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News & Insights on Europe

News and Views on Europe — 28 February 2019

posted by eucentresg


EU-Arab League meeting discusses common strategy amidst divisions
EU and Arab state leaders met at the inaugural EU-Arab League Summit from the 24-25th Feb in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt. 49 countries participated with 24 EU heads of states attending. At the summit, leaders focused on finding common ground on regional security issues and economic relations between the two neighboring blocs. International migration was also a pertinent theme for the meeting as it is a common challenge for both the EU and the Arab League

However, the distinction between some Arab leaders’ authoritarian politics and the EU’s more liberal approach to some issues were also on display. As Irish and Luxembourg heads of states pushed for marriage equality, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi emphasized that EU must respect other ways of doing politics in other countries.

Politico noted that despite some differences, the leaders agreed to a joint declaration at the end of the summit that touched on common concerns and commitments within the region. These include achieving “a just, lasting and comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians” as well as “reconciliation and sustainable and peaceful political solutions” in Syria, Libya and Yemen.

Egypt will also be chairing the African Union (AU) in 2019 and hence an important regional power-broker for the EU. Brussels want to negotiate future trade relations as well as migration pacts with the AU. Egypt has been most willing to strike migration deals with the EU–243,000 refugees and asylum seekers from 58 nations were registered in Egypt in late November 2018–despite a leaked report stating that the AU intends to reject EU’s proposal for regional disembarkation platforms in coastal African states. The paper said these platforms amount to “detention centers” and cited that migrants rescued on European waters cannot be moved to Africa without being subject to European asylum laws. It would also violate their fundamental rights as well as the sovereignty of African Countries over their citizens when biometric data is collected by international organizations.

A policy paper by the Robert Schuman Foundation articulates the importance of the EU-Arab summit in structuring the international migration debate for the future. Despite the institutional differences between the EU and Arab League, both regions count immigrants as well as citizens from the other bloc amongst their residents. While the official agenda published before the meeting does not include specific points on migration, the article argues that migration was “at the heart of the summit” However, it also cautioned that future meetings would gain by not linking directly the issue of international migration with that of development and development aid. Migration issue should be addressed indepth in its own right and discussions should focus on the kind of migratory policy that would facilitate regular migration.

Before this meeting, bilateral relations largely dictated how the two regions interact. Still, deep divisions exist within the Arab League, more so than in the EU, and there is no identifiable center for the former. Despite the internal divisions of both blocs, what brings them together are political, economic, and security threats from common adversaries such as Russia, China, and the USA. For this reason, European Council President Donald Tusk in his closing remarks at the summit said that “it is time to get real about partnership between the Arab world and Europe”.


Theresa May puts Brexit delay on table as Corbyn backs second referendum; Brexit will impact regional economies
Theresa May met with EU leaders including Angela Merkel, Donald Tusk, and Irish PM Leo Varadkar on the sidelines of the EU-Arab League Summit on Monday (24 Feb). At the summit, she refused the option of extending Article 50 and said it “does not deliver a decision in parliament, it doesn’t deliver a deal, it just delays the point at which we come to that decision”. In contrast, EU leaders put the pressure on May to take the extension over a no-deal. Despite not re-opening negotiations, Tusk told her that EU leaders would look at additional guarantees on the Irish backstop, but only with the support of British MPs.

However, on Tuesday (26 Feb), after three Tory ministers threatened to quit if a no-deal is not prevented, May cleared the way for a possible Article 50 extension by making the commitment to hold three consecutive votes in Parliament. The first vote on 12 March will be on ratifying her current deal that is expected to have changes in the Irish backstop. If the deal is not passed, Parliament will vote on whether the UK will leave without a deal on March 13. The final vote on the 14 March, in the case of both rejections, will come down to whether Parliament will invoke Article 50 to extend the time for UK to leave the EU. May is not for the extension and said it would only be a “short, time-limited extension” up until the end of June and warns it will create “a much sharper cliff edge.” Any extension longer than this would also mean that the UK will have to hold the European elections.

The Prime Minister has also rejected proposals of a second referendum, which Jeremy Corbyn said Labour would back to avoid May’s deal or a no-deal exit. He added that this is to avoid a “damaging Tory Brexit” being forced on the country, even though part of Labour’s own “traditional working class” constituents voted to Leave. Labour is to prioritize their own Brexit plan, which includes a permanent customs union with the EU but is also seeking to put remain on the table in the second referendum should this fail.

