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European Union Geopolitical Watch : From June 11 to June 17, 2022

European Union Geopolitical Watch Team : Amandine Paillette, Audrey Moisan, Sara Brouwers, Antoine Bézier, Léo Caget, Etienne Mathieu

06/10/2022: The European Union supports Spain against Algeria in the context of the breach of the contract of friendship and good neighborliness. -Amandine Paillette-

On June 10, while the tension was at its peak between Algeria and Spain, the European Union intervened, judging the situation as “extremely alarming“. On June 8, Algeria had announced the immediate suspension of the treaty of friendship and good neighborliness that links Algeria and Spain for the past twenty years. This decision by Algeria to break this agreement was accompanied by a suspension of banking operations from and to Spain. Indeed, on June 9, the directors of banks and financial institutions received a note from the Association of Banks and Financial Institutions (ABEF) informing them of the freeze on foreign trade operations of products and services decided by the Algerian authorities. The freezing of trade relations between Algeria and Spain has provoked a reaction from European officials.

Accordingly, Valdis Dombrovskis Vice-President of the Commission in charge of trade and Josep Borrell head of diplomacy of the European Union, have jointly signed a statement strongly condemning the decision of the Algerian authorities. Document in which we read “We assess the implications of Algerian actions, including the instruction given to financial institutions to stop transactions between the two countries, which appears to be in violation of the EU-Algeria Association Agreement (…) The EU is ready to oppose any type of coercive measures applied against a member state“. European officials wished to show their support for Spain without delay in this period of high tension. Thus, the spokesman for the President of the European Commission, Eric Mamer said “We are concerned and we ask Algeria to reverse this decision“.

The Algerian mission to the European Union has expressed itself, deploring “the haste with which the European Commission has reacted without prior consultation or verification with the Algerian government“.

06/11/2022: Olaf Scholz in North Macedonia and Bulgaria: last stop of his lightning tour in the Balkans. -Antoine Bézier-

On Saturday 11th June, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz concluded his whirlwind tour of the Balkans with a visit to Northern Macedonia and Bulgaria. The day before, he had visited Kosovo and Serbia. For the Social Democrat Chancellor, the aim was to relaunch the EU accession process in the Western Balkans and, against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, to counter Russia’s traditionally strong influence in the region. However, tensions between the local states are blocking a process that has been stalled for many years.

In Kosovo, Olaf Scholz had called for dialogue and a mutual recognition agreement between Belgrade and Pristina: “Today, I call again on both sides to engage clearly in this dialogue, each must take a step towards the other, even if this is sometimes difficult, because it is not conceivable that two countries that do not recognise each other become members of the EU“. Kosovo’s possible accession to the EU is made impossible by the territorial dispute with Serbia and the fact that five EU Member States (Greece, Romania, Slovakia, Romania and Spain) do not recognise the independence of the former Serbian province. Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti had reaffirmed his willingness to apply to Brussels “this year” for EU candidate country status. In Belgrade, the German Chancellor claimed that EU membership presupposes respect for the Union’s common policy, thus criticising the decision of Serbia, a candidate country, not to impose sanctions on Russia.

In Northern Macedonia, Olaf Scholz expressed his support for the country’s entry into the EU, and it has allegedly fulfilled “all the necessary conditions at the start of the entry negotiations“. The German Chancellor referred in particular to the 2019 compromise between Skopje and Athens, which provided for the change of the country’s name, and Macedonia became North Macedonia. Greece feared territorial claims by Skopje on its namesake province of Macedonia. However, tensions between North Macedonia and Bulgaria are blocking EU accession negotiations. Beyond the historical controversies between the two countries, Sofia denounces the treatment of the Bulgarian minority in North Macedonia, which is allegedly discriminated against. This was reaffirmed during the Social Democratic Chancellor’s visit to Bulgaria, and Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov called for an amendment to the North Macedonian constitution, so that Bulgaria could be recognised as a constituent nation of North Macedonia.

06/12/2022: The referendum on Justice wanted by the Italian right fails. -Etienne Mathieu-

Italian voters were called to vote on June 12 for a referendum that included five questions. These questions aimed at reforming the Italian judicial system, which is regularly criticized for its operational problems. The referendum was held at the same time as municipal by-elections.

But while the right-wing bloc (League, Brothers of Italy, Forza Italia) in the governing coalition came out on top in several major cities, the referendum itself failed. it won the support of a majority of voters, between 55% and 75%, depending on the five questions. But with just over 20% participation, the referendum failed by a wide margin to reach the 50% quorum needed to pass.

The referendum was promoted by the League, the populist party led by Matteo Salvini. The right-wing leader, sometimes classified as far right, insisted in particular on a politicization deemed excessive in the Italian judiciary, whose left-wing orientations were criticized by the populists.

However, despite this setback, the right-wing parties are well positioned for the next general election, scheduled for May 2023. Brothers of Italy, the only party in parliament excluded from the Draghi government’s coalition, sees its voting intentions estimated at nearly 22%, up from 4% in 2018.

06/12/2022: Results of the 1st round of the legislative elections in France. -Léo Caget-

On Sunday, June 12th, French voters went to the ballot boxes for the first round of the legislative elections, the second round being held the following Sunday. In an unprecedented result, the left-wing alliance of the New Popular Ecological and Social Union (NUPES) came neck and neck with Ensemble!, a center-right coalition formed to support government action. The NUPES reached a score of 25.66% of the votes, following closely behind Ensemble!, which received 25.75% of the votes at the national level, according to sources from the Ministry of the Interior. The scores of the second round therefore seem to be decisive in determining whether Emmanuel Macron, newly re-elected, will be able to continue to rely on an absolute majority in the National Assembly. The two formations recording the most votes after these two parties, are the Rassemblement National, often placed on the far right of the political chessboard, with 18.68% of the votes, and Les Républicains, traditional party of the right in France, with a score of 10.42%. It should be noted that this first round of legislative elections was the one that recorded the highest abstention rate of the Fifth Republic for this type of elections, with a rate of 52.49% of abstentionism.

