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News & Insights on Europe

News and Views on Europe – 31 Aug 2017

posted by eucentresg


Mini Summit on Migration in Paris
In order to address migratory issues, frontline EU and African countries met in Paris on Monday (28 August). Heads of state from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini met with their counterparts from Chad, Niger and Libya to talk about migration, which the latest Eurobarometer says is the second most concerning issue for Europeans after terrorism.

According to the UN 125,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean in the first half of 2017, and an estimated 2,400 have died en route. However, in recent weeks arrivals via Libya have plummeted by around 50%, while more and more people arrive from Morocco in Spain. The reasons behind those recent developments are not entirely clear, but the work of the Libyan coastguard and tougher border controls in transit countries are believed to have disrupted the flow. Chad and Niger are transit countries, while Libya is the main departure point for making the crossing via the Mediterranean and a main center for traffickers.

During this mini-summit the “roadmap of action” was presented, aiming at preventing people from making the risky journey, especially if they are not eligible for asylum in the first place. Proposed measures included European-financed development programs to enhance job growth; help for Chad and Niger with border controls; and to work toward stability in Libya. Although Macron’s proposal of hotspots – which are (European) external asylum processing centers – in transit and departure countries, was dismissed, the leaders called for the setting up of decentralised reception/transit centres in their joint statement. Macron concluded that “The term ‘hotspot’ can be confusing, we are proposing a solution agreed by all, under the leadership of the UNHCR and the IMO.” The German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung criticised the proposal to set up “transit centres” and highlighted that such a move would mean that the EU shifts its external borders to Africa.

The reluctance to pledge fresh aid money fell short of the ambitious expectations. The summit statement only vaguely noted that “it’s indispensable that greater means be made available for the emergency EU fund for Africa,” in particular naming Niger and Chad. Also, Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, stated that “there is no need to invent a ‘Marshall Plan’ for Africa”, since the EU already invests €20 billion annually in Africa and on top of that the EU will launch a private investment plan supported by the European Commission, which will mobilise up to €44 billion in private investment in Africa for economic development. Furthermore, the EU had just signed off on contracts to release €50 million to finance a new multinational military task force with troops from Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad in cooperation with France to crack down on trafficking, drug smuggling, weapon smuggling, and terrorism. However, African leaders call for more financial and logistic support. Chad’s President, Idriss Déby, acknowledged that there is no quick fix to the problems but deplored the large numbers of lives lost: “We are losing young Africans between 20 and 30 years old, in the desert and in the Mediterranean. It is a great loss for the continent.”

The leaders agreed to meet again within months to follow up on the commitments. There will also be the 5th EU-Africa summit in November with agenda focus on youth, security, and economic development.


British PM May arrives in Japan when new round of Brexit negotiations underway
The British Prime Minister Theresa May is on a state visit to Japan this week, aiming to allay Japan’s fears on trade with UK once it is out of the vast European Single Market. For May, one way of convincing Japan that post-Brexit UK will still be an attractive economic partner (in its own right) is to emulate the EU in trade deal with Japan, i.e. signing a Japan-UK free trade agreement based on the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (JEEPA) in principally agreed last month before G20 Summit. However, it is unlikely that Japan will prioritise a trade agreement with the UK when it is still negotiating with the EU and when the future relationship between the UK and EU remains unclear. (This stance is best summarised by Politico as “Wait your turn”. And Financial Times suspects that this is a shared sentiment among Asia Pacific countries, revealing that “taking back control” after Brexit is easier said than done.)

May’s trade message seems to be drowned out by the escalating tension on the Korean peninsula. Pyongyang’s move to fire a missile over the north of Japan has stolen headlines with the majority of Japanese English news outlets (including The Mainichi, The Japan Times, and Nikkei Asian Review) highlighting Britain’s expressed solidarity with Japan in the face of North Korean provocation instead of the trading potential between Japan and a “global Britain” outside of the EU (arguably the key message May wanted to convey as she kicked off her first state visit to Japan). The two countries agreed to forge closer security ties and speak “with one voice against North Korean aggression.”

May’s trip to Japan coincided with the third round of Brexit negotiations, which started amidst unpleasant exchange of words between European and British politicians. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, sharply criticised the UK on Tuesday (29 Aug) for its handling of the Brexit talks, saying none of its position papers was satisfactory. Juncker also rebuked London for trying to fast-forward the discussions to the future relationship rather than first settling the terms of its withdrawal from the EU. In response, Jacob Rees-Mogg, a leading Brexiteer of the ruling Conservative party, hit out at Juncker describing him to be “pound shop Bismarck, arrogant and bullying but without the charm.”

Apart from the allegedly “Grade F” positions papers, the UK’s newly launched “charm offensive” which seeks to leverage the UK’s network of European ambassadors in an attempt to directly explain Britain’s Brexit strategy to government officials, businesses and other “stakeholders” in EU capitals is irritating for Brussels which stresses unity in Brexit talks. However, as Politico reported, the strategy appears to have a messy start, with two briefings in London only angering the EU diplomats who attended. British officials who made presentations in briefings were short on answers and allegedly reneged on a promise of further details regarding the UK’s Brexit bill, according to EU officials with knowledge of the sessions. One of the reasons that the strategy backfires hitherto (and for the perceived unpreparedness in Brexit talks) is that there is a perennial internal struggle within the UK between hard and soft Brexiteers. While the opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn backs soft Brexit by announcing the Labour’s intention to keep the UK in the European single market and customs union for a transitional period after Brexit, there is fear in Brussels at the same time that, as Guy Verhofstadt, a leading member of the European Parliament, put it, Brexit hardliners just do not want to negotiate with the EU.

Nevertheless, the chaotic situation following the Brexit referendum and the negotiations has led to rising popularity of the EU. Notably, Europhilia is on the rise in France according to the latest Eurobarometer. Some 56% of the French declare themselves optimistic with regards to the EU’s future. And Europe was the central theme at the launch of the summer summit by the Movement of Enterprises of France (Medef) on Tuesday (29 Aug). In the summit, French business owners welcomed their president’s diplomatic effort in Europe, and expressed their support for an “economic model for Europe, a model which understands that Europe is our common horizon, and that the world offers us incredible opportunities”.

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