European Council summit ended without agreement on the top EU jobs
EU leaders did not reach agreement on Friday morning (21 June) on who should lead the European Commission and other key institutions and will meet again on 30 June to decide on the “full package”. The “full package” refers to the 5 key positions, Presidents of the Commission, the European Council, Parliament, the High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy and the President of the European Central Bank.
At a press conference in the early morning of 21 June, President of the European Council Donald Tusk told reporters that “there was no majority on any candidate” but the leaders agreed that “there needs to be a package reflecting the diversity of the EU”. No names or any details about the discussion on the top jobs were revealed at the press conference.
Come 30 June, the leaders would have to come to some decision as the new European parliament will start its first session in Strasbourg on 2 July. The leaders are trying to reach a package deal taking into account the results of the European Parliament elections held in May, while at the same time “respecting gender balance, geography, demography and power share of small and big member states”.
The leaders also failed to agree on a landmark climate strategy to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 as Estonia and three of the Visegrad Four (Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary) “baulked at the mention of a specific date” to slash greenhouse gas emissions. Hence the final version of the conclusions of the Summit meeting noted that the EU will ensure a transition to a climate neutral EU in line with the Paris Agreement and not mentioning the deadline of 2050.
European Commission makes climate strategy a priority ahead of the June EU Council Summit
On Tuesday (18 June), The EU Commission published an appraisal that shows national efforts to meet the bloc’s joint commitments for 2030 energy and climate targets are insufficient. At the press conference, EU Commission vice-president Maros Serofvic and commissioner for climate action Miguel Arias Canete broke the news gently that the member states will come up 2% short in sectors like agriculture, ground transport and buildings. Current plans for renewable energy goals fall short by 1.6 percentage points against a 32% target for 2030. However, instead of seeing it as “climate fail” , they stressed that the Commission and the member states were on the same side.
The Commission also said National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) would achieve an overall greenhouse gas reduction of 40% as compared to 1990 levels by 2030. However, this target was set before the Paris Agreement and hence considered outdated. Climate advocates in the European Parliament and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, have called for the target to be increased to 55% in order to bring the EU in line with its Paris commitments.
Environmental groups have also called on member states to listen to the voice and ambitions of people, inspired by recent student activism, to revise their plans and get serious about climate change. The Commission also published recommendations on phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, improving on research, innovation and competitiveness. They emphasised that member states have 6 more months to increase their ambitions until the final deadline for plans to be submitted in December 2019
Climate protection has been pushed forward as a priority by voters in the European Parliament elections as reflected in the gains made by Green parties.
Euractiv published an opinion on how the EU should go from liberalising its economy and striking free trade deals with third countries to focusing on sustainable trade policy. In light of the new European Parliament, where “voices asking for greater sustainability have become louder”, the Commission also needs to revamp itself and democratise its decision making process. The opinion has it that the Commission needs to do more than explain and learn to follow the will of the people through Parliament. Moreover, it argues a sustainable trade policy must respect for social and environmental conditions and also tackle global issues like climate and conflict, which are also drivers of migration. This means making “EU companies liable for their suppliers, and their suppliers’ suppliers.”
EU trade policy: Maintaining multilateralism amid US-China tension
Following the EU Council Summit, Commission President Jean Claude Juncker and Council President Donald Tusk will represent the EU at the G20 Summit, where world leaders will discuss strengthening the global economy amidst trade tensions between China and the US. The EU has submitted a reform proposal for the WTO in the hopes to strengthen rule-based international trade.
EU has stuck to the script of multilateralism when dealing with US and China individually as well as in negotiating the tension between the two. It is also proceeding slowly but steadily in areas such as free trade and digitizing the economy.
American ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, said that EU should cut ties with Chinese telecom giant, Huawei, and embrace “the Western telecom industry”. Sondland stressed that US cannot be interconnected with the EU so long as Chinese 5G technology is being used.
EU-US trade has been on the rocks due to issues over Huawei, climate change, and Airbus-Boeing dispute. While Sondland sees a resolution over the airline dispute, his stance on the Paris climate agreement shows that the US will continue to rely on innovation rather than decarbonization–a move he sees as advantaging certain countries over others.
Despite Washington’s pressure, the EU has maintained a “pragmatic” approach towards China. Unlike US, India and Japan, who have all refused to participate in the Chinese infrastructure project, Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI), EU is open to connecting Europe and China while also raising some concerns about the way the projects are being carried out. The EU has questioned its purported rival China about its “alternative models of global governance, and insisted on transparency and multilateralism. The BRI is also linked to other areas in EU-China relationship including the bilateral investment agreement negotiations and WTO reform.
There were a number of commonalities between the BRI and the EU’s own connectivity strategy, and although there were some disagreements, there were also a wide range of opportunities to explore. Transparency, financial and environmental sustainability are some of the EU’s major concerns. Fraser Cameron, Director of the EU-Asia Centre, commented that “[t]he problem for the EU is that its principles are not backed up with money, at least in the short term.”
While member states are divided on the BRI and the EU called China a rival, expressing concern about its alternative models of global governance, both sides have agreed to establish a working group on rail connectivity. The EU is thus pursuing a pragmatic approach towards the BRI while continuing to raise concerns.
While Brussels create its own path between China and US, EU industry has their own take on this issue. According to a survey carried out by European Round Table of Industrialists, which include major firms such as Volvo, Heineken, and Shell, EU business leaders want the next European Commission to prioritize the development of 5G networks on the Continent and accelerate “new technologies” such as Artificial Intelligence (AI). ERT members want to see strengthening of the internal market through “digitalization and a digital single market”, “fair global trade”, and “skills and capabilities” before national regulations, climate protection, and a trade deal with the US.
