European Union Geopolitical Watch – From 28 January to 3 February, 2023

European Union Geopolitical Watch Team: Marie Corcelle, Emma Chlebowski, Audrey Moisan, Tristan Jarraud, Florent Guichard, Antoine Bézier, Etienne Mathieu

30/01/2023: UN peacekeeping mission in Cyprus extended for another year. -Marie Corcelle-

The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on 30 January 2023, extending the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus ( UNFICYP ) for another year. The mission has already been extended many times in the past for a period of six months – such as July 2022 – . This time it was decided to extend the mission to one year, with the possibility of adjustment, as the situation on the ground has not improved significantly and is deteriorating. 

Indeed, since the Turkish invasion of the northern part of the island in 1974, the country remains divided in two on either side of the Green Line, and talks to achieve a possible reunification have stalled. After the failure of the Crans-Montana (Switzerland) negotiations in 2017, the talks remain deadlocked, and ”the political climate between the two sides has been marked by a hardening of positions and an increase in unconstructive rhetoric,” according to the report by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. In the absence of a political solution to the Cyprus issue, UNFICYP is therefore mandated to continue to monitor the ceasefire line and the buffer zone separating the two sides of the island. The new resolution also calls on the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to agree on a future UN special envoy to assist in the search for a solution. 

30/01/2023: Erdogan ready to accept Finland’s membership but not Sweden’s in Nato. -Marie Corcelle-

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on 29 January at a meeting with young people in the province of Bilecik that Turkey would be ready to let Finland join the Atlantic Alliance, without doing the same for Sweden. For the record, the two Scandinavian countries abandoned their policy of neutrality when they applied for NATO membership following the outbreak of war in Ukraine at the Madrid summit in June 2022.

However, their application is blocked by Turkey. Stockholm in particular is under fire from Ankara because of its policy towards the Kurds of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), considered as “terrorists” by Turkey, which has demanded the extradition of some of its members as well as various measures concerning them. Sweden had begun with important concessions, notably by lifting its embargo on arms exports to Turkey. But this is not enough for the Turkish President, who has reiterated that the fight against “Kurdish terrorism” is his priority. Recently, the hanging of a puppet in his image as well as the self-da-fé of a Koran in Sweden relayed by the Turkish media (Anadolu News Agency) have aggravated the situation. 

For its part, Helsinki affirmed on Monday 30 January through a statement by Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto that it did not intend to join NATO without its Swedish neighbour, which is not without dividing the Finnish population; a poll published by the local daily Ilta Sanomat and conducted by the Taloustutkimus Institute shows that 53% of respondents believe that Finland should not wait for Sweden to join the Atlantic Alliance.

30/01/2023: Agriculture Commissioner opens door to use of crisis reserve. -Tristan Jarraud-

On 30 January, Janusz Wojciechowski, Commissioner responsible for agriculture, issued the possibility of using the crisis reserve. This would allow them to subsidize farmers affected by the war in Ukraine. In this context, the Polish commissioner wishes that it is initially the border countries and therefore the most impacted by this crisis that is the beneficiary of subsidies. In the desire to help the Ukrainian state, the European Union to promote imports from this country. This action has caused prices to fall and European farmers have been severely affected. In addition, it is stated in the minutes of the meeting of the Council “Agriculture and Fisheries”, it must continue to help Ukraine. The promotion of Ukrainian agricultural products would not stop and its impact on the European market either.

As recalled by the site of the European Council: “In addition, the ministers noted the impact of the war on EU markets and discussed support measures for the most affected sectors, including the possible use of the agricultural reserve.” The commissioner in charge of these matters suggested that a majority of member states were in favor of using the crisis reserve.

31/01/2023: Poland and Baltic countries support Ukraine’s request to maintain the exclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes from the 2024 Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games. -Emma Chlebowski-

Poland and the Baltic States protested on 31 January against the recommendation of the International Olympic Committee to reinstate, on strict conditions, Russian and Belarusian athletes at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. If the IOC seeks to reinstate these athletes under a neutral banner, Le Monde reports the words of the Latvian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Edgars Rinkevics, who said on his Twitter account that “The decision to allow Russians and Belarusians to participate in the next Games is immoral and wrong”. The president of the Latvian Olympic Committee, Zorzs Tikmer, even threatened to boycott the Olympics.

What looks like a coalition against the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in the Paris Olympic Games has caused strong reactions in Russia. The daily reported the words of the Russian Minister of Sports, Oleg Matytsin, who criticizes the “unacceptable” conditions that must be respected by the athletes of his country – conditions that would be, according to him, contrary to the Olympic Charter as well as the principles of equal rights and justice. The president of the Russian Olympic Committee also condemns this debate: Ouest-France takes the words of Stanislav Pozdniakov, president of the Russian Olympic Committee, who denounces the “political component” of the question.

Poland, the Baltic countries and Ukraine will not stop at this. The Baltic Times reported that Lithuania and its partners are willing to make a more far-reaching joint statement.

01/02/2023: EU Green Deal Industrial Plan unveiled. -Marie Corcelle

The President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen unveiled the Green Deal Industrial Plan on 1 February. This new programme aims to support European industry as a priority and to support the ecological transition to achieve carbon neutrality (planned for 2050). 

Various measures were announced, which attempt to counterbalance the American IRA (Inflation Reduction Act) and its $420 billion in subsidy-financed climate protection measures. 

It is planned to temporarily relax the EU’s rules on state aid to companies until 2025. This would allow companies to receive subsidies, which is a cause for concern. Indeed, given that some Member States do not necessarily have the necessary means (unlike Germany or France), there is a risk of fragmenting the EU’s internal market, favoring those States with greater financial means and thus creating competition between European countries, according to Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

The European Commission is also proposing to use the fund created as part of the post-Covid recovery plan, which has 750 billion euros at its disposal, and also to create a sovereign wealth fund dedicated solely to supporting European industry. These proposals are expected to be discussed at the next EU summit to be held in Brussels on 9 and 10 February. 

01/02/2023: New negotiations on the agenda for Northern Ireland. -Audrey Moisan-

On the first of February 2023, the European Commission spoke about the situation of Northern Ireland, following Brexit (France info). The aim of this discussion was to rule mainly on the issue of customs controls.

The Financial Times and Reuters report that a compromise has been reached in which routine checks on goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland will no longer be systematic.  The BBC also reports that the European Court of Justice has highlighted the need to refer the issue to the Northern Ireland Court of Justice.

The discussion follows the announcement of a draft agreement by the UK government last month, amid political deadlock in Northern Ireland. According to the Financial Times, however, the agreement reached does not meet with consensus among Unionists and Eurosceptics. 

01/02/2023: Lithuanian foreign minister calls for expulsion of Russian diplomats in Europe. -Marie Corcelle-

Gabrielius Landsbergis, Lithuania’s head of diplomacy, said on 1 February that there was “no point in keeping Russian embassies in any European capital“, since “in most cases, it [was] no longer a diplomatic representation, but a propaganda structure“, reports the Lithuanian daily Delfi. This statement echoes the decisions of Lithuania’s two Baltic neighbors: at the end of January, Tallinn and Riga had already expelled Russian diplomats from their territories, as the Estonian newspaper Err recalls. Yesterday, 2 January, Austria expelled four of them in turn, according to the local newspaper Salzburger Nachrichten.

01/02/2023: England has been hit by the biggest protest movement in ten years. -Florent Guichard-

More than 500,000 people took to the streets of England on 1 February. This movement, organized by transport personnel (airport, train) as well as public service employees, had the primary objective of showing the population’s dissatisfaction with the current economic situation. Indeed, inflation across the Channel was very high at 10.5% last December against 9.2% in the euro zone over the same period. One of the main demands comes from civil servants and in particular from teachers who felt that they were not paid enough, whereas six months earlier negotiations had taken place with the government. The various parties have also assured that the protest movements will be renewed as long as the demands are not heard. Skynews also tells us that more than 13 other days of protest are expected in February, rail operators, postal services, education and even the medical community should again mobilize. Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunk highlighted the strike moves, commenting on a political battle with the opposition siding with “extremist protesters and union bosses“.

02/02/2023: First summit between Spain and Morocco since 2015. -Marie Corcelle-

After eight years without a summit between the two countries, Spain and Morocco met in Rabat on 2 February to sign around twenty agreements on trade and investment. According to El País, a new financial protocol to finance various projects in Morocco worth 800 million euros was signed. According to Radiotelevisión Española, the issue of opening customs in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta and Melilla (North Africa) was also discussed, and the two countries also plan to continue to intensify their cooperation on border control and the fight against illegal immigration.

This meeting is not insignificant, as it comes after a succession of diplomatic crises. In May 2021, the Spanish enclave of Ceuta was stormed by several thousand migrants. Morocco had decided to restrict its border controls in response to Spain’s reception of the Polisario Front leader, who had been diagnosed with Covid-19, for treatment. After this episode of tension, the head of government Pedro Sanchez made a U-turn in Spanish policy regarding Western Sahara, Madrid having always played the neutrality card. The Prime Minister had decided to rally to the Moroccan cause, i.e. the recognition of Rabat’s sovereignty over the region through the creation of an autonomous region within the Kingdom. A decision that allowed the normalization of their relations and the holding of this summit, to which the Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Ajanuch did not fail to refer on several occasions, according to Radiotelevisión Española.

03/02/2023: EU – Ukraine summit. -Antoine Bézier-

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky received European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel in Kiev on 3rd January, as air raid sirens sounded in the Ukrainian capital. The summit centred on the question of Ukraine’s possible accession to the European Union. Ukraine, which applied for EU membership shortly after the Russian invasion and was officially granted candidate status in June 2022, wants to benefit from an accelerated accession that would allow pre-accession negotiations to begin by the end of the year and entry into the EU within two years (RFI). However, European diplomats were careful to temper Kiev’s high expectations and recalled the need for Ukraine to intensify its fight against endemic corruption, to reform the judiciary to free it from political interference and to strengthen its economy (Reuters). The aim is for Kiev to continue the efforts already undertaken. As the British news agency reports, Ukrainian authorities have in recent weeks sacked senior officials and set up investigations into suspected state corruption, and Volodymyr Zelensky has promised more punitive measures and thanked law enforcement agencies for their action against “those who did not understand that in public service positions one should work only in the interest of the state“. As Euronews and RFI note, EU member states are at odds over what message to send to Kiev: while Poland and the Baltic states are in favour of speeding up the accession process, French President Emmanuel Macron warned that the accession process could take “decades” and a senior EU official warned that the bloc would not deviate from its traditional methodology on new accessions.

During the summit, Ursula von der Leyen also promised a tenth round of sanctions against Russia on the one-year anniversary of the Russian attack on 24th February, a promise she repeated on Twitter. As Euronews reports, Brussels is considering ways to confiscate Russian-owned assets frozen under nine sanctions packages, including billions in foreign exchange reserves held by the Russian Central Bank, and the EU and G7 are negotiating the final details of a plan to impose a price cap on seaborne trade in refined oil products made in Russia. As Euronews reports, the EU has also promised more aid to Ukraine: the number of Ukrainian soldiers trained by Brussels is expected to double to 30,000 by 2023, and €25 million is to be given to Kiev to clear mines in areas taken over by Ukraine.

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