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News & Insights on Europe

News and Views on Europe – 10 Aug 2018

posted by eucentresg

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Mogherini’s trip to Asia to deepen ties with ASEAN and promote the EU’s security role in the Asia-Pacific
EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini carried out a diplomatic trip to Asia to strengthen the EU’s security presence in the region. In the aftermath of the US withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, and unstable US-China trade relations, the EU aims to be a “predictable and reliable” ally of ASEAN in pulling together a rule based international system of cooperation.

Mogherini visited Singapore from August 3-4 to co-chair the ASEAN-EU ministerial meeting and take part in the ASEAN regional forum. During a lecture given at the S. Rajaratnam school of International Studies, Mogherini emphasized the importance of multilateralism and rule of law. Cooperation between EU and ASEAN as free trade partners was also highlighted at the ministers’ meeting with both sides agreeing that trade wars are not solutions.

Besides free trade, the agenda on Mogherini’s trip also includes rallying support for the EU stance on blocking US sanctions on Iran, while assisting in various security concerns in the Asia-Pacific region including nuclear disarmament in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the refugee crisis in Myanmar. Mogherini does not promise any direct military involvement by the EU, so its efforts will be made through consultations and cooperation.

Mogherini has since landed in the Republic of Korea to show her full support for the peace efforts between North and South Korea. For the last leg of her trip, she will visit Australia (8th August) and New Zealand (7th August), following the recent launch of FTA negotiations between the two countries and the EU.

 

EU Softens Impact Of Renewed American Sanctions Against Iran
Trump has long attacked the deal that his predecessor Barack Obama made with Iran as one of the worst deals and hence it was no surprise when he withdrew the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). As a result of the US withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May, the first wave of US sanctions against Iran went into effect at midnight on 6 August. Sanctions on Iran’s oil industry and energy sector is slated to come into force in November.

Trump vowed to enforce these sanctions stringently and warned violators of “severe consequences”. White House National Security Adviser John Bolton stated that the American policy is “not regime change” and that the US will continue to focus on preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Trump tweeted that the “most biting sanctions ever” imposed was to seek “world peace”.

However, just last week Trump hinted that he is open to meeting the Iranian leader with “no preconditions” to hash out a new deal. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo then contradicted Trump by adding preconditions, stating that the Iranians should demonstrate a commitment to fundamentally change “the way they treat their own people” and agree to “enter … a nuclear agreement that actually prevents proliferation”, before talks can commence. On 5 August, Trump stated that whether the meeting materialises is “up to [Iran]”. Prior to the sanctions, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani dismissed the possibility of talks with the US.

In response to the US sanctions, European leaders said they were working to preserve the JCPOA and thwart the sanctions. A joint statement issued by France, Germany and the UK said that the preservation of the JCPOA is a matter of “respecting international agreements and a matter of international security”. European leaders stated that they were actively working to “[preserve] and [maintain] … effective financial channels with Iran” and to continue “Iran’s exports of oil and gas”. The EU updated its “blocking statute” in a bid to protect EU businesses from the renewed US sanctions, and ask European citizens and residents from complying with the US sanctions. Nathalie Tocci, aide to the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, stated that companies which abide by the US secondary sanctions will in turn be sanctioned by the EU. In response, Trump tweeted that anyone doing business with Iran “will not be doing business with the United States”.

 

Brexit negotiations continue to stall as Brussels steps up “preparedness” efforts
As the Brexit negotiations continue to stall, the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit is increasing by the day; at least this is the view of some policy-makers in the UK. British International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said in an interview that, if the EU does not shift its stance, the chances of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal are “60-40”. Mark Carney who is in charge of the UK’s monetary policy agreed with Fox, saying the possibility of a no-deal Brexit is “uncomfortably high”. (The pound sterling declined on the currency markets in the wake of Carney’s comments.) Leaders in the police force, for their part, worried that a no-deal Brexit scenario would impose a severe security and public safety threat for the UK as they would lose access to EU crime databases and some operational capacity.

