European Union Geopolitical Watch – from March 19 to March 25, 2022

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

03/19/2022: Spain and Morocco set a new historical turn: Madrid ends its neutrality on Western Sahara and supports Rabat. -Sara Brouwers-

On 17 January, the Spanish sovereign had pleaded for a future in which Morocco and Spain “would be united to face the challenges of today and tomorrow“, while calling for “redefining together a relationship for the 21st century, on stronger and more solid pillars“. Thus, on 18 March, the letter sent by Pedro Sanchez to the King of Morocco, the various statements of the Spanish government, to which was added the communiqué of Moroccan diplomacy, confirmed the softening of relations between Morocco and Spain.  For some observers, this reconciliation was defined as a “major diplomatic victory” that Morocco obtained thanks to the personal involvement of Mohammed VI. In his royal speech on 20 August 2021, he stated that “the aim was not only to find a way out of this crisis, but also to seize the opportunity to redefine the bases and parameters that govern these relations“. The representative of the European Union, Nabila Massrali, supported this decision, describing the thaw as “beneficial for the implementation of the Euro-Moroccan partnership as a whole“. Nevertheless, by choosing to officially align itself with Morocco’s position in the Western Sahara conflict, Spain has provoked strong reactions from the Sahrawi independence fighters of the Polisario Front.

03/ 19/ 2022: 60 years after the conclusion of the Evian agreements, Emmanuel Macron expresses his desire to pursue the policy of appeasing memories. -Madara Lange-

On 19 March, the French Head of State gave a speech at the Elysée Palace, on the ceremony commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the conclusion of the Evian agreements. He intended to underline the efforts made so far, and the will to continue a peaceful policy of reconciliation of memories.

Emmanuel Macron expressed his wish to continue to cooperate with the Algerian authorities, despite the absence of official representatives at the ceremony. Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune declared the need to deal with the memorial file “in a climate of frankness and trust“, even if “the crimes of colonization will not be forgotten“.

The approach of the French Head of State, who is running for re-election, is not shared by other candidates. For example, Marine Le Pen (Rassemblement national) and Valérie Pécresse (Les Républicains) do not want to maintain the date of 19 March 1962 to commemorate the end of the Algerian War. Éric Zemmour (Reconquête!) expressed his willingness to collaborate with the Algerian authorities “with respect but without repentance“.

21/03/2022: The European Union approves the plan for a new Security and Defense Policy – Teodora Subotic –

On the issue of the reunion of March 21, 2022, the Council of the European Union (EU) approved the strategic compass for the EU: it is a new action plan aiming the reinforcement in the field of EU’s security and defense policy by 2030 as a response to the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

The plan elaborated by European ministers articulated around 4 pillars.

In order to insure its capacities for action in moments of crisis, the EU fixed the objective of fast deployment counting as many as 5000 soldiers. The plan also predicts more civil and military missions as well as an increase in mobility but also more military ground and marine exercises.

In order to ensure security, the EU has worked to develop its intelligence, cyber defense and space strategy capabilities. 

The investment pillar has provided for an increase in spending in the field of common security and defense policy in order to acquire strategic means as well as to stimulate technological innovation.

Finally, for a Europe of defense, the Council has ensured a work in partnership, notably within NATO and the UN, but also in collaboration with regional partners and other countries sharing the same values.

The adoption of the strategic compass by the European Council should take place on March 24 and 25.

03/ 22/ 2022: The European Commission postpones two legislative texts on the transition to green agriculture due to the imperatives of the war in Ukraine. -Madara Lange-

On 22 March, the European Commission decided to postpone the examination of two draft regulations under the “Farm to fork” and “Biodiversity” strategies. These pieces of legislation would have set targets to accelerate the transition to green agriculture by 2030. Among them, is an obligation to reduce the use of pesticides which would have led to a decrease in production.

However, in the current context, the priority would be to adapt these strategies to the imperatives of the war in Ukraine. The French head of state, Emmanuel Macron, and a dozen representatives of EU Member States have asked the Commission to review its requirements on pesticides.

According to French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) objectives, such as security and food predictability, should be respected in the face of the risk of famine.

On 23 March, the European Commission put forward proposals to help farmers cope with rising prices. Subject to compliance with certain environmental criteria, the EU executive would make €500,000 million available to them, known as the “crisis reserve”. 

03/23/2022: Volodomyr Zelensky addresses the French Parliament and insists on the need to restore Ukrainian national integrity. -Etienne Mathieu-

Volodomyr Zelensky spoke in front of the French Parliament on March 23. The intervention, broadcast by videoconference from kyiv to both houses of parliament, concluded the first month of war against the Russian invasion. The Ukrainian president asked for help to “restore the territorial integrity of Ukraine“.

As when addressing Israel, Volodomyr Zelensky carefully tailored his speech to the country listening to him. After comparing the battle of Mariupol to Verdun, he said that Vladimir Putin was waging a “war against Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” (in reference to the French national motto). The head of state of Ukraine has challenged French companies that maintain their activities in Russia, accusing them of “financing murders of women and children“. This concerns Renault, Leroy Merlin and Auchan.

03/ 24/ 2022: Representatives of the parliaments of the three Baltic States and the President of the Rada of Ukraine adopted a joint declaration for the restoration of security in Europe. -Madara Lange-

On 24 March, one month after the start of the Russian invasion, representatives of the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian parliaments visited Kyiv. Inara Murniece of the Latvian Saeima, Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen of the Lithuanian Seimas, and Jüri Ratas of the Estonian Riigikogu met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and addressed the Rada of Ukraine. The Rada is the unicameral parliament of Ukraine.

