 25 Nov. Click on the image to read more.
On Tuesday (13 Nov), German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivered her last speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg and spoke on the future of Europe. Speaking on migration, Merkel called for strengthening of European institutions in border protection (Frontex) and a common asylum procedure. Amidst divisions over migration, budget rules, and challenges resulting from corruption, across Europe, various high-ranking centre-left and left-wing politicians have urged progressive forces to form a pro-EU narrative and unite against those that reject the EU project.The European Commission is still in a standoff with Italy over the latter’s 2019 budget. On Tuesday (13 Nov), a Brexit deal was announced with a draft withdrawal text 585 pages long and a much shorter “political declaration” that outlines the future of EU-UK relation. Under this agreement, the transition period, which is set at December 2020, has the potential to be extended indefinitely. Click on the image to read more.
On Monday (5 November), Chinese president Xi Jinping launched China’s first International Import Expo (CIIE). In his opening speech, he promised heads of state and business leaders that China’s economy would continue opening up and the country would increase imports. On Thursday, (1 November), Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš expressed his intention to leave the United Nations Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. His declaration follows the recent Austrian withdrawal, citing similar concerns about blurring the line between legal and illegal migration. The monopoly of the two major European political groups, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D), might be coming to an end paving the way for new alliances with political groups such as the centrist Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). French President Emmanuel Macron has made a pitch for an alliance between his party, En Marche, and ALDE to get more seats in the European Parliament. As negotiators in UK and EU struggle to find a resolution to the Irish border issue in Brexit talks, the British people would like to see a compromise to reach an agreement on a deal. According to online polls, the British public is set against “no deal” and would prefer to remain in the EU than leave without a divorce agreement. Click on the image to read more.
On Monday, 29 October, Angela Merkel announced that she will step down from her chairmanship of her party, Christian Democratic Union (CDU), in the wake of state elections in Hesse, launching speculations about whether she will finish her term as chancellor till 2021. Migration continues to be a difficult issue. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced to the media on Wednesday, 31st October, that his country will be withdrawing from a non-binding United Nations pact on migration. Down South, Italy has expressed defiance against the European Commission’s rejection of its 2019 draft budget proposal. Amidst difficult Brexit negotiations with Brussels, the UK Chancellor Philip Hammond presented his budget in the House of Commons on Monday (29 Oct). Click on the image to read more.
The 12th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit took place in Brussels on 18-19 October. Coming at a time of rising trade tensions between the US and China, Trump’s unilateralism and the overall stress on the rules-based global order, it was not surprising that Asian and European leaders would use this summit to reaffirm their support for multilateralism and international cooperation. With the trade confrontation with the US in the background, the biennial ASEM Summit was widely celebrated among Chinese newspapers and scholars as an opportunity to push back against Trump and his policies. The EU High Representative Federica Mogherini was quick to dismiss the idea that the ASEM summit was an anti-Trump meeting. However, several European papers clearly made the point that the leaders should use the ASEM summit to send a strong signal to Trump that Asia and Europe are against protectionism and will continue to keep their economies open and support the rule-based global trading regime. Singapore and EU-Vietnam trade agreements were hailed as examples of positive approach to trade to create win-win solutions. Several European countries also took the opportunity to stress that Europe’s desire to build a united front with Asia could be tempered by grave concerns about human rights issues in several Asian countries.To read the special News and Views on the 12th ASEM summit, please click on the image.
The 12th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit kicks off on Thursday (18 Oct) with the theme: “Global Partners for Global Challenges”. Poland and Czech Republic have expressed their opposition to strengthening Europe’s external borders; they fear that enlarging the role of Frontex will reduce state sovereignty. The EU Special Summit on Brexit arranged on 17 October (Wed) in the hope to break the impasse in the Brexit negotiations did not provide any breakthrough.