European Union Geopolitical Watch – from April 23 to April 29, 2022

European Union Geopolitical Watch Team : Sara Brouwers, Victor Martin, Madara Lange, Audrey Moisan, Teodora Subotic, Louis Harand, Leo Caget, Etienne Mathieu

04/ 24/ 2022 : Emmanuel Macron is re-elected President of the French Republic. -Etienne Mathieu-

The second round of the French presidential election was held on April 24. It pitted outgoing President Emmanuel Macron against Marine Le Pen, replicating the same electoral duel as five years earlier in 2017. Again, Emmanuel Macron won the election, with 58.5% of the valid votes. Marine Le Pen, with 41.5% of the vote, gained just over 6.5 points compared to 2017 (33.9%).

The two weeks separating the two rounds of the election were marked by current events, particularly geopolitical events. During the traditional debate, held on Wednesday, April 20, Emmanuel Macron thus pointed to the loan taken out by his opponent with a Russian bank close to the power, a loan not yet repaid. The outgoing president accused Marine Le Pen of being financially dependent on the Kremlin. It’s a strong accusation when France has been supporting Ukraine in its defense against the Russian invasion for over two months. Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky, who had called on the French to vote for Emmanuel Macron, congratulated him on his re-election.

04/24/2022: Conservative defeat in Slovenia, voters give victory to the Freedom Movement. -Léo Caget-

On Sunday 24 April, the liberal centre-left Freedom Movement party won 34.5% of the vote in the parliamentary elections, leaving the outgoing Prime Minister and his conservative party, the Democratic Party, with 23.6% of the vote.

Former Prime Minister Janez Jansa, an admirer of Donald Trump and an ally of Victor Orban, head of government of neighbouring Hungary, conceded defeat, but commented: “It’s easy to buy posters, to have the support of the media and so-called civil society, but none of this will help you in the hard work ahead.” The latter was accused by some citizens, civil society actors and opposition movements of having seriously undermined democracy. In particular, he had deprived the national news agency STA of public funds for several months, considering it too critical.

On the winning side, Robert Golob, a former solar energy entrepreneur and political newcomer, will now assume the post of Prime Minister. In his speech following the results, he said: “Today, dreams have come true, not only our dreams but also those of a large part of Slovenia“, continuing: “We believe that power really belongs to the people and not to the parties that have usurped it for the past 30 years“. His party, the Freedom Movement, won 41 out of 90 seats in the Slovenian parliament. It is likely to form a coalition with the Social Democrats, which won 7 seats, and the Left, which won only 4.4% of the vote, or 5 seats, half as many as in the last elections in 2018.

If this election is described as “historic” since independence in 1991 – with a participation rate of 70%, a record since 2000 – some are calling for nuance, such as political expert Miha Kovac, who points to a major challenge for this brand-new party, saying about it: “It has no infrastructure, no know-how, no experts of parliamentary mysteries.

04/25/2022: Towards a ban on chemicals in Europe. -Audrey Moisan-

This Monday, April 25, the European Commission published a roadmap for the restriction of chemical substances in Europe.

This roadmap seeks to restrict first the most harmful substances for human health, and to prioritize the need for bans. The purpose of the implementation of this roadmap is also in line with an environmental protection objective, and is part of the European Green Pact.

This new roadmap also aims to reform the REACH regulation (for Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and restriction against CHemicals), a regulation established by the European Parliament and Council in 2006, by giving it a more binding dimension, especially for companies.

Indeed, in 2018, the European Chemicals Agency reported that two thirds of the dossiers investigated did not comply with the REACH regulation.

04/26/2022: Germany will deliver tanks to Ukraine. -Victor Martin-

On April 26, Germany announced that it will deliver about 50 Cheetah-type tanks to Ukraine. This announcement comes at a time when the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, was increasingly criticized by the opposition as well as by members of his coalition for his passivity regarding the crisis in Ukraine. This stance therefore appears to be a turning point in German politics.

This type of tank was designed to shoot down the air force and should therefore be useful to the Ukrainian army, even if it is a technical weapon whose handling should require training for Ukrainian soldiers.

On the other hand, the Guépard tanks will not come from the German army’s equipment but from the stocks of the Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) armament group.

These heavy armaments are the first to be sent by Germany, but perhaps not the last. The arms manufacturer Rheinmetall has said it is ready to supply Marder and Leopard 1 tanks, weapons requested by Ukraine.

04/28/2022: Latvian Foreign Minister speaks out in favor of increasing military equipment shipments to Ukraine. -Madara Lange-

On April 28, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics expressed Latvia’s position on sending military equipment to Ukraine. Indeed, he emphasized the fact that Western allies should provide more support to Ukrainian forces with weapons and fighter planes.