Together with the Speaker of the Ukrainian Rada, Ruslan Stefanchuk, they adopted a joint statement to reiterate the international community’s support for Ukraine. Among other things, reference was made to restoring Ukrainian integrity and reconstructing places destroyed by Russian forces. 

The parliamentary representatives of the Baltic States promised to contribute to the acceleration of Ukraine’s accession process to the European Union.

03/24/2022: The unions demonstrate in Paris and demand an increase in pensions. -Etienne Mathieu-

About 3,000 people demonstrated in Paris on March 24. The French trade unions have asked for the revaluation of retirement pensions, in order to cope with the rise in prices. Less than three weeks before the presidential election, they considered that inflation was a serious danger for the purchasing power of pensioners, but also of households.

 In a press release, the UCR-CGT called for “the management of autonomy [of dependent elderly people] by Social Security” and “the creation of a social service for autonomy“. Trade unions insist on the lack of public services, especially in rural areas.

03/24-25/2022: European heads of state meet at a European Council to discuss major issues for the future of Europe. -Victor Martin-

On March 24 and 25, the 27 European heads of state met to discuss numerous issues such as the invasion of Ukraine, European security and defense, energy, economic issues, Covid-19 and external relations.

The EU reiterated its commitment to Ukraine and its people, called on Russia to allow civilians to leave the combat zones to the territory of their choice and announced that it would create a fund to help rebuild a “democratic Ukraine” after the war.

A consensus was reached between European countries on the Digital Markets Act (DMA), a legislation that imposes obligations and bans on digital giants, including the American GAFAM.

In addition, the European strategic compass, which represents a white paper on European defense, was adopted by the member states. This white paper designates Russia as “a direct and long-term threat to Europe’s security”, while China remains a “partner” in certain areas but also an “economic competitor and a systemic rival“.

American President Joe Biden was invited to discuss some of these issues with the Europeans. On Friday 25 was also announced, during a press conference of Ursula Von Der Leyen and Joe Bien, that Washington would provide 15 billion additional cubic meters of gas during the year 2022 to reduce European dependence on Russian gas, which represents 40% of imports. Finally, at the end of the European Council, Emmanuel Macron, the French president, announced that “the [European] Commission would have a mandate to do joint purchasing. Joint purchasing is the best instrument to bring down the price of our gas“.

The United States and the European Union also signed an agreement on digital data, promising that data can travel “freely and securely” across the Atlantic. This text will allow Europeans’ data to be protected from private companies but also from American intelligence services, which will only be able to use it when it is “necessary and proportional to the defense of American national security“.

Charles Michel also expressed the willingness of the European Union and the West to do everything possible to apply the sanctions already voted. The President of the European Council stated that “we Europeans know that there are a number of loopholes that are used to circumvent and avoid the sanctions that are in place. We are going to tighten our efforts to ensure that we can reduce and close, whenever possible, these alternative routes to circumvent the consequences of sanctions“. This will also involve diplomatic pressure on third countries that can offer these alternatives.

At the end of the summit, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the launch of an “exceptional humanitarian operation” in Mariupol, a city in southern Ukraine that has been under siege for three weeks. This operation will be organized in partnership with Turkey and Greece. Mr. Macron said he would discuss it with Vladimir Putin in the coming days.

Brussels also hosted G7 and NATO meetings on March 24.

03/25/2022: NATO troops reinforced in Bulgaria. -Louis Harand-

On 24 March, the NATO Council meeting in Brussels decided to create multinational battle groups in four countries on the alliance’s eastern flank, including Bulgaria. 

President Roumen Radev, who attended the summit, emphasised the need for Bulgaria to ensure the protection of its airspace, in a context where Soviet-era MiG-29 fighters can no longer be maintained in Russia, and the delivery of F-16s ordered from the United States is experiencing delays. The head of state said he had raised the issue with his US counterpart, Joe Biden, to identify a solution. 

Mr Radev reiterated his call for joint development and production of military equipment within NATO, in order to redirect investment to smaller countries and “bridge the economic and technological gap between us more quickly“. 

Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, also in Brussels to attend the EU Council meeting, announced that the UK would send 150 troops to Bulgaria to join the multinational battle group, and that discussions were underway with Italy. The Bulgarian authorities plan to place the group under Bulgarian command.

03/25/2022 : Meeting between Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Volodomyr Zelensky the day after the exceptional NATO summit -Audrey Moisan-

On March 25, 2022, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by phone with Ukrainian leader Volodomyr Zelensky as the extraordinary NATO summit had been summoned the day before.

The latest developments in the war were the main topics of the conversation. President Recep Erdogan emphasized the support of NATO members for Ukraine and encouraged it to continue its efforts against Russia. The Turkish head of state was also keen to put forward the desire for a diplomatic resolution of the conflict expressed by the Ukrainian president.

Turkey also reaffirmed its support and continuation of a policy of aid to Ukraine.

Another aim for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan through this interview seemed to be that of mediating between Vladimir Putin and Volodomyr Zelensky, in his capacity as a member of NATO and because of his proximity to the Russian president. The Turkish president also stated that Kyiv and Moscow seem to have reached a consensus, but difficulties remain regarding Crimea and Donbas.

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