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News & Insights on Europe

News and Views on Europe – 25 Jan 2019

posted by eucentresg


22nd EU ASEAN ministerial meeting
On Monday (21 Jan), Foreign Ministers of the EU member states, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission, Federica Mogherini and Foreign Ministers of ASEAN countries gathered for the 22nd EU-ASEAN ministerial meeting in Brussels, Belgium.

At the meeting, the ministers emphasized the two blocs’ special relations as “partners in integration”. ASEAN also valued the EU as a leading partner in trade, investment and development. With bilateral trade reaching 261 billion USD in 2017- up 11.9 percent from the previous year- the EU is the second largest trading partner of ASEAN. The EU is also the region’s largest source of foreign direct investments (FDI), accounting for nearly 300 billion USD worth of total FDI in the region in 2016. ASEAN regards the EU with high importance. Decades of partnership between the two regions have seen a number of agreements signed, creating a solid foundation for more sustained cooperation in different areas. This aligns with the EU-ASEAN Plan of Action 2018-2022, as well as the 2019 ASEAN Chairmanship theme of “Advancing Partnership for Sustainability.”

During the meeting, the EU reiterated its support for ASEAN’s central role and that it considers ASEAN as an important partner sharing many interests and strategic visions. Hence, its ambitions to join the annual East Asian Summit (EAS) and participate as observer in the ADMM + (ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting with its other East Asian Summit members).

The EU and ASEAN also held discussions about enhancing connectivity to push for sustainable development, positive economic growth and increased competitiveness and technology sharing, amongst other goals. High on the agenda list was also the development of quality infrastructure and enabling environments to achieve these goals. In the joint statement by the EU and ASEAN leaders, the EU reaffirms its shared commitments to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, a global framework that seeks to align all financing flows and policies with economic, social, and environmental priorities. The EU also promised active commitment to reviewing the SDGs in-depth moving forward. This is especially pertinent in the lead up to the 2030 deadline, and is a step closer in the right direction in an ever changing global political landscape.

The EU and ASEAN also agreed in principle to upgrade EU-ASEAN relations to a Strategic Partnership, with details and timing to be worked upon. They also reaffirmed their commitment to the mutually reinforcing regionalism and multilateralism, and their shared interests in promoting international law and internationally agreed norms and standards, thereby contributing to and maintaining regional and global peace, security, stability, and prosperity.


Brexit cacophony continues as the EU steps up contingency plan for a no-deal Brexit
EU Commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas said that a no-deal Brexit would “inevitably” lead to hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Schinas added that “contingency work is intensifying”, after the current deal was shot down in British Parliament. The main sticking point is the controversial Irish backstop, which will include Northern Ireland in the customs union if the UK and EU cannot decide on a free trade deal during the 33 month transition period. Preventing a hard border in Ireland is a priority for both sides but a no-deal Brexit will present a risk as Irish government would be expected to apply EU checks in full.

The EU’s comments on preventing a hard border has been criticised by Northern Irish Brexit spokesman, Sammy Wilson,who called it “belligerent bluffing” to up the ante on the UK. Regardless of the Brexit agreement, Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs released a statement that said “the British will always have responsibilities as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement” to prevent a hard border.

On 21 January, falling short of success in cross-party talks, Theresa May made a parliamentary statement on seeking a bilateral treaty with Ireland to make amends to the Good Friday Agreement, that ended 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland, in an effort to solve the Brexit impasse. May wants to set out an agreement on how both sides would ensure an open border after Brexit via a separate set of principles “to support or reference” the 1998 peace agreement. By removing the backstop provision, May hopes to win the support of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Amidst Brexit tensions, in Northern Ireland, a car bomb went off in the streets of Derry (also known as Londonderry) on Saturday (19 Jan). Politico reports that the last 72 hours has been the worst outbreak of violence in Northern Ireland in two decades and the car bomb is suspected by police to be the work of militant group, the New IRA. The city remains split since violence first broke out here in the 1960s and and tensions remain high between British Unionists and Irish Nationalists. Brexit has indirectly contributed to rising tensions as the referendum in Northern Ireland was split along ethno-religious lines. The alliance between the British Conservative Party and the DUP has replaced a power-sharing government in Stormont for two years. The news of Good Friday Agreement being reopened has exacerbated the unrest leading to the car bombs.

