European Union Geopolitical Watch – From 11 March to 17 March, 2023

European Union Geopolitical Watch Team: Audrey Moisan, Yanis Kourrad, Emma Chlebowski, Marie Corcelle, Florent Guichard, Etienne Mathieu

The files we follow: NATO/EU relations and neutral and ex-neutral countries; Energy policies and energy dependencies of the EU and Member States; EU/UK/Ireland relations; Environmental policies and issues of the EU and Member States; EU/China trade policies; Franco-German axis and intra-European relations with frugal countries, Germany/Eastern Europe relations, Nordic countries; Poland/Hungary/Romania foreign policies and relations with the EU; Various EU and Member States.

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– NATO/EU relations and neutral and ex-neutral countries – Etienne Mathieu –

On 17 March, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave his approval for Finland’s membership in NATO. According to Le Journal du Dimanche, Turkey’s unicameral parliaament will now vote to ratify the decision, and there is little doubt about the final outcome. Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed the “sincere and concrete steps” taken by Finland, in a joint press conference with his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinistö (NHK). A recognition that sounds like a harsh reminder to Sweden, whose efforts Turkey considers insufficient.

Indeed, Ankara, like Budapest, is still blocking Sweden’s accession. Tobias Billström said in a press conference: “This is a development that we did not want, but for which we were prepared” (BFMTV). A few days ago, on 14 March, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said he was still hopeful that Sweden would have succeeded in joining NATO with the next summit, scheduled for July 2023 in Vilnius, according to BFMTV.

The Hungarian Parliament will vote on March 27 on Finland’s membership in NATO; the government majority has already announced unanimous support (Le Journal du Dimanche). Finland thus seems assured of joining NATO, without waiting for its Swedish neighbor.

Is NATO thus strengthened by the Russian war of aggression? In addition to its enlargement, which now seems to be a given – at least as far as Finland is concerned – the Atlantic Alliance enjoys unprecedented sympathy among the Swiss public. Although this well-armed country with its secular neutrality does not intend to join, a poll published on March 16 showed that 55% of Swiss people now say they are in favour of a rapprochement with NATO (Le Figaro). This is an increase of ten points compared to January 2021, according to the annual study “Security 2023” of the Swiss Military Academy and the Center for Security Studies of the Zurich Polytechnic (20 Minutes). This is the first time that a rapprochement with NATO has convinced a majority of Swiss respondents.

According to the study, quoted in France by Le Figaro, a third of Swiss support the country’s membership in NATO. While the principle of neutrality is still favored (91%), 53% believe that this principle does not prevent Switzerland from planning its defense in cooperation with the Alliance. 70% believe that sanctions against Moscow are compatible with neutrality – a result identical to that of a June 2022 poll.

On the other hand, Switzerland seems to be moving towards closer cooperation with the European Union. This is what EU Commissioner Maros Sefcovic said on March 15 in a lecture at the University of Freiburg (Blick). The Commission Vice-President said that “the status quo is not an option” in bilateral relations between the European Union and the Swiss Confederation. It is particularly important to redefine these relations, after the termination of the old framework agreement in May 2021. After the conference, Maros Sefcovic met with Federal Councillor for Foreign Affairs Ignazio Cassis and members of the Swiss Parliament.

These meetings on March 15 and 16 led to clarifications on the role of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in the arbitration of EU/Switzerland disputes (RTS). While the Court remains the “sole judge“, Maros Sefcovic hinted that “exceptions” could be subject to a specific arbitration procedure. The European Commissioner did not specify which areas are concerned, but according to RTS, the main dispute between Brussels and Bern is the treatment of European citizens in Switzerland. The Confederation would like to see a differentiated treatment between Europeans who work and those who reside in Switzerland without working, in order to protect its social system. Maros Sefcovic’s comments suggest that Brussels would be willing to make such adjustments.

Energy policies & energy dependencies of the EU and member states – Yanis Kourrad –

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