Meanwhile, EU trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said on Monday (17 June) that a trade deal with the Mercosur countries could be reached by the end of this mandate but that outstanding issues on agriculture are still preventing its conclusion. The EU-Mercosur agreement would cover 750 million people, and be the largest trade deal to date. The deal between the European and South American bloc would send a very strong signal for free trade support in those two regions but Malmström said it would not be attained “at any price”.
EU Parliament Still Taking Shape as Migration Policy Rises to the Forefront
Former Romanian Prime Minister Dacian Cioloș is on track to lead a new centrist-liberal Renew Europe group in the European Parliament after winning the endorsement of its joint venture partners, comprising French President Emmanuel Macron’s delegation, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands. If he wins the vote scheduled for Wednesday morning, this would catapult him into one of the most prominent positions in the European Parliament, at a time when shrinking support for the traditional centre-right European People’s Party and centre-left Socialists and Democrats requires pro-EU groups to form a much broader majority coalition.
A critic and supporter of one of Ciolos’ opponents complained that the group is not being given enough time to examine the candidates’ records. He added that differences in social values are particularly important for the centrist liberals, and help bind members together despite their widely varying views on economic and fiscal policy.
Macron, in particular, is determined to use the new group to push for a more integrated EU, especially on financial and economic issues. This seems an ambitious challenge as the divide on migration policy continues to persist across a drifting political spectrum.
Former Romanian President Traian Băsescu, newly elected to the European Parliament as part of the European People’s Party (EPP), slammed EU inaction on migration and what he sees as the bloc’s inability to protect its borders. “The EU, through its lack of action, seems to tell us that we must live with the Muslim invasion,” Băsescu stated in a TV interview. Băsescu said military fleets should be used in the Mediterranean to push back migrants while they are still in the territorial waters of the countries they set off from. He argued that since these are attempts of illegal entry into the EU, this is the only way to stop them.
While International Rescue Committee chief executive David Miliband agrees that ‘Europe has got to catch up’ on its migration policy, he believes that it is the duty of government to manage the flows of people but that refugees should not be used as “scapegoats for the failure to develop a sensible immigration policy“. Imogen Sudbery, the director of policy and advocacy at the International Rescue Committee, added that the inability of European leaders to put in place an effective system to deal with the refugee crisis is failing both the most vulnerable and threatening the EU’s credibility, leaving populist and far right parties to reap the rewards in the European elections.
Someone else seeking to take the bloc to task over its deterrence-based migration policies is Juan Branco, one of Europe’s most in-demand lawyers currently on Julian Assange’s defence team, who has co-authored a submission to the International Criminal Court aiming to indict the EU and its members states which played a prominent role in the refugee crisis such as Germany, France and Italy, accusing them of “crimes against humanity”.
Meanwhile, the Italian government has passed new controversial measures to curb immigration. The security decree, promoted by the far-right Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, envisages fines of up to €50,000 for ships that “ignore bans and limitations” on accessing Italian waters and seizure of ships that ignore orders more than once. Salvini, leader of the far-right League party, has repeatedly denied access to Italian ports to rescue ships, leaving migrants stranded at sea for days and has even engaged in public spats with Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, from the League’s coalition partner the 5Star Movement, over who has the power to bar access to Italian ports. Salvini’s pledge to try and change the EU’s fiscal rules also does not help install confidence particularly when the EU is launching a disciplinary procedure against Italy over the government’s disregard for the spending rules of the bloc. While Italy struggles to avert EU isolation, this has not stopped Salvini from insisting that Italy will end up with more influence in Brussels, particularly over the direction of policy matters.
Providing a broader picture on the general state of European politics post-elections, Alberto Mingardi, the Director-General of Istituto Bruno Leoni in Milan, commented that moderate conservative parties such as the EPP “are moving further to the right” politically, “investing in identity issues to try to contain their nationalist competitors”. Meanwhile, the socially libertarian Left is still concerned with inequality and keen on government interventionism.
EU’s Foreign Policy in the Middle East: Balancing the US vis-a-vis Iran
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has played down a declaration issued by Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency that it would breach uranium stockpile limits set out in the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers known as the the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). European diplomats said an International Atomic Energy Agency report showing Iran is no longer complying with JCPOA would be a red line for the EU, at which point the bloc would likely follow the United States in abandoning the deal or try to negotiate a new pact with the United Nations.
The latest friction over the nuclear deal came amid continuing tension between the United States and Iran over attacks on a Japanese and a Norwegian oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman. The United States has blamed the attacks on Tehran, which has denied responsibility. EU foreign ministers have said they need more time to assess US claims, which have been largely backed by the UK.
Russia and China has extended support to Iran in the face of US threats during two regional summits held in Central Asia. “It is obvious that Iran cannot unilaterally remain committed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and it is necessary that other countries contribute to the survival of this important agreement,” Iranian President Hassan Rohani told participants at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit.
France has urged Iran to step back from threats on nuclear proliferation but declined to back US claims and most EU foreign ministers are echoing French President Emmanuel Macron. A special adviser to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini blames the United States for a rise in tensions between Iran and the West. The Pentagon announced that it was dispatching an additional 1,000 troops to the Middle East as tensions with Iran grow.
An op-ed in EU Observer also called on the EU to reject the Trump administration’s so-called Middle East peace plan to be unveiled at a US-led Economic Peace Workshop in Bahrain on 25-26 June. The author noted that the EU’s foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini as confirmed that the EU would be participating in the Workshop and exhorted the EU to reject any deal of the century from the US that would depart from international law principles and “diminish Palestinian self-determination and fundamental rights”.
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