More political spats followed as Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz made comments that a 5-year backstop would solve the Brexit impasse. He said “courageous actions” are now needed to avoid a no-deal and claimed he raised this suggestion with his UK and Irish counterparts. A time-limit on the back stop, however, means going back on red lines insisted on by Dublin and Brussels. EU diplomats were quick to douse the effects of Czaputowicz’s comments, which could have been taken as an “olive branch” by May and the UK Parliament. Brussels said it is only up to Ireland to accept the changes in the backstop provision. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas reinforced that the Commission make these negotiations and emphasised EU unity over moving forward with “individual proposals”. Maas also said that Brussels will “wait and see what will happen in London”. On the bilateral deal between Ireland and the UK, he said it remains unclear how it will work but stands by the current withdrawal deal regardless of the bilateral agreement.

Other ramifications of Brexit are in businesses as well as European politics. Staunch Brexiteer and billionaire business owner, James Dyson, is set to move the headquarters of his company to Singapore.The reason for the move, according to Dyson, has “nothing to do with Brexit” and is about “future proofing” his business on a global model.Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran criticised Dyson saying this was his no-confidence vote for Brexit Britain. At the same time, Sony also announced that it will move its European HQ from UK to The Netherlands because of uncertainties over Brexit. Sony’s rival Panasonic has already moved to Amsterdam, mostly because of tax issues potentially created by Brexit.

Piling pressure on UK and the EU, Senior Polish MEP Danuta Hübner said the UK has an obligation to hold a European Parliament election to ensure that citizens have representation if Brexit is delayed beyond the May elections. Not upholding this responsibility means the UK could face legal challenges for “breach of EU treaties and EU electoral law” unless EU unanimously change the treaties in a race against time.

The Commission also has plans to revoke .eu domains belonging to British individuals and companies. This will happen whether or not the UK leaves the bloc with or without a deal, forcing many companies to “start from scratch”. EURACTIV reports that around 250,000 domains will be affected; they will be taken down within 48 hours of the revocation which will take place as of 21 January 2021. The best hope for these registrants will be a transitional agreement that will allow the change in domains to be made more efficiently.

Despite the turmoil, one positive outcome of Brexit is said to be a more stable European Parliament. One commentator, Andrew Duff, says this is because “British MEPs have for the most part been troublemakers” who would have been much less likely to favor further European integration or cooperation. Duff argues that with the departure of British MEPs, 45 out of 73 of whom are on the right wing of the political spectrum, the Eurosceptic groupings will get considerably smaller. Meanwhile, the loss of 20 Labour MEPs will make a smaller dent in their left wing grouping, The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats. The departure of the UK also means the Franco-German axis of European integration will be more important and possibly more efficient without resistance from the British. Ultimately, Duff argues Brexit could leave room for a more federal Union.


New Franco-German treaty to keep the European project going while Italy cast a critical eye on the Franco-German engine
On January 22nd, France and Germany signed the Aachen Treaty, a renewal of the Elysee treaty which cemented Franco-German relations more than half a century ago. While it builds on the first treaty, the Aachen treaty is also intended to strengthen the European project. The German ambassador to France, Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut believed that the two major aspects of the treaty were political and economic cooperation, and the establishment of a Franco-German chamber. He added that “we’re moving to concrete measures,” and that the priorities are in defence and cross-border issues. In economic cooperation, a group of experts would be working on harmonising the two countries’ economic law to coordinate how directives are interpreted and implemented. The two countries will also cooperate more in the area of defence including arm exports as well as lending armed support to each other in times of war.

The treaty, however, has been reported as being more reserved in its ambition, proving less concrete than its predecessor. The 16 page document covers areas such as foreign policy, defence, trade, mobility, and research. The virtues of the treaty are many as well, including being relevant to the context of an anticipated post-Brexit Europe, where France and Germany will remain two main powers of Europe, representing a third of its population.

The issue of defence coordination and reworking of French and German army relations is also highlighted, as in the Elysee treaty, but goes further in establishing a “common approach to arms exports”. It also emphasises the need for mutual assistance to defend each other’s borders, echoing the commitments in NATO and European Union frameworks. The necessity of this “double insurance” would become apparent should the other frameworks be immobilized.

Another issue that is taken on by the treaty concerns a permanent seat on the UN security council for Germany. The treaty advocates for Germany on the UN security council but German MP Franzika Brantner believes this is “absurd,” and that France would not push for German membership when it seems emerging and developing countries are also fighting to be included.