On the European side, a no-deal Brexit entails a reroute of trade flows. The Commission last Wednesday (1 August) adopted a proposal (allegedly without proper explanation) to directly link Ireland’s freight to ports in Belgium and the Netherlands, leaving major French ports – which are geographically closer to Ireland – out in the cold after Brexit. The consequence is that those French ports and transport infrastructure excluded from the new shipping route would not be eligible for extra funds from Brussels to upgrade their facilities. In response, local leaders such as Xavier Bertrand, the president of the Calais region in France, have called on Paris to counter the “scandalous and unacceptable decision” of the Commission.

The UK’s newly appointed Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt visited China two weeks ago in the shadow of difficult Brexit negotiations to seek the revival of a “golden era” of China-UK ties. Yet, observers opine that post-Brexit UK would be less attractive to Beijing. Oriol Caudevilla wrote an op-ed in China’s Global Times on Wednesday (8 Aug), arguing that the “UK may lose its charm as business destination for China” once it ceases to be a gateway into Europe. Caudevilla’s argument echoed another op-ed carried by the same newspaper written by John Ross, a British academic based in China’s Renmin University. Ross believed that the future of UK-China relations ultimately depends on the final choice made by London on the UK-EU relations post-Brexit. Overall, Ross was pessimistic about Britain’s future as an independent economy since it would be too small to engage giant economies like the US, China and the EU on favourable terms.

If Brexit is supposedly “bad” for the UK, can a second referendum avert the course of Britain leaving the EU? Paul Taylor, a Politico columnist, said no. Taylor argued that a second referendum is too late, not popular among major political parties and difficult when it comes to framing an appropriate question. There is also chance that the EU27 may reject the result of a second referendum. He concluded that Brexit will happen besides painting a picture of what he called “Brexiternity” — a slow-motion non-separation that may involve an extended transition, long-term bridging arrangements or other diplomatic fig leaves.

 

Increased support for Spain as Spain takes in 40% of migrants from the Mediterranean
On 1 Aug 2018, European Commission (EC) President Jean-Claude Juncker tweeted a copy of a letter sent to Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez which expressed the European Union’s (EU’s) willingness to increase financial support to Spain and Morocco to combat the migration crisis. President Juncker also promised to expedite the delivery of a €55 million border management programme for Morocco and Tunisia that was already approved under the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa in July this year.

EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitri Avramopoulos visited Spain to reaffirm the full support of the EC in supporting Spain in dealing with the rise in arrivals along the western Mediterranean Sea route. Commissioner Avramopoulos met Spanish Government Vice-President Carmen Calvo and several senior officials to discuss cooperation on migration. This increased support seemed timely as Spain had overtaken Italy as the top destination for migrants crossing the Mediterranean sea into Europe. A recent report by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) noted that Spain had taken in 23.471 migrants via the Mediterranean by end of July, compared to 8677 for the same period in 2017.

The EC also announced a further €3 million in emergency aid to support Spanish border guards in tackling the rise in arrivals along Spain’s southern borders. This additional aid brings the total amount of emergency fund allocated to Spain since July to €30 million.

Meanwhile, arrivals to Italy are now down by over 80 percent compared to 2017, the IOM says. And migrant arrivals look set to decrease as Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said that Italy plans to invest “at least €1 billion” to curb migration flow from North Africa. Salvini hopes that the planned project will support the region economy by creating employment, in hopes that prospects of growth will reduce the push factor to migrate to the EU.

In related news, the French parliament adopted a controversial asylum and immigration law. The bill aims to accelerate asylum procedures by reducing the maximum processing time from 120 days to 90 days. As a sign on how divisive the issue of migration has become, lawmakers on the left lamented the law’s doubling of detention of asylum seekers to 90 days while those on the right slammed the law for being too lax. The Senate previously rejected this bill on 31 July but the lower house still passed the bill as President Emmanuel Macro’s party holds a large majority.

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