Surprise snap elections in the UK
On Tuesday (18 April) the British PM, Theresa May, called for snap elections to be held on 8 June 2017, despite her previous insistence that she would not do so. On 19 April the House of Commons voted with an overwhelming majority – 522 to 13 votes – in favour of the snap election. This is May’s biggest political U-turn since she is took office last year. Elections were not due until 2020. It is seen as a move to secure stability and the Tories’ vision for Brexit since her party is riding high in the polls. Some also suggest that the real reason for this move is to show the EU that Brexit really means Brexit.
The latest opinion poll puts the Conservatives at 44%, whereas Labour is at 23%. May said: “We need a general election and we need one now because we have at this moment a one-off chance to get this done while the European Union agrees its negotiating position and before the detailed talks begin. May only inherited a slim majority when Cameron resigned and a larger majority will mean better chances of passing the Brexit deal and to overrule her critics. Also, this gives May more time for a transitional Brexit deal and for the EU-UK free trade negotiations. Further, some some sources even believe that May could win a 140-seat majority – since Labour is facing a major internal crisis – , which is more than Margaret Thatcher ever enjoyed.
The EU hopes that the snap elections will give May a stronger political mandate in order to pursue an orderly exit. A senior EU official stated: “Instead of being at the mercy of the Brexiteers, May will now get a very, very strong mandate that will allow her to negotiate a reasonable deal with the EU.” The German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung was more critical of May’s move and stated that the snap election will further divide the British people and therefore weaken the UK.
The Times of India carried a commentary by Rishabh Bandhari on “May’s stunning turnaround”. The author noted that May’s decision can be read as a tactical manoeuvre to “achieve a decisive majority that would unburden May from the pressures of relying on a slim Tory majority”. However, her move is not without risks as the Scottish National Party may increase its lead further stoking the spectre of separatism.
Turkey’s referendum results and questions over EU membership bid
On Sunday (16 April) Turkey voted in a plebiscite in favour of an amendment of the constitution. Although the results are not official yet, it seems that 51.3% voted in favour of the referendum, which will transform the country’s parliamentary system into a presidential republic by 2019. The EU’s Turkish diaspora also supported the amendments, whereas majorities in the country’s three largest cities – Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir – voted “No”. However, OSCE observers criticised that the voting process “fell short” of international standards.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was quick to dismiss the observations by OSCE and already talking about more reforms, for instance on the country’s EU membership bid and on reintroducing the death penalty. This in return has provoked strong reactions from EU stakeholders. The EU reminded Turkey that a return of the death penalty would mean the immediate termination of its membership bid. Furthermore, the European External Action Service (EEAS) released a statement, which reads “The constitutional amendments (…) will be assessed in light of Turkey’s obligations as a European Union candidate country and as a member of the Council of Europe. (…) In view of the close referendum result and the far-reaching implications of the constitutional amendments, we also call on the Turkish authorities to seek the broadest possible national consensus in their implementation.” The uncertainty with regards to Erdogan’s next move and how he would bridge the divide between those who supported and those who opposed the reforms remained of concern to the EU. The EU is particularly concerned with its refugee deal with Turkey which has been on shaky grounds since its implementation one year ago.
Indonesia, EU urged to strengthen education partnerships amidst trade frictions
Last Wednesday (12 Apr), the EU Delegation to Indonesia and University of Indonesia (one of our CMM Network partners) co-organised a panel discussion on “European Union and Indonesia: Ever Closer Partners Facing Joint Economic Challenges” featuring Mr Christian Leffler of the European External Action Service (EEAS) and Dr Djisman Simandjuntak of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). According to a report from Jakarta Globe, Simandjuntak praised Europe to be “a very important source of knowledge” for the development of Indonesia, while Leffer highlighted the EU’s interest in strengthening bilateral cooperation in research and education exchanges. In particular, Simandjuntak looked forward to strengthening partnerships in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) so as to improve the quality of Indonesia’s human capital to compete in a digitally charged world.
In 2016, about 9,000 Indonesians benefited from exchanges to joint university studies or research programs in Europe. EEAS’ statistics shows that of the 9,000, Indonesians, 1,600 have studied through scholarships from the EU and/or its member states. One of the most popular scholarships is Erasmus+, previously known as Erasmus Mundus, for students from developing countries.
Simandjuntak suggested that the importance of Europe as a knowledge centre should be valued more than its status of being a large market for Indonesia’s palm oil exports. Interestingly, Simandjuntak made those remarks at a time when the EU and a few Southeast Asian countries are experiencing some trade frictions. Ministers from Malaysia and Indonesia, along with some regional palm oil producers, met in Jakarta on April 11 to plan a response to a resolution approved on April 4 by European parliament members concerning “palm oil and deforestation.” The two countries have accused EU of protectionism under guise of conservation concerns. A meeting with EU officials is scheduled in May to discuss the issue.
Late last week, EU inspectors examined several shrimp exporters in the Bac Lieu and Ca Mau provinces of Vietnam, due to doubts about the designation of origin, reports Vietnam Net. The EU suspected Vietnamese enterprises may have imported shrimp from India and then shipped it to the EU. The operation was guided by the conviction that EU import tariffs for Vietnam’s unprocessed shrimp are 4.2%, compared to 12% for India. (However, some commentators noted that India and Vietnam in fact share the same preferential tariffs when selling to the EU; as per the organisation’s website.)
EU diplomatic chief on trip to China, India and Russia
Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, is traveling to China, India and Russia from 18 to 24 April. In China, Mogherini met with Chinese premier Li Keqiang and attended the 7th EU-China Strategic Dialogue with State Councillor Yang Jiechi on 19 April. It is the first high-level exchange between the EU and China since Donald Trump took office and Britain officially began its “Brexit” procedures. Premier Li stressed that China and the EU, “as two great forces in the world”, must cooperate to promote economic globalisation and free and fair trade. Likewise, Mogherini, in an exclusive interview with China’s Xinhua News Agency, asserted that Sino-European “cooperation has never been so important, in a moment when multilateral global governance is put in question from many sides”.
The High Representative’s next destination is India. While various bilateral, regional and global issues are on the agenda, the main focus of her visit, according to India’s Financial Review, seems to be on the push for early resumption of stalled talks on the free trade pact between the two sides. India’s bilateral investment pacts with several European countries are expiring and citing this, the EU is pushing India to move ahead with the FTA, which is known as the EU-India Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA). While BTIA is still being negotiated, the EU is pressing India to extend by six months, its bilateral investment pacts with several EU-member countries, saying absence of the treaties could adversely impact trade ties and FTA talks.
In Russia, Mogherini will meet the Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov to discuss the conflict in Syria and several other issues.
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