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European Union Geopolitical Watch – From July 2 to July 8, 2022

European Union Geopolitical Watch Team: Amandine Paillette, Yanis Kourrad, Antoine Bézier, Léo Caget, Etienne Mathieu

07/02/2022: European Union and New Zealand partner in free trade agreement. -Amandine Paillette-

On June 30, after four years of negotiations, Brussels and Wellington announced the conclusion of a trade agreement. According to estimates by the European executive, a 30% jump in trade between the European Union and New Zealand is expected. This agreement will make it easier for European companies to enter the New Zealand market. As for customs fees, European companies could benefit from a reduction of nearly 140 million euros from the first year of application of the agreement. The official website of the European Commission shared more data, explaining that “EU investments in New Zealand have a growth potential of up to 80%“.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said that the agreement with Wellington “includes unprecedented social and climate commitments“. On this point, Valdis Dombrovskis, European Commissioner for Trade welcomed the news, saying “In terms of sustainable development, this is the most ambitious trade agreement ever concluded” citing “shared values” sending a “strong geopolitical signal”.

For now, the text on which the two parties have agreed has not been released and must still be approved by the Council of the European Union and then signed by the European Union and New Zealand. Once it has received the approval of the European Parliament, New Zealand will have to ratify it in order for it to come into force.

07/02/2022: Northern Macedonia: Large-scale demonstrations against the French proposal to lift the Bulgarian veto and allow the opening of EU accession negotiations. -Antoine Bézier-

On Saturday 2th July, thousands of people gathered in Skopje on the call of nationalist parties to protest against the French proposal to settle the dispute between North Macedonia and Bulgaria, which is preventing the opening of negotiations on Skopje’s future accession to the European Union. Since 2020, Sofia has vetoed the continuation of the EU accession process for North Macedonia. As Skopje’s application is coupled with that of Tirana, Albania’s EU accession process is also suspended. Through the mediation of Paris under the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union, Bulgaria and Northern Macedonia agreed on a compromise, and the Bulgarian Parliament voted to lift the veto on 24th June.

The dispute between Sofia and Skopje concerns the place of the Bulgarian identity and the Bulgarian minority in North Macedonia within Macedonian society. Under the compromise, Skopje must amend its constitution to include Bulgarians among the recognised ethnic and linguistic groups, implement a 2017 friendship treaty aimed at eradicating hate speech in relations between North Macedonia and Bulgaria, revise its school curricula, and open the archives of the communist police to shed light on the treatment of Bulgarians in the former Yugoslav republic. The rally, supported by the main opposition party, the VMRO-DPMNE of the nationalist right, chaired by Hristijan Mickoski, opposes this French proposal, calls for the resignation of the government, and accuses Bulgaria of denying Macedonian identity. The question of history and language is central, and Sofia would consider the Macedonian language as a Bulgarian dialect, in addition to disputing with Skopje the central figures and events of its history.

The issue of relations between Skopje and Tirana also comes into play. The leader of the Albanian opposition party in North Macedonia, Zijadin Sela, was satisfied with the French mediation and would like to see the Albanian language included in the Macedonian constitution, as it is spoken by more than 20% of the country’s population. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said it would be a “big mistake” if Skopje rejected the compromise, and threatened to decouple his country’s EU bid from that of North Macedonia: “[…] we will ask to move forward separately if North Macedonia does not accept [the proposal]. But I say they have to accept it because there will be no other proposal, it’s final, and you don’t want to sit outside this door for another 17 years.

The demonstrations continued for the rest of the week, and the following dilemma is dividing Macedonian society: should anything that can make it possible for North Macedonia to join the European Union be accepted, even a supposedly dishonourable compromise with Sofia? Many Macedonians feel aggrieved by their past efforts: in 2019, the parliament in Skopje already agreed to rename the “Republic of Macedonia” to “Republic of North Macedonia“, which allowed the Greek veto to be lifted on the country’s accession to the EU and NATO. On Sunday 3th July 2022, the President of North Macedonia Stevo Pendarovski convened the National Security Council to discuss the situation. The latter considered the Paris proposal acceptable, and recommended adding a sentence to the final document stating that “from the opening of the negotiations with the EU until their conclusion, if one party, the Bulgarian or any other, tries to undermine the Macedonian language and identity, Macedonia will immediately withdraw from the talks.