British MPs on Wednesday (27 March) called for protection of citizens’ rights by the EU and UK in an amendment put forward by Conservative MP Alberto Costa. It received widespread approval from the government and House of Commons. However, other amendments shot down include Labour’s alternative Brexit policy, which was defeated by 323 votes to 240. While the EU has left citizens’ rights as a matter for individual member states to decide, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will ask the European Council to allow the Commission to begin discussing the matter with legal authority. Meanwhile, the UK has unilaterally pledged to guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the country.

The impact of Brexit will be wide ranging on various regions in the EU but public opinion differs on how Brexit will impact the EU 27. A recent study commissioned by the Committee of the Regions (CoR), an EU consultative body, reveals that Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands would be affected the most, along with Ireland. The CoR report anticipates many regions in the EU with economic ties to Britain in various sectors such as agri-food and plastics in Auvergne, France, maritime and commercial links in Flanders, Belgium and Hessen in Germany–a major gateway for trade –will be impacted significantly. The study suggests “most regions would likely lose their current position in some sectors in terms of trade, direct investments or migration opportunities for workers, students or researchers” due to Brexit. However, the biggest hit will be Ireland not only in terms of economics but also in maintaining peace on the island.

In Ireland , there are widespread concerns over disruptions to the supply chain of food ingredients and market access because of the integration of north and south and dependence on free movement across the border. The uncertainty will persist so long as a deal between the UK and EU has not been decided. The Irish backstop, meant to alleviate these concerns in an emergency by allowing Northern Ireland to remain in the EU customs union, is not supported by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland as it would separate Northern Ireland from Britain “constitutionally and economically”.

Meanwhile, Bertelsmann Foundation carried out a study of 10,434 people across the EU27 which showed 61 percent of those asked said there “will not be a significant change in EU countries because of Brexit.” Of those surveyed, 27 percent think EU will be worse off while 12 percent think EU will be better off after Brexit. Moreover, those with a brighter outlook were closer to far right and populist parties than those who were pessimistic.


Europe’s digital iron curtain on 5G technology
The rivalry between the United States and China over technological dominance and global influence has prompted analysts to believe that the world would be separated by a digital iron curtain. The divide has already manifested itself, with U.S. allies like New Zealand, Australia, and Canada having taken action against Chinese tech companies such as Huawei and ZTE. New Zealand and Australia have banned the two companies from supplying equipment for a 5G wireless network on the grounds of national security. In December 2018, Canada arrested Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou over allegations that she defrauded banks to violate Iranian sanctions.

U.S. diplomats have spent months pressuring their transatlantic allies to take affirmative actions against the Chinese telecom companies, branding them as a strategic risk and a potential tool for spying by Beijing. However, the European Union is not conforming to U.S. pressures. Rather, EU leaders are hesitant over the need for a complete ban on Huawei products, and may instead push ahead with a series of midway network security measures that will ultimately preserve China’s presence in broad swathes of European telecoms markets.

This “Third way” approach — one that avoids alienating Beijing- comes at a time when Trump himself has brokered deals with some Chinese companies amid a wider trade war. In the last week (19 Feb), the German government is leaning toward letting Huawei participate in building the nation’s high-speed internet infrastructure. Ciaran Martin, head of Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) also affirmed last Wednesday (20 Feb) at a cybersecurity conference in Brussels that there are no evidences of spying by Huawei. “I would be obliged to report if there was evidence of malevolence … by Huawei. And we’re yet to have to do that. So I hope that covers it,” Martin said.

An imperative aspect of Europe’s approach to Huawei have also been the company’s own efforts to reassure policymakers and preserve its market position on the Continent. Huawei had opened a cybersecurity center in Banbury, southern England, in November 2010. The center, known as “HCSEC,” is run by Huawei and its employees are on Huawei’s payroll, but the work is overseen by the NCSC, part of the intelligence service GCHQ. Martin said that “because of our 15 years of dealings with the company and 10 years of a formally agreed mitigation strategy which involves detailed provision of information, we have a wealth of understanding of the company.”

Not all EU members, however, are taking the third way approach. In France, Huawei is barred from providing equipment for the country’s “core” network, as well as the radio networks in the area of Paris. Industry experts POLITICO spoke to acknowledged these measures are targeted at reducing the threat of mobile communication surveillance.

