European Union Geopolitical Watch – From June 18 to June 24, 2022

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

06/19/2022: Results of the 2nd round of the legislative elections in France. -Léo Caget-

The results of the 2nd round of the legislative elections in France on Sunday June 19th, gave a relative majority to Ensemble! in the National Assembly. This coalition which was formed to support the government’s action obtained only 245 of the 289 seats necessary to have an absolute majority. The far-left coalition NUPES managed to win 131 seats and could therefore become a significant opposition force, despite signs of disagreement between the various parties that make up the coalition (Communist Party, La France Insoumise, several environmental parties and the Socialist Party). The traditional right-wing party Les Républicains won 61 seats, but the most significant breakthrough was on the far right with the Rassemblement National, which managed to install 89 deputies, a historic score for the party, which thus becomes the main opposition group in the lower house.

This distribution is unprecedented in a Fifth Republic in place since 1958, which usually favours large presidential majorities. It would compel the presidential party to form government agreements with other parties. Discussions have been held rapidly between the government and the other parties, but so far none of them seem willing to join the centrist coalition. This relative majority seems to raise fears of immobility and could prevent Emmanuel Macron from carrying out his policies for the next five years, by forcing him to compromise and to reach agreements on each new bill. Note that some ministers, also candidates to the legislative elections, have already had to submit their resignation from the government, as is the practice established during the mandate of Nicolas Sarkozy, from 2007 to 2012.

06/20/2022: Lithuania restricts transit of merchandise between Russia and its Kaliningrad exclave. -Amandine Paillette-

On June 20, Moscow threatened to retaliate against new restrictions on the transit of certain goods through Lithuania to Kaliningrad, which it considers hostile. The Russian exclave is located on the Baltic Sea, surrounded by Poland and Lithuania. Thus, Vilnius has reduced the transit of Russian products through its territory to the city of Kaliningrad, disrupting the supply of its exclave. This territory is also home to military installations such as Iskander missiles. The decision of the Lithuanian authorities is in line with the waves of European sanctions taken following the Russian military intervention in Ukraine. 

The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was outraged by this sanction claiming “This decision is really unprecedented. It is a violation of everything. We understand that this is due to the decision of the EU to extend sanctions to transit. We believe that this is also illegal. The situation is more than serious, it requires a thorough analysis before developing measures and responses. This in-depth analysis will be done in the coming days“. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called for the immediate removal of these restrictions in a press release. The Russian response was blunt, explaining that “From our point of view, this is a flagrant violation of the agreements made with the EU when the Baltic republics joined the EU. We see this as an openly hostile gesture. The logic of the EU sanctions was to restrict trade between the EU-27 and our country. We had no intention of trading these goods with the EU“. The Russian Foreign Minister added that if this impediment is not quickly lifted “Russia reserves the right to take actions to protect its national interests“.

06/20/2022: Cooperation Council between Kazakhstan and the European Union meets to strengthen their bilateral relationship. -Sara Brouwers-

On Monday 20 June, the Cooperation Council between the EU and Kazakhstan held its 19th session. The meeting was chaired by Catherine Colonna, the new French Minister of Foreign Affairs. In the context of the war in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, a former ally of Russia, has distanced itself from Russia and has moved politically and economically closer to Europe.

This bill had been tabled in the National Assembly on 30 August 2017 by Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, and aimed to allow the ratification of the enhanced partnership and cooperation agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Kazakhstan. According to the government, this agreement required «regulatory harmonization in certain sectors, and more extensive cooperation on international issues», including conditions on respect for democratic values and economic, environmental and trade cooperation.

This session allowed the two countries to further strengthen their relationship and to take stock of the implementation of their enhanced partnership and cooperation agreement. During this Council, the European community, despite its concerns about good governance and the protection of human rights in the partner country (particularly following the January revolt when fuel prices suddenly rose), welcomed the «process of political reform to which Kazakhstan has committed itself». In addition, the EU supported Kazakhstan’s efforts towards a sustainable ecological transition.

06/20/2022: the head of European diplomacy blames Russia’s blocking of grain exports to Ukraine and denounces “a war crime” -Amandine Paillette-;

On June 20, Joseph Borell, head of European diplomacy accused Russia, which is blocking Ukrainian grain exports, of committing a “real war crime“. Important agricultural regions located in the east of Ukraine are occupied by the Russian army which has declared a blockade in the Black Sea, preventing the export of grain. According to official estimates, nearly 25 million tons of grain awaiting export are blocked in Ukraine. This forced immobilization has a direct consequence on the prices which soar. In the end, this could cause famine for millions of people around the world. 

On his way to Luxembourg for a meeting of European Union foreign ministers, Joseph Borell said: “We cannot imagine that millions of tons of wheat remain blocked in Ukraine when the rest of the world’s population is starving. This is a real war crime. I can’t imagine that this will continue for much longer: otherwise, it would really be something for which Russia would be held responsible“. Following these statements, some European ministers joined the statements of the head of European diplomacy. Following the example of Catherine Colonna, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs who warned “Russia must stop playing with hunger in the world (…) Russia must stop blockading the ports of Ukraine and stop destroying the storage infrastructure in Ukraine“.

06/22/2022: The European Parliament votes the Carbon Tax at the borders. -Audrey Moisan-

After a referral to the Commission earlier this month, the European Parliament has finally adopted in plenary session the carbon tax at the borders this Wednesday, June 22, 2022, allowing the European Union to check an additional box in its climate plan.

This carbon tax will focus primarily on high-carbon imports from third countries, while the “right to pollute” enjoyed by European manufacturers in these countries will be subject to quota in return, which should end in 2032. This also allows the Parliament to land on a quicker climate timetable than initially foreseen by the Commission’s proposals, with targets set for 2035.

