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European Union Geopolitical Watch – from April 30 to March 6, 2022

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

05/01/2022: One week after the presidential elections, the May Day demonstrations call for peace and solidarity -Sara Brouwers-

On Sunday 1 May, on the occasion of the traditional International Labour Day and at the call of many trade unions and associations, hoping to make their wishes heard, following the second round of the presidential elections, for the adoption of a more social and ecological policy, “116,500” people marched throughout France, according to the French General Confederation of Labour (Confédération Générale du Travail, CGT). The secretary general of the trade union, Philippe Martinez, had called for a mobilisation that was “as massive as possible“, to make “social and environmental” demands. If the context was more important than ever, several processions -and notably in Paris- were adorned with voluntary incidents by thugs. The Prime Minister, Gérard Darmanin, described these acts as “unacceptable violence“.

However, it is not only in France that May Day mobilisations took place. In Madrid, according to a government spokesperson, around 10,000 demonstrators marched to demand pay rises and measures to tackle inflation. Other demonstrations took place across Spain, Andorra, and in Greece, where the rising cost of living, housing prices and the loss of purchasing power were at the centre of demands. In Italy, against the background of the invasion of Ukraine, the main trade union confederations had called for a rally in Assisi, under the theme “Working for peace“. The leader of the Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL), Maurizio Landini, told several hundred activists: “We must absolutely work to put an end to this absurd war, wanted by Putin“.

05/02/2022: The Spanish Government announces the hacking of the phones of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense by the Israeli software Pegasus. -Léo Caget-

In a press conference on Monday 2 May, the Minister of the Presidency, Félix Bolaños, announced that the Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, and the Minister of Defense, Margarita Robles, had both had their phones hacked in the spring of 2021. According to the announcement, the tapping was “illegal” and “external” and was carried out twice on the head of government’s phone in March and June 2021, once in June on Margarita Robles’ phone. These attacks were carried out using Pegasus spyware. They would have consisted of a total extraction of 2.7 Gigas from the Spanish Prime Minister’s phone. For the moment, the origin of these attacks is not known or has not yet been disclosed.

At that time in 2021, the country was going through a diplomatic crisis with Morocco, which had notably relaxed its control of migratory flows at the Spanish border of Ceuta, following Spain’s reception of Brahim Gali, leader of the Polisario Front and president of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.

Pegasus is an extremely powerful spyware, initially commercialized by the Israeli company NSO Group, as a tool for state operations against organized crime or terrorist organizations. The Israeli government normally has to approve the sale of the software to another state. However, in recent years, various investigations have reported misuse of the software. Spain, for example, has apparently used the software to spy on people linked to Catalan independence movements. The NGO Amnesty International estimates that 50,000 people worldwide have potentially been targeted by the Pegasus software.

05/02/2022: Mali breaks defense agreements with France and Europe. -Léo Caget-

On Monday 2nd May, Mali denounced its defense agreements with France and its European partners. In an announcement on national television, the spokesman of the military junta in power, Colonel Abdoulaye Maïga, mentioned “a profound deterioration of military cooperation with France“, as well as a “unilateral attitude” on the part of France in suspending joint operations with Mali in 2021, and in announcing the gradual withdrawal of forces from operations Barkhane and Takuba. He also announced “multiple violations” of Malian airspace. He finally declared: “In view of these serious shortcomings as well as the flagrant violations of Mali’s national sovereignty, the government of the Republic of Mali has decided to denounce the defense cooperation treaty of 16 July 2014.

The two agreements in question are the Defense Cooperation Treaty signed with France in 2014, as well as the Status of Forces Agreement of March 2013, which sets the status of French and European forces engaged in the Takuba mission. The denunciation of the SOFA is “with immediate effect” while that of the TCMD will be effective in six months.

French diplomacy responded with the following words in a statement on Tuesday 3rd May: “It considers this decision to be unjustified and formally contests any violation of the bilateral legal framework attributable to the Barkhane force“, adding: “France will continue the orderly withdrawal of its military presence in Mali, in accordance with the commitments it has made to its partners and with a view to coordination and respectful dialogue with the Malian armed forces”. These announcements mark a new stage in the deterioration of relations between France and Mali, led by the military junta that took power in August 2020 following a military coup.

05/02/2022: European energy ministers meet urgently. -Victor Martin-

On May 2, the energy ministers of the 27 European Union member states met after Moscow’s announcement to stop gas exports to Poland and Bulgaria. The main objective of this meeting was to find a common position of the European countries on Russia’s request to be paid in rubles and not in euros or dollars as provided for in the current contracts.

The summary of the presidency of the meeting, assumed by France, emphasizes that all European ministers condemn the Kremlin’s decision and recall that the member states are united in the crisis. The 27 ministers reiterated their willingness to look for new suppliers of “gas, LNG, [Liquefied Natural Gas] and hydrogen”.

Finally, the energy ministers of the 27 Member States recalled the need to accelerate the reduction of dependence on Russian gas, which they called to be framed by the REPower EU plan to be presented by the European Commission in May.

05/04/2022: From oil to sports events, Europe proposes a package of additional sanctions against Russia. -Audrey Moisan-

This Wednesday, May 4, 2022, the President of the European executive Ursula Von der Leyen presented to the European Commission a new package of sanctions against Russia following its attacks in Ukraine.

This package is the sixth decided by Europe since 2014, and follows the talks of this Monday, May 2 around a total embargo of Russian oil on European soil. It is this embargo that was put forward before the Commission, as well as the question of the exclusion of 3 additional Russian banks.

The issue of a total embargo is being debated within the EU-27, and had led on May 2 to the suggestion of an exemption for Hungary and Slovakia, both highly dependent on oil imported from Russia, but this point was not addressed again on Wednesday.

The proposal is expected to be put in place only after a vote in Parliament.

In addition to the measures proposed by the Commission, the world of sport is also reacting, and UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) announced on Wednesday the exclusion of Russian teams from the competitions of the 2022-2023 season, and the European Women’s Cup.

05/06/2022 : The Conservative Party emerges weakened from the British local elections. -Etienne Mathieu-

On May 6, the votes were counted for the May 5, 2022 elections. During these local by-elections, nearly 200 British local councils were renewed. Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party was weakened, losing control of 11 councils and a total of more than 200 seats nationwide. In contrast, the main opposition Labour Party won 120 seats and controls seven more local councils, including several former Conservative Party strongholds, such as the London councils of Westminster and Wandsworth.

This electoral setback for the government comes amidst record inflation, estimated at nearly 10%. But in the United Kingdom, there has also been talk of the “Partygate” scandal, the illegal parties organized by Conservative leaders between 2020 and 2021, in flagrant contradiction with the restrictions imposed at the same time on the British population. Boris Johnson apologized and announced the payment of the fines, while ruling out any resignation, demanded by Labour.

But Labour was not the only winner of the election. In the renewal of local legislatures in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the nationalists of these two constituent nations made strong gains. In Northern Ireland, the Sinn Fein nationalists, who favour reunification with the Irish state, came out on top.

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