Amidst Fraying US-EU Ties, EU Steps Up Security Cooperation To Reduce Reliance On US
US-EU ties worsened as the Trump administration continued to block the reappointment of another World Trade Organisation (WTO) Appellate Body judge on 27 August. The EU fears that Trump is “out to kill the WTO” and are sceptical of a recent pledge by Washington to reform the WTO. As the EU sees the WTO as an important arbiter in global trade disputes, Brussels have prepared reform proposals to address concerns which the US has previously raised. Chair of the European Parliament’s trade committee Bernd Lange says that the EU’s reform proposals would “call [America’s] bluff”’; if the US rejects the proposals, it would be clear that Trump’s intention is to “kill the WTO”. On the issue of bilateral trade, Germany’s ambassador to the US Emily Haber said on 25 August that a working group had convened following the Trump-Juncker meeting, and US officials are pressing the EU to expedite trade negotiations “for very rapid results”.
Meanwhile, standing up against US unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the EU adopted a first package of €18 million for projects in support of sustainable economic and social development in Iran. EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini noted that since the renewal of EU-Iran relations as a result of JCPOA, cooperation between EU and Iran has developed in many sectors, and the EU remain committed to the “full and effective implementation of the JCPOA as long as Iran respects it nuclear-related commitments”.
Fraying ties with US has led to call for the Europe to strengthen defence cooperation amongst themselves. French President Emmanuel Macron said that Europe should not be completely reliant on only the US for security and called for a “new push on the European defence review”. He also told French ambassadors that Europe’s security and sovereignty guarantee was “up to us [Europeans]”. In a similar vein, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called on Europe to consider a “new world order” independent of the US. Maas envisioned Europe to assume “an equal share of responsibility” and “form a counterweight” to the US. However, German Chancellor Angela Merkel distanced herself from Maas’ calls, clarifying that his statements only reflect his own “personal opinion”. Nevertheless, Merkel concurred that Germany “has to take a piece of its destiny in its own hands”, by relying more on Europe, and supporting the idea of a European security council and the European intervention troops project. In fact, apart from France and Germany, the United Kingdom has also supported EU integration projects concerning foreign and security policy of late, much more so than before the Brexit vote.
Issues over intake of migrants and relocation of refugees continue to raise tensions in Europe
Tensions in the EU over the issue of refugee relocation continues into this week with no near resolution in sight. Italy and Germany have been the hotspots for right-wing political activities prompted by their migrant intakes since 2015. On Sunday, 26th August, anti-immigrant protests broke out in Chemnitz, a city in eastern Germany, in response to the stabbing of a German citizen by two men who are migrants. The original protest reached its peak at 6000 supporters on Monday.
According to sociologist Matthias Quent, neo-Nazis leading the protest were able to assemble right-wing extremists very quickly through social media. These extremists issued an arrest warrant online with the personal data of the two suspects, which was supposed to only be available to the relevant authorities. Germans from other nearby states travelled to Chemnitz to participate in the protests as well, and the Nazi salute was a common sight. The police force was unable to manage the situation, claiming to have been caught off guard and overwhelmed. Yet, a police officer has revealed in 2015 that up to a third of the Saxony police force are extremists themselves. At the same time, these far-right protests were also met by a counter demonstration of pro-immigration protestors.
The federal government has issued a statement that condemns “vigilante justice” while offering to back up the state police of Saxony. The right wing political party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has been growing in strength and influence, is likely to benefit from this wave of unrest.
Meanwhile, another “anti-migrant coalition” is being formed between Italy’s nationalist League leader, Matteo Salvini, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, with both challenging France to re-open its border crossing at Ventimiglia which was a launching point for migrants crossing into France. The meeting between the two came after Salvini refused to let migrants on board rescue vessel, Diciotti, disembark for 5 days, while waiting on an EU response for the redistribution of people.
