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News & Insights on Europe

News and Views on Europe – 11 May 2018

posted by eucentresg

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Implications of US withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal and the EU’s Responses
The US’ decision to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal has sparked widespread disappointment amongst its fellow European allies. Despite attempts made by France and Germany to assuage Trump’s concern over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the US has confirmed that it will exit from the nuclear deal and re-impose US sanctions on Tehran’s nuclear developments. This decision not only marks a defeat for Europeans, who have failed to effectively persuade Trump to commit to the deal, but also fuels greater political instability in the Middle East, as Iran and Israel go head-to-head in localized attacks in Syria that increasingly risk an all-out confrontation in the region.

EU companies may also have to bear the brunt of US sanctions as Washington proceeds to reintroduce sanctions related to Iranian oil exports. The return of pre-deal sanctions means that companies, such as European aviation consortium Airbus, will have to choose between shutting down operations in Iran or continue to do business in defiance against a much larger US market. While the EU has drawn contingency plans meant to protect companies from US counter-measures, critics suggest that such efforts are ineffective as most multinational companies are linked to the US, suggesting that the future of European companies in Iran is very much dependent on US action.

Undeterred by the US’ withdrawal from the nuclear agreement, European powers remain committed in salvaging the deal. In the immediate aftermath of the US’ announcement, leaders of Britain, France and Germany published a joint statement reiterating their commitment to the landmark deal. French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to “work collectively on a broader framework”, ensuring that Iran’s nuclear development and activity continue to abide by nuclear nonproliferation norms. The EU has also demonstrated its desire to protect the legitimacy of the nuclear agreement. Foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, has stated that the EU is “determined to preserve” the deal, so long as Iran continues to remain compliant to its terms.

While the future of the Iranian nuclear deal remains to be seen, it is hoped that its European signatories will be able to convince Iran to stay in the deal, a sure challenge that they will have to confront in light of Washington’s “hard exit”.

 

Ongoing tensions within EU over migration/refugee issue
The ongoing migrant/refugee crisis continues to plague the EU as it struggles to manage its external borders and integrate asylum seekers effectively. Europe’s migration crisis has revealed acute shortcomings in the Union’s asylum framework. The apparent lack of a coherent immigration policy, and the absence of a future proof asylum system threatens the role of the Union in fulfilling its international obligations. Gianfranco Schiavone, president of the Italian Consortium of Solidarity and an expert on migration frurter remarked that the current Dublin system seems dysfunctional, as it has not enabled the creation of a common asylum system; rather, it has resulted in the development of many national systems, making coordinated action difficult to achieve.

These institutional shortcomings are made worse by the growing rift between EU Member States. Member States have been unsuccessful in adopting a common position regarding the management of the flux of migrants/refugees. Where countries like Italy and Spain seem to be relatively open in welcoming asylum seekers, Hungary and Poland are not. The latter EU countries are against the EU allocation quota for migrants, contending that the principle of Union solidarity should be a voluntary one. The EU’s inability to formulate a coherent immigration policy amongst its members is indeed worrying, as it threatens the unity of the Union.

In addition, the rise of anti-immigrant sentiments amongst many EU member states also threatens the image of the EU as well. Support for populist parties that politicized immigration as an issue, has risen, and migrants and refugees are being caught in a bureaucratic limbo amid mounting tensions. Specifically, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is hoping to change constitutional laws that impose restrictions on the nation’s immigration laws. As the EU’s southern border continued to face pressure from refugees and migrants from Africa, migration will remain a contentious issue within the EU threatening the unity of the Union.

 

Hong Kong Model emerges as an option for post-Brexit Northern Ireland
Theresa May’s soft(er)-Brexit position on the UK – to have UK stay with the EU in a customs union for years after Brexit transition – was criticised by the leading Brexiteer Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. He remarked on Tuesday (8 May) that this arrangement of Britain “collecting the tariffs on behalf of the EU at the U.K. frontier” is “a crazy system.” An EU-UK customs partnership would avoid a hard border across Ireland, but Johnson maintained that it also “make it very, very difficult to do free-trade deals” for “a “confident free-trading Britain” no longer “locked in the lunar pull of Brussels.” Brexiteers including Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg instead support a “highly streamlined customs arrangement,” which involves using technology solutions to lower customs barriers.

Johnson’s open challenge of the proposal reportedly preferred by PM May, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Business Secretary Greg Clark underlies the split and political impasses within the White Hall. Knowing that negotiations with Brussels cannot progress without cabinet consensus and unity on what the UK is trying to achieve, PM May this week instructed civil servants to work up a compromise between customs partnership and “maximum facilitation” models to satisfy both campaigns.

Interestingly, while the UK is struggling to find a way out of the Northern Irish border conundrum, European diplomats came up with a novel new argument: Northern Ireland should be the new Hong Kong. According to some high-ranking officials in Brussels, former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher agreed to a “one state, two systems” approach to Hong Kong with Beijing during her premiership, so why couldn’t Northern Ireland be part of a different customs territory to the rest of the UK as proposed by the EU in its draft withdrawal agreement? British officials immediately dismissed the acceptability of the Hong Kong model as it implies a certain degree of sovereignty transfer.

Apart from customs arrangements, post-Brexit defence relationship between the UK and the EU has also been the subject of debate in Europe albeit under less spotlight. France pushed a two-track approach that it discussed at a weekend gathering of EU defence ministers in the Bulgarian capital Sofia on 5 May in the absence of Britain’s Gavin Williamson. In general, France supports a bigger role for Spain in EU military missions to fill the hole Britain will leave, while it will offer London a place in a new French-led European “intervention force” to keep Britain close in military cooperation. As formal negotiations on defence have not yet started, it is too early to tell how the relationship would evolve in this regard.

France is also said to be promoting the usage of French in the EU post-Brexit. French, despite its historical standing as Europe’s language of diplomacy, has lost ground to English which became the main working language in recent decades. Politico believes that this situation will not fundamentally change after Brexit. For one, EU institutions have made behind-the-scenes efforts to improve their efficiency by either prioritising an English-only format or adding English to meetings where French was once used exclusively. For another, perhaps more importantly, it is political appealing for every EU members to speak everyone else’s second language originating from a neutral territory (i.e. post-Brexit UK). All in all, it appears that the chance of French making a comeback is slim.

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