07/04/2022: The European Union Court of Auditors publishes a report highlighting fraud in the Common Agricultural Policy. -Léo Caget-

On Monday, July 4th, the Court of Auditors of the European Union presented a report alerting to the importance of fraud in the Common Agricultural Policy, the European Union’s largest spending item. It points to numerous cases of fraudulent practices and embezzlement to access European subsidies. In some cases, fraudsters “omit important information or artificially create conditions that allow them to meet eligibility criteria and unduly benefit from CAP subsidies,” according to the report. In other cases, the Court of Auditors points to problems related to “land grabbing“, with the objective of “receiving subsidies, without carrying out any agricultural activity“, but also in some cases through “the use of political influence, manipulation of procedures, bribes“. This report therefore allows us to explore the reasons behind these abuses, but also to consider the perspectives for resolving them, involving a higher risk of fraud in cases of complex procedures, which would then require greater control mechanisms on the part of the Member States. The EU Court of Auditors therefore recommends strengthening the anti-fraud measures of the Member States and the European Commission, in particular by making greater use of new technologies.

05/07/2022: Protests in the Netherlands: police open fire on a tractor. -Etienne Mathieu-

The police fired shots on the evening of July 5 during clashes within the farmers’ demonstrations. They have been protesting since mid-June against a government plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The shots hit a tractor; no one was injured. Dutch police said the warning shots were fired in response to attempts by some farmers to ram their tractors into police cars. But the live fire has sparked widespread outrage in the Netherlands.

The demonstrators are protesting against the restrictions announced by the government on June 10. The restrictions are aimed at meeting the collective European targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

07/06/2022: EU unveils funding plan for Ukraine at Lugano conférence. -Yanis Kourrad-

As the fighting in Ukraine continues, the Lugano conference in Switzerland was held on Monday 4 and Tuesday 5 July 2022. Initially planned before the outbreak of the war in order to consider reforms and the fight against corruption in Ukraine, the outbreak of the war on 24 February changed the agenda. During these two days, Ukraine, political decision-makers and international organizations met to consider the reconstruction of Ukraine.

While the costs of the war amount to nearly 750 billion euros according to Denys Chmyhal, the Ukrainian Prime Minister, the European Union unveiled its funding programme to rebuild the Ukraine of tomorrow. The programme includes the creation of a platform for the reconstruction of Ukraine with the establishment of a trust fund between the European Union and Ukraine, the ambition of which is to obtain 100 billion euros during the first round of financing. Some states, such as the United Kingdom and Switzerland, have announced the launch of new bilateral aid, with Switzerland promising to provide 100 million Swiss francs in aid by the end of 2023. This “Marshall Plan” will, however, have the challenge of avoiding any takeover by certain malevolent Ukrainian oligarchs.

Moreover, the Europeans did not fail to recall the necessary efforts that Ukraine must make by reforming its institutions. The Ukrainian President, Vladimir Zelensky, renewed his determination to ensure respect for the rule of law and to fight against the corruption that plagues the country. With Ukraine having been granted official EU candidate status on 23 June, this conference appears to have been one of the first milestones in a process of reconstruction that should be deepened at future annual conferences.

06/07/2022: The European Parliament approves the inclusion of gas and nuclear in the green taxonomy. -Yanis Kourrad-

While the question of including gas and nuclear power in the European Union’s green taxonomy project has been debated for several months, MEPs have just voted to approve the project. Last February, the European Commission had just decided to include fossil gas and nuclear energy in the green taxonomy aimed at “investing in sustainable activities and promoting carbon neutrality“, as journalist Marie Geredakis put it.

On 6 July, an absolute majority of 328 votes (against the 278 votes finally cast) would have been needed to oppose and block the text presented by the European Commission a few months ago.

The reason why this issue has caused so much debate is that it divides MEPs beyond their political affiliations.

On the one hand, some are in favor of the project, such as France, which is pro-nuclear, or Poland and Bulgaria, both pro-gas, and on the other hand, some countries are fiercely opposed to it, such as Germany, for example.

Furthermore, the Commission defended its project by recalling that reliance on renewable energies – as intermittent energies – could not suffice to meet the growing needs in terms of electricity and the inclusion of gas and nuclear within the green taxonomy allows, on a temporary and transitory basis, to envisage the ecological transition more serenely.

07/07/2022: Resignation of the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, disavowed by the conservative party. -Amandine Paillette-

On July 7, Boris Johnson, British Prime Minister for three years, announced his resignation. This decision comes after the sudden departure of about sixty members of the government, including five ministers, as a sign of protest. This is a first in the country’s history, as never before has such a large wave of departures from the government taken place in such a short time.

Disavowed by the Conservative Party of which he was the leader, Boris Johnson announced his departure in a speech stating “It is now clear that the Conservative Party wants a new leader and therefore a new Prime Minister”. However, the resignation of the latter does not take effect immediately and will be effective once his successor has been appointed. Downing Street has already appointed new ministers on an interim basis to replace those who have left the government prematurely.

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