While Salvini faces criticism from the UN for his hard-line stance on the refugee boats, his 5-Star party counterpart, Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, also threatened to veto the upcoming EU budget unless member states share the burden of taking in asylum seekers. Di Maio revised his earlier statement that Italy will refuse EU contribution. While Albania and Ireland have agreed to take 20-25 people each, the EU Commission meeting in response to Italy’s call has been unfruitful, leading Rome to condemn the EU for lack of solidarity. Rome said that it will also call for a reform of EU’s military operation codenamed Sophia. Operation Sophia is currently commanded by Italy and all migrants rescued under this Operation disembarked at an Italian port. Italian Defence Minister Trenta said that this is unfair and is proposing the rotation of landing ports, with particular emphasis on France and Spain and with Greece and Malta also sharing the load.
Meanwhile in Spain, the government defends its swift return of 116 illegal migrants to Morocco who tried to storm the fence bordering one of Spain’s North African enclaves. Human rights groups complained the return was carried out too quickly without due process to identify asylum seekers.
Outside of this internal tensions within the EU over migrants and refugees, Russia has also piled pressure on the EU to repatriate Syrian migrants and assist financially in rebuilding the war-torn country. However, the EU insists that Syria remains unsafe as long as it is under President al-Assad’s rule and will not be advocating the return of the refugees anytime soon. The war in Syria is reflective of greater power dynamics at play, with al-Assad being backed by Russian and Iranian militaries and the EU supporting Syrian opposition groups. Part of the reason why the war has dragged on for over seven years is because global and regional powers remain divided on their stance in Syria.
Negotiators drop October deadline for Brexit negotiations
British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday (28 Aug) started a three-nation tour to South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya. The tour was expected to display the UK’s global ambition post-Brexit and to drum up new trade deals ahead with African emerging economies. However, Financial Times pointed out that since the entire African continent accounts for just 3 per cent of all UK goods and services exports, it is unlikely for freer trade with Africa to fill the gap left by the British departure from the European Single Market anytime soon.
What really troubles Ms May is the pressure at home from so-called Remainers sceptical of her ability to forge trade deals once Britain severs ties with the EU. Just before the start of the tour, Ms May rebuked Chancellor Philip Hammond for his assessment that a no-deal Brexit could cause an economic disaster, reiterating her position that leaving the EU without a deal is “not the end of the world’ and in fact “better than a bad deal.” (Hammond noted in a letter to the Treasury Select Committee last week that a no-deal outcome would have “large fiscal consequences” amounting to an £80 billion-a-year increase in borrowing by 2033.) Like Ms May, the UK’s Brexit secretary Dominic Raab dismissed the projections associated with economic slump (and stressed that free movement of people will end after Brexit, although both sides will try to reach an new agreement on visas needed to facilitate trade). However, he also told the House of Lords European Union Committee, at a special hearing that the UK would still have to pay the Brexit “divorce bill” (financial obligations to the EU) even in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Exactly how much, and “what the shape of those financial obligations were” he did not elaborate. Avoiding a divorce bill of around £39 billion is viewed by many Brexiteers as one of the key upsides of a no-deal outcome.
Previously both the UK and the EU publicly declared that they want to wrap up Brexit negotiations by October so that there is enough time for the negotiated deal to be put up for votes at individual national and regional parliaments in the EU member states for it to take effect. With negotiators failing to make headway, the self-imposed deadline is being quietly dropped. The new deadline is reportedly to be mid-November, though it might imply that the EU needs to call an emergency summit at that time to mark the conclusion of historic Brexit talks. EU negotiator Michel Barnier reiterated on Wed (29 Aug) at a press conference in Berlin that the EU is willing to strike an ambitious deal with post-Brexit Britain but added that any agreement had to respect the “four pillars” of the EU’s cherished single market – the free movement of people, goods, services and capital.
The longer time frame suggests that a no-deal Brexit remains high, and in such a scenario the UK might be kicked out of the development of the EU’s Galileo satellite navigation system. To be sure, the UK could still be an end user of the system post-Brexit, yet as a third country, it is likely to be deprived of access to critical encrypted security information gathered by Galileo. Therefore, Ms May announced early this week that the UK will spend £92 million on scoping out an alternative to the EU’s Galileo. Her announcement reaffirmed an earlier “technical note” published by the UK in May stating that it could pursue the creation of its own rival system if it did not receive adequate access to Galileo.
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