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European Union Geopolitical Watch – From January 22 to January 28, 2022

01/24/2022 : Towards new financial support for Ukraine.

In a statement dated January 24, Ursula Von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, announced a “new financial aid package“. On January 21st, she met with Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelenskyy to affirm the Union’s full support for Ukraine in the face of the Russian Federation’s behavior, which she considers “aggressive actions”.

At the end of this meeting, various financial aid measures are planned, which will require the approval of both the European Parliament and the Council. Firstly, macro-financial assistance of 1.2 billion euros is planned to meet the Ukrainian financing needs related to the ongoing conflict in the region. It is important to remember that since 2014, Ukraine has been in the grip of a separatist uprising in the Russian-speaking region of Donbass in the east of the country, and Crimea, a strategic front on the Black Sea, has been integrated to the Russian Federation. In a second phase, the European Union will make an immediate payment of 600 million euros to support the country’s modernization. The Union, through the European Investment Bank (EIB), is an important player in the modernization of Ukraine, particularly in the improvement of its electricity distribution network in partnership with Ukrenergo, and in the area of road safety, with investments in many cities (Odessa, Dnipro, Kharkiv) allowing for better access to public transport.

The Commission also wishes to allocate €120 million in grants, as part of its bilateral aid, to strengthen Ukraine’s efforts to consolidate its “state apparatus and its resilience efforts“. In the long term, the European financial support desired for Ukraine should amount to 6 billion euros of investment.

01/25/2021 : French ministers unfold their environmental priorities for the French Presidency of the Council to parliamentary committees.

As part of the French Presidency of the Council, France, represented by its ministers, presented its environmental ambitions and projects to the Parliament’s MEPs in Strasbourg. During the questions put to the various ministers and in response to the fear of French MEPs of the influence of numerous financial lobbies on the development of European financial and fiscal legislation, the Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire, declared that a “green and socially equitable economic recovery as well as a better integration of innovation in the EU’s economic model were absolute priorities“. These are important priorities since the transformation of the European Union into a green economy is one of the main objectives of the eighth “Environmental Action Program” guiding the Union’s environmental action.

For his part, Julien Denormandie, Minister of Agriculture and Food, has prioritized the reciprocity of environmental and health production standards for products imported from third countries. This statement comes against the backdrop of a major crisis in the European pig sector, characterized in particular by a drop in prices due to containment measures linked to the Covid-19 pandemic on food services, as well as by a drop in exports to Chinese markets due to the spread of African swine fever. Many MEPs have called for European aid for farmers and breeders, but on the side of the European executive, Janusz Wojciechowski, European Commissioner for Agriculture, stressed last week that “with the recovery on the horizon, we must not create the hope that EU measures can solve all the problems”.                              

It is important to remember that there are many tools in place to respond to such a crisis at both the national and European levels. States have the possibility to implement national measures targeted to the sector concerned. At the European level, these are the funds of the rural development program (EAFRD) of the Common Agricultural Policy amounting to 95.5 billion euros for the period 2021-2027 including a contribution of 8.1 billion euros under the temporary recovery instrument NextGenerationEU.

01/26/2021 : The defense of outer space, a new strategy of the Union?

It is in a context of unbridled race to space between great powers, that the 14th European Space Conference took place in Brussels. Projecting itself through technological transformation and counteracting the growing militarization of outer space are the objectives of the Union in this area.  In November 2021, Russia fired a missile against one of its satellites, causing concern about the proliferation of debris orbiting the Earth, but also a resurgence of tensions in an area characterized by the “Space dominance” of the United States, which the Russian Federation, but also China, want to weaken. Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for the Internal Market, defends outer space as “a domain that is increasingly contested. It is a strategic space”. He believes that it is a space that “must be protected, that must be defended, also for us Europeans”.

In this context, the European Commission has continued to encourage the development, at the European level, of small European launchers that can “provide flexibility, but also responsiveness and affordability”, said Thierry Breton, who predicts an increase in institutional demand despite the skepticism of some space industries and European governments.

It is in this dynamic that Isar Aerospace has won 10 million euros in a competition of the European Innovation Council (Horizon prize of the European Innovation Council – Low-Cost Space Launcher) affirming the growing role of the Union in supporting the European space launch industry. Indeed, the Munich-based company has developed a small launcher called Spectrum, whose first launch is scheduled for the end of 2022 at the earliest, and thus opens the way to European competition in the field of low-cost space launchers, a market currently dominated by the two American giants SpaceX and Blue Origin.

At the 14th conference, Paraskevi Papantoniou, Deputy Director for Space at the European Commission’s Directorate General for Defence, Industry and Space, said the European executive has made available a budget of 65 million euros for space programs in 2021 and 2022, mainly to support the development of reusable propulsion technologies and launchers. Negotiations are currently underway to request additional funds.

One proposal that has attracted particular interest in Brussels is the creation of a European launch vehicle alliance bringing together European launch service providers. Thierry Breton himself declared that the official announcement of the creation of this European alliance would be made soon “in order to define a technological roadmap and a global European approach to launchers“.  This statement reassures the Union’s partners, including the European Space Agency, which will cooperate to develop a roadmap for long-term launcher development.

01/27/2021 : The European Union warns Sahelian states about the presence of Russian mercenaries on their territories

Following the coups that brought the military junta to power in Mali and, more recently, in Burkina Faso, the European Union is warning Sahelian countries about the use of Russian mercenaries on their territories.

The Union said it was ready to impose restrictive measures against anyone who interferes in the democratic transition process in Mali and any state in the Sahel. This announcement comes in the wake of the confirmed presence of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group in Mali shortly after the military mutineers took power. In neighboring Burkina Faso, Russian flags were seen at a demonstration in support of the military junta, raising the possibility of Russian mercenary deployment. The political powers in Mali and Burkina Faso have been weakened by popular anger over the management of the security and social crisis in the Sahel states, but also by growing popular hostility to the European and French forces deployed in the MINUSMA and Barkhane operations.

The head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, stressed the “deep concern of the European Union following the confirmed deployment of Russian mercenaries in Mali and the great danger this poses for the civilian populations. The group’s methods are incompatible with our collective security and development efforts.”

In a meeting with his Malian counterpart Abdoulaye Diop, Josep Borrell insisted that “the European Union wants to remain engaged to Mali and the Sahel, but not at any cost.” Earlier this month, the European Union imposed restrictive measures under Article 215 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union on eight individuals and three oil companies linked to Wagner, which is accused of human rights violations in the Central African Republic, Libya and Syria.

01/28/2021 : The European Union comes to Lithuania’s aid against China by taking the matter to the WTO

Following its withdrawal from the “17+1” forum within the framework of the new Silk Roads, and by allowing Taiwan the recent opening of an official representative office, Lithuania has been sanctioned with retaliatory measures by China, on November 25, 2021. These measures consist mainly of a halt to Chinese imports to the Baltic state, although it weighs less than 1% of its trade with Beijing.

However, this bilateral diplomatic crisis has impacted some European industries sourcing from Lithuanian manufacturers, who are deterred from exporting to China. Faced with growing concerns about the creation of a potential precedent and the disruption of certain domestic markets, the European Commission (with the full support of member states) symbolically referred the matter to the WTO, deeming the Chinese practices “discriminatory and illegal” with respect to international trade rules.

In response to this decision, Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that “to claim that China is exercising coercion against Lithuania has no basis” and that this situation is rather a bilateral dispute, and not “a matter between China and the European Union“.

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