European Union Geopolitical Watch – from March 26 to April 1st, 2022

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

03/ 25/ 2022: European Commission announces agreement on Digital Markets Act targeting anti-competitive practices of major digital companies. – Madara Lange – 

On 25 March, the European Commission announced new legislation on digital markets, the so-called Digital Markets Act (DMA). This text would mark a change in the European Union’s policy towards anti-competitive practices by major digital companies. This would mainly concern the GAFAMs, which are headquartered in the United States. To comply with the rules, companies would have to respect the twenty commandments. Penalties could go as high as 20% of the company’s global turnover. Repeat offenses would result in a potential divestment of business. 

Despite a promising legal framework, the European Commission would have to find ways to monitor the implementation of the commandments effectively. If not, companies would be able to circumvent the legislation.

03/27/2022: The SPD wins the Saar Landtag election.

The election of March 27, 2022 saw the victory of the SPD, the German social democratic party, in Saarland. This is the first electoral victory won by the party since it came to power at the national level just over three months ago. The SPD won the majority of the seats in the local parliament, with 29 out of 51 deputies. This victory was all the more striking as it came at the end of twenty years of power for the Christian Democrats in this small Land (region-sized federated state). Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz won “a resounding victory“. A success that encourages his party, in this year which should see three more exams at the regional level.

03/28/2022. Extraordinary meeting of the 27 in Brussels on the reception of Ukrainian refugees and European possibilities. -Sara Brouwers-

Today, EU Justice and Home Affairs Ministers, together with the Ukrainian Minister of the Interior (the latter by video conference), met to discuss further coordination of the reception of Ukrainian refugees, focusing on “the implementation of material and financial support to Member States, the monitoring and coordination of movements within the EU, the reception of refugees from Moldova, as well as issues related to the management of external borders and security“. Following this meeting, and with the aim of coordinating the massive influx of people, the Commission presented the ministers with a ten-point programme, which was deemed “insufficient” and concluded that this work needed to be taken further. The Commission then insisted on the creation of a tailor-made financial instrument to support the Member States providing the first reception. This will be followed by the creation of an international solidarity mechanism.

03/ 29/ 2022: France, Greece and Turkey face a difficult situation that does not allow for an exceptional humanitarian operation in Mariupol. -Madara Lange-

On 25 March, during the European Council summit, Emmanuel Macron announced an “exceptional humanitarian operation” with the participation of the two other NATO members, Greece, and Turkey. Emmanuel Macron committed himself to talking to Vladimir Putin to reach an agreement that would allow the humanitarian corridor to be put in place. 

On 29 March, after this meeting, the French president said that the “conditions would not yet be met at this stage” to achieve the evacuation. Indeed, even if the Russian President “promised to think about it”, the fighting has not stopped in the city, which is still home to 150-160,000 inhabitants. Vladimir Putin said that the establishment of a humanitarian corridor would depend on the laying down of arms by Ukrainian nationalist fighters.

03/ 29/ 2022: Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland expel Russian diplomats due to alleged espionage activities. -Madara Lange- 

On 29 March, Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmès announced the expulsion of 21 Russian diplomats because of their alleged involvement in espionage activities, jeopardizing the country’s security. She said the diplomats would have 15 days to leave the country.

The minister said the decision was not within the scope of sanctions and that “diplomatic channels remain open with Russia“. The Russian embassy in Belgium denounced the unfounded nature of the accusations and said the incident would result in the deterioration of relations between the two countries.

The expulsion decision was taken in coordination with other countries, such as the Netherlands and Ireland. Both expelled 17 and 4 Russian diplomats respectively on the same day. Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said that “the activities of the diplomats were at odds with international standards of diplomacy“.

03/29/2022. Amnesty International publishes an alarming report and denounces France’s non-exemplarity: right or wrong? -Sara Brouwers-

In a context where human rights have been increasingly called into question, and where the world has been shaken by numerous conflicts, most of them already present but more consequential, Amnesty International has published its report for the year 2021 in which it has drawn up an assessment of 154 countries “region by region, country by country“, and highlighted the inaction of the major powers in the face of the multiplication of conflicts that have paved the way for new escalations (e.g. Ukraine). The international humanitarian accused states to silence criticism.

The President of Amnesty International France, Cécile Coudriou, denounced “67 countries that have adopted new laws restricting freedom of expression, association or assembly“, insisting on the rise of authoritarianism and the increase of digital technologies used against people who disagree with governments (surveillance, Pegasus project). She linked this violence to the crisis of the Covid 19 pandemic: through the nest of inequalities that this crisis represented, or through the fight against terrorism. The President returned to the fact that France had recently put in place accommodation for 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. It should be noted, however, that last summer, when men and women in danger were also fleeing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the French government did not speak of “refugees” but of “major irregular migratory flows” against which Europe would have to protect itself.

03/30/2022 : Italy is expected to assume command of the NATO battle group in Bulgaria.  -Louis Harand-

Italy may become the command element, instead of Bulgaria, of the NATO battle group to be formed on Bulgarian territory, Defence Minister Dragomir Zakov said on Tuesday (29 March). The change was expected in view of NATO’s practice of large armies compensating for shortfalls in such units, he added. “The group will be formed on the basis of a Bulgarian battalion. As the concept evolves, Italy will probably become the command element, but Bulgarian soldiers will participate. The fact that we have transferred operational control to the Supreme NATO Commander does not mean that we are giving up command of this structure. The link with the Chief of Defence and the Minister of Defence remains, but the battalion group will evolve into a multinational group. This is the only possibility to have a valid battle group,” the minister explained. According to the press, it is clear at the moment that this multinational group will include the United States with a Stryker company and British and Albanian units. Italy has declared itself ready to send a large contingent that could become the backbone of the future group. “These are entirely defensive and deterrent functions, the aim is not to send this group to fight elsewhere,” Mr Dragomir Zakov said. According