06/14/2022: The European Court of Human Rights opposes the UK’s decision to return illegal asylum seekers to Rwanda. -Sara Brouwers-

On 14 April, London (with a £120 million commitment) signed a five-year agreement with Kigali allowing the deportation of asylum seekers illegally present in the UK to Rwanda. On Tuesday evening, the European Court of Human Rights halted the departure of the first plane at the last moment.

The agreement signed in April was intended to allow Boris Johnson’s government to send asylum seekers who arrived illegally in the UK, regardless of their country of origin, back to Rwanda. This agreement was designed to reform a “broken asylum system”, said Priti Patel, the British Home Secretary. In short, this “Migration and Economic Development Partnership” (MEDP) provided that “people whose asylum applications are accepted will remain in Rwanda. Those whose applications are rejected will be able to leave voluntarily, obtain another type of status in Rwanda, be returned to their country of origin or to another country where they will be legally admitted“. However, in view of the objections raised by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and numerous non-governmental organizations, the European body has asked the British courts to rule on the “legality of this bill“. It was therefore decided that in July, the UK courts should rule on the overall legality of the government’s bill.

This policy of returning asylum seekers is reminiscent of the one carried out by Australia in 2013. The government’s approach was intended to deter illegal crossings of the English Channel. Laura Dubinsky, the UNHCR’s lawyer, said the UN agency was concerned about the risk of “serious and irreparable harm” to refugees returned to Rwanda, and did not “in any way approve of the Anglo-Rwandan arrangement“.

06/14/2022: Towards a union with Switzerland? Talks are launched with the Commission. – Audrey Moisan-

On June 14th, the Swiss National Council took a step forward towards Europe by accepting a motion from the Foreign Policy Committee instructing the Federal Council to negotiate with the European Union on Swiss participation in certain European programs. He spoke on Friday 17 June.

During these negotiations, Germany seems to have been the spokesperson for the issue of the opening of the Union to Switzerland, because of the “close social and economic ties” between the two countries, in the words of the German Foreign Ministry to the Swiss radio Keystone-ATS.

The discussions were oriented under this relationship between Bern and Berlin, from the point of view of economic and commercial stability of trade between the two countries. Germany has considered this relationship “particularly affected” by the unilateral breakdown of negotiations on the institutional framework agreement with the EU. On the evening of June 17th, the deadlock seems to remain.

This meeting is the second to be held in 2022, following the meeting between Switzerland and the Commission last May and the latter’s letter to the Secretary of State of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs Livia Leu Agosti.

A third exploratory meeting should be held before the summer break, according to the European Commission.

06/15/2022: On NATO membership application, Turkey is waiting for a “written answer” from Sweden and Finland. -Antoine Bézier-

On Wednesday 15th June, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu clarified his country’s position on Sweden and Finland’s application for NATO membership: “We have sent our written requests to these two countries. (…) We are now waiting for their written answer (…) This answer can be in the form of a law or otherwise“. Ankara particularly reproaches the two Nordic countries for allegedly supporting the Kurdish terrorism of the PKK. On the same day, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told parliamentarians from his party, the AKP, that “as far as NATO is concerned, as long as Sweden and Finland do not adopt concrete measures on the fight against terrorism, our position will not change“. The NATO Secretary General had assured on Monday that the Atlantic Alliance is “working hard” to resolve the “legitimate” issues raised by Turkey, and Mevlut Cavusoglu had welcomed his words: “Jens Stoltenberg always expresses his views sincerely and makes efforts to address Turkey’s concerns. We appreciate his efforts.” On Tuesday, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin referred to the central deadline of the upcoming NATO summit in Madrid, which is due to start on 28th June: “I think it is very important to move forward at this stage. If we don’t resolve these issues before Madrid, the situation may freeze. She did not rule out a freeze in the situation if the dispute was not resolved before the Atlantic Alliance summit: “We don’t know for how long, but the situation could be frozen for a while.“

06/16/2022: Visit of four European leaders to Kiev to support Ukraine’s application to join the European Union. -Amandine Paillette-

On June 16, for the first time since the beginning of the Russian military intervention in Ukraine “old Europe” visited Kiev. The German Chancellor, the French President, the Italian Prime Minister and the Romanian President met with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in his presidential palace. The meeting was transmitted on a delayed basis on European news channels to guarantee the safety of both journalists and officials present.

Olaf Scholz had already visited Ukraine a few weeks earlier.  The French President had announced that he would only go to Ukraine when it would be useful for the Ukrainian people, with a concrete project. Thus, during the press conference, the European leaders gave their support to the country’s accession to the European Union while the next day, was to be held a session of the European Commission on the initiation of such a procedure. Emmanuel Macron said “All four of us support the status of immediate candidate for membership”. A roadmap is expected for this status, which should also apply to Balkan countries such as Moldova. The support given by the four European officials was unanimous and without appeal, all hope that Ukraine acquires such a status. The German chancellor said he expected a positive response while his Italian counterpart, Mario Draghi “wants Ukraine in the European Union”.

The meeting also had a military dimension, with the French President adding that France would provide “six additional Caesars” to Ukraine, although 12 of these self-propelled guns had already been delivered. A military effort on the part of Germany was also announced, assuring that this support would last as long as the country needs.

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