Notwithstanding the Huawei controversy, the European Commission and other EU countries have in recent times taken action to tighten rules on cybersecurity, telecoms, competition and procurement to improve security for 5G networks, a necessary step moving forward into a digital society where everything from cars to fridges will be connected to the network.

In an op ed. written on Tuesday (26 Feb), Zhang Ming, China’s Ambassador to the EU, highlighted China’s and the EU’s shared interests in defending cyber security and fighting cyber crimes. In defending 5G technology, he wrote that “5G technology is a product of global innovation and cooperation. Its industrial, supply and value chains are so widely spread and interlinked that almost everyone has a stake in it”. Attempting to draw an iron curtain would therefore have an impact on all, and “would upset global economic and scientific cooperation, undermine the principles of free trade and fair competition, disrupt market order, and eventually, hurt the interests of every consumer.”


Tracking events, discussions and debates leading up to European Elections
Opposition politicians in Italy on Friday (22 Feb) called for an explanation from Matteo Salvini, the deputy prime minister, about reports that his party secretly sought financing from Moscow. The hard-Right League, led by Salvini, was in talks with Russian businessmen close to the Kremlin to secure funding through a petrolium export deal, according to L’Espresso, an Italian news magazine. The exposé claimed that Vladimir Putin is funnelling $3 million to Salvini to influence European elections towards Russia-friendly candidates. The report prompted opposition MPs to demand an explanation from the party, which governs Italy in coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement. Salvani has since denied the allegations on Monday (25 Feb) that his party was offered funding by Kremlin. The saga has, however, drawn criticism from Amy Richards, director of Global Witness, an “NGO whose mission is to expose economic networks behind conflict, corruption and environment abuse”, about the series of weak systems across the continent that leaves European democracy ripe for exploitation.

German Left Party on Saturday (23 Feb) voted for their programme and named Martin Schirdewan, a 43-year old MEP, and Özlem Demirel as its two top candidates for the European elections. One of the programme agenda debated was the “Republic of Europe,” which garnered 44.7% votes in support and 53.4% against. Reformers had believed the “Republic of Europe” could lead to the regions having a greater say in the EU community. It also envisaged key policy areas, such as social issues and employment, being guided at the European level. Gregor Gysi, the former chair of the Left Party’s group in the German Bundestag and currently the leader of the Party of the European Left, advocated for a pro-European position, arguing that the EU crisis could be the opportunity for a fresh start. “We have to understand the EU not as a necessary evil but as an opportunity,” he said, adding the warning that “if the EU really breaks, war will also return to Europe.”

The Party of European Socialists (PES) also begun their 2019 European Parliament election campaign on Saturday (23 Feb) by officially nominating Frans Timmermans for European Commission President and framing their campaign for European Parliament seats around a “new social contract. Several parties like PES and European Free Alliance have included environmental sustainability in their campaign manifesto. These agendas are similar across all the different parties, with the narrative framed by national independence and homeland and nature. They also include the co-benefits of clean energy: energy independence/economic benefits and improved quality of life.

Meanwhile, Manfred Weber, the European People’s Party (EPP) candidate for Commission president, would officially launch his campaign in early March. The unity of EPP has recently been challenged over differences as to whether Viktor Orban’s Fidesz Party should be expelled from the bloc. The Hungarian government launched a new anti-immigration media campaign accusing Junker and US philanthropist George Soros of allegedly supporting illegal migration. The direct attacks have fuelled calls for Orbán’s Fidesz party to be expelled from the EPP bloc ahead of the May elections, with Sweden’s Moderate Party being the most active and vocal about the expulsion. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said he found the wording of Orbán’s campaign “unacceptable.” Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković also reacted to Orbán’s campaign, saying it “sends the wrong message about EU migration policy.” Rising French conservative François-Xavier Bellamy, the recently appointed leader of French right Les Républicains is, however, supportive of Orbán’s continued membership in the EPP.

On Monday (25 Feb), five Polish opposition parties formed an election coalition, accusing the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) of driving a wedge between the country and the EU. “We will make it impossible for anyone to take Poland out of the European Union,” said a statement from the main opposition Civic Platform (PO) as well as the Modern party (Nowoczesna), Polish People’s Party (PSL), Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), and Greens.

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