The aviation and maritime sectors, as voted, will also join the carbon market, in order to limit speculation around fuel prices.

This vote responds to and validates the agreement reached by the EPP, Renew Europe and S&D last week, and was voted by a large majority. The States will still have to decide on their respective positions in the Council, before the final text can be submitted to the test of the trialogue before the European institutions.

06/23/2022: EU enlargement: EU-27 give their opinion on the membership applications of Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and the Western Balkans. -Antoine Bézier-

On Thursday 23th June in Brussels, the EU-27 discussed the EU membership applications of Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and the Western Balkans. The President of the European Council Charles Michel, referring to a “historic moment“, announced that the leaders of the 27 EU countries had recognised Ukraine and Moldova as candidates for EU membership .  This decision was taken at a summit of the heads of state and government of the EU countries. Moldova’s President Maia Sandu hailed it as a “historic day“. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also welcomed the decision: „It is the starting point of a new history for Europe. […] Today, you have made one of the most important decisions for Ukraine for all 30 years of independence of our state“. In the case of Georgia, the European Council said it was „ready to grant the status of candidate country to Georgia once the priorities specified in the Commission’s opinion on Georgia’s membership application have been addressed“. With regard to the six Western Balkan countries wishing to join the EU (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Northern Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia), the European Council expressed “its full and unequivocal commitment to the perspective of EU membership for the Western Balkans” and called for an acceleration of the accession process, but recalled various preconditions for candidate status, such as rule of law and democratic reforms (notably in Bosnia and Herzegovina), the fight against corruption, and the resolution of bilateral inter-state disputes (notably those remaining between Serbia and Kosovo and between Northern Macedonia and Bulgaria). At an EU-Balkans summit held in parallel to the European Council, several leaders of the six Western Balkan countries, which have been waiting for candidate status for years or even decades, expressed their anger. They considered that Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, which applied for EU membership only a few months ago, were being given preferential treatment because of the geopolitical confrontation between the EU and Russia. 

06/23/22: Fall of Kiril Petkov’s government in Bulgaria. -Louis Harand-

By 123 votes “for” and 116 “against”, the motion of censure, initiated on 15 June by GERB and supported by MDL, “There is such a people” (ITP) and “Renaissance”, was adopted last night. The reason for the vote was the government’s failure in the area of public finances and the economy. Media reports note that this is the first government in Bulgaria’s post-communist history to be toppled by a motion of no confidence.

“It is an honour for me to have led a government that was overthrown by Mr Peeski, Mr Borissov, Mr Trifonov and Ms Mitrofanova [the Russian ambassador to Sofia]. I clearly state that this motion is only a small step on a very long road. We promise that we will continue to reclaim our country in this struggle and that one day we will have a country without backrooms, without mafia, a normal European country,” Prime Minister Kiril Petkov stressed immediately after the announcement of the voting results, amidst the applause of his own people.

According to the Constitution, if a government is toppled by a motion of no confidence, it resigns and continues to function as a resigned government until a new one is elected. The resignation of the government requires the President of the Republic to initiate a procedure to form a new government. The Head of State holds consultations with the parliamentary forces and then gives a second chance to the largest parliamentary group, in this case “Let’s Pursue Change”, to propose ministers. The Constitution does not set a deadline for the start or end of the consultations. There is also no deadline for the delivery of the first mandate to form a government, but the first candidate for prime minister, after receiving the mandate, has seven days to propose a draft government or renounce the mandate. Yesterday, Kiril Petkov expressed hope that PLC will be able to find a majority in the current legislature and start afresh with a government with a shorter time horizon, for example, until the municipal elections in 2023, and with specific tasks to implement. But Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Assen Vassilev did not hide his pessimism. According to him, Bulgaria is heading for early elections, which will most likely take place next autumn.

If PLC proves unable to form a government, President Radev is obliged to hand over the second mandate to form a government to the second largest parliamentary force, GERB. But GERB has already declared that it will give up the mandate immediately. The third mandate is given by the President to a parliamentary force of his choice. If this last mandate fails, the President will be required to form a caretaker government, dissolve the 47th National Assembly and set a date for early parliamentary elections. 

06/24/2022: Faced with partial or total cuts in Russian gas supplies, the EU-27 discuss the strategy to be followed. -Antoine Bézier-

On Friday 24th June, on the second day of the EU summit in Brussels, the heads of state and government of the 27 EU states discussed the strategy for dealing with Russian gas cuts. Twelve countries have so far been affected by partial or total cuts in Russian gas supplies. Moscow, which believes it is reacting to Western sanctions, has reduced the flow of its Nordstream 1 pipeline to 40% of its capacity (citing equipment problems) and is reportedly considering future restrictions in preparation for winter. “It is only a matter of time before the Russians stop all gas deliveries,” an EU official said ahead of Friday’s talks. Member states are working on storage capacity before the winter to cope with possible supply disruptions. “We have reviewed all the national contingency plans to make sure that everyone is ready in case of further disruptions. And we are working on a common European emergency demand reduction plan with the industry but also with the 27 Member States,” explained European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Three levels of crisis are identified in the EU’s energy security regulations: early warning, alarm and emergency. The early warning stage focuses on monitoring supplies, the alarm stage allows utilities, for example, to pass on high prices to consumers and thus help reduce demand, and the emergency stage allows governments to force industry to curtail operations to save gas. Currently, ten EU countries have activated their first crisis level. On Thursday 23th June, Germany activated level 2 of its emergency plan, but did not activate the clause that would allow companies to pass on higher costs to customers. Although the EU-27 agree on the analysis of the situation, they have not found a common line on the attitude to follow. Some countries, such as Italy, are calling for a cap on gas prices, but this proposal is being rejected by states that refuse any intervention in the markets. Further discussions are planned for September.

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