According to the minister, this is an opportune moment to do things “that the Western allies would never have wanted to do a month or two before”. Indeed, in the previous days, Germany had expressed its opposition to sending military training equipment to Ukraine.

For Edgars Rinkevics, the Western allies must understand that this is now “a long-term situation“, and that it is essential to support the Ukrainian military forces to counter the Russian invasion that began more than two months ago.

04/28/2022: Gazprom to stop delivering gas to Bulgaria from Wednesday. -Louis Harand-

As of April 27, the Russian state-owned company Gazprom is expected to unilaterally stop supplying gas to Bulgaria. The announcement was received late last night and according to the Russian news agency Novosti, Gazprom has stopped natural gas deliveries to Bulgaria due to the refusal to pay in rubles. “The Bulgarian side has fully fulfilled its obligations and made all the payments required under the current contract on time and in accordance with the provisions,” explained Bulgarian Energy Ministry Alexandar Nikolov, stressing that there are currently no restrictive measures for natural gas consumption in Bulgaria.

At an extraordinary press conference, the minister assured that “the gas supply to Bulgaria is guaranteed for at least one more month“. According to him, this does not mean that more serious problems will not occur after this period. He pointed out that the heating season was over and that from July onwards, more deliveries could be expected under the contract with Azerbaijan.

Alternative supplies had been secured for the whole of May and consumers were not at risk, gas storage was 18% full and discussions with the European Commission on joint gas purchases, quantities and supply routes would take place, he added. Asked whether Bulgartransgaz could in return suspend Russian gas deliveries in transit to Serbia and Hungary, the minister replied that Bulgaria is a loyal partner to all neighbouring countries: “Bulgaria is not Russia and we will help all countries,” he said. “It is obvious that natural gas is currently used as a political and economic weapon but is not a legal and commercial issue. The Bulgarian side has not committed any violation in this respect,” Alexandar Nikolov said.

The same view is shared by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who said in a statement:

The suspension of natural gas deliveries to European consumers is another attempt by Russia to use the fuel for dishonest purposes“. The statement was issued hours after Prime Minister Kiril Petkov announced that he had had a conversation with her and that there would be a common European position on the issue. According to Ursula von der Leyen, the actions of the Russian side are “unjustified and unacceptable“. She stressed that this was further proof that Russia could not be relied upon. “We are prepared for this scenario. We are in permanent contact with all Member States. We are working to ensure alternative supplies and to increase stocks throughout the EU,” said the Commission President.

Finally, the chairman of the parliamentary energy committee, Radoslav Ribarski, from the “Let’s Pursue Change” quota, said on the set of bTV that Gazprom’s decision was unilateral, that it was a breach of contract and that Bulgargaz could sue the Russian monopolist and demand compensation for the damage caused. Radoslav Ribarski assumed that there could be compensation for industrial enterprises affected by the suspension of gas supplies.

04/29/2022: European Council celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Chemical Weapons Convention and reiterates its call for the elimination of nuclear weapons. -Sara Brouwers- 

While last week the United Kingdom said it would investigate the use of Russian chemical weapons against the city of Mariupol in Ukraine, on Monday, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the entry into force of the “Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons”, the European Union warned against the “resurgence” of their use. In the face of “threatening” statements by President Vladimir Putin and then by US President Joe Biden on 21 March regarding the use of chemical weapons by Russia, the Council of the European Union reaffirmed its firm condemnation of the use of these weapons, recalling in particular past events in Syria and the number of civilian victims.

In the face of this serious threat to international peace and security, the Security Council called for the elimination of nuclear weapons everywhere in the world, for “respect for international obligations” and in particular recalled its support for the implementation of restrictive measures in the framework of the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons.

04/29/2022: The Board of directors of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency accepts the resignation submitted by its Executive Director. -Léo Caget-

The Board of directors of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, better known as Frontex, accepted on Friday 29 April the resignation of Fabrice Leggeri, executive director of the agency since 2015. The Frenchman had submitted his resignation the day before.

Several times questioned in recent years by medias or NGOs on his practices at the head of Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri would have been targeted by a report of the European Anti-Fraud Office completed in February 2022, after a year-long investigation. He is notably targeted for his tolerance of refoulements at European borders deemed illegal and contrary to European law. He is also accused of complacency towards the Greek authorities, on brutal refoulement practices towards Turkey.

In December 2021, Fabrice Leggeri had declared “We are schizophrenic“, pointing out an ambiguity concerning the agency’s missions, between the impermeability of borders and the principle of non-refoulement, specific to the right of asylum. On Friday 29 April, European Commission spokesperson Anitta Hipper clarified: “Frontex’s role, which is of crucial importance, is to help Member States to protect the EU’s common external borders and at the same time to ensure respect for fundamental rights. For this to happen, Frontex must have a stable and well-functioning agency.”

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