Despite some reservations, the Aachen treaty is still seen as a step towards a more stable Europe by allowing France and Germany to take more responsibility as allies. The Franco-German alliance is seen as a win for French President Macron, whose domestic popularity has waned since the Yellow Jacket Protests. He emphasised the benefits of integration for “a Europe that protects” and hit back at his critics, such as Marine Le Pen, saying “those who forget the values of French-German reconciliation are[…] accomplices to crimes of the past”.

Macron has also been hit with accusations from Italian Deputy Prime Ministers of being an accomplice to crimes of the past in the form of colonialism. Italian Deputy PM, Luigi Di Maio, leader of the Five-Star Movement, who was later joined by Matteo Salvini, linked the recent deaths of 170 migrants in the Mediterranean to French policy in Africa. France, angered by this comment summoned the Italian ambassador to France for explanation..

Salvini also sang a similar tune as his counterpart and pointed to Libya’s internal turmoil since the NATO-backed overthrow of its dictator Muammar Gaddafi as one of the root causes of the migration problem in Europe. Earlier on, Salvini, leader of The League was in Warsaw to meet the leader of the Polish ruling Law and Justice Party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, to discuss the upcoming European elections. At a press conference after the meeting, he pledged to give Europe “new blood, new strength, new energy” and counter the Franco-German axis with the Italo-Polish axis. However, he did not elaborate on what such Italian-Polish cooperation would entail.


Digital Security a Grave Concern for the upcoming European Elections
With the next European Parliament election coming up in May 2019, European officials face the worrying prospect of hackers, trolls, and foreign agents interfering with the upcoming poll. This comes three years after Russian disinformation campaigns disrupted the 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections, and potentially influenced Brexit vote results. Security preparations have been undertaken and tested across Europe since the revelation of Russian interference. However, the election system has not been tested in light of the new security climate, leaving the EU especially vulnerable as a target to malicious actors.

Europe has faced a string of cyberattacks and election disruptions in the past years. Most recently, German politicians have been caught in a data leak that began in December 2018, where the personal data of over 900 politicians were leaked. On 6 October 2018, a popular Latvian social media website was breached by Russian hackers who displayed Russian propaganda on election day. A political hacktivist group from Catalonia launched distributed disruption-of-service (DDoS) attacks on different government websites over the last two years as well.

These three examples are but the tip of an endemic problem that Europe, and the world, have to address on the role of technology in the future of politics. This begets the question: is the EU cyber ready? To ensure that the European Parliament elections will be organised freely, fairly, and securely, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, had announced in his 2018 State of the Union Address a set of concrete measures to combat cyber threats to the 2019 elections. These measures include greater transparency in online political advertisements, as well as the possibility of sanctions for illegal use of personal data in deliberate attempts to influence the outcomes of the European elections.

As of August 2018, over 20 EU Member states have together compiled a compendium on cyber security of democratic processes. The document comprises practical and workable measures shared by member states for application by both cybersecurity authority and election management bodies. Crucially, the compendium includes specific technical measures to protect elections. They are: anti-DDoS measures, access control, data integrity and secure transport, network flow analysis and monitoring, network segmentation, and back-ups and recovery procedures.

These solutions, however, may not be enough to convince EU citizens of their efficacy. Data released by the Eurobarometer study on democracy and elections in November 2018 drew to attention concerns that European citizens had over cyber interference. Survey data concluded that the potential for fraud or cyberattack was the most mentioned concern at 68%, with a third (33%) saying that they were “very concerned” about the issue. More than half (56%) were concerned about voters being influenced by third parties and 23% were ‘very concerned’ about this. In response to the survey results, Justice Commissioner Vĕra Jourová had called upon EU governments to work together in order to address voter concerns. Although there is strong call for more to be done, it may be too late for the EU Commission to do much in time for the upcoming election.

In the interim, it is imperative that governments focus on cooperating with technology giants such as Google and Facebook to eliminate disinformation networks. Facebook on Thursday (17 Jan) took down two large-scale disinformation networks linked to Russian state actors originating from and operating across Eastern and Central Europe. The General Data Protection Regulation that came into force in 2018 will also give EU the resource to combat unlawful use of personal data collected by these tech giants. Collaboration between both the states and these tech companies can increase resilience and boost capabilities in dealing with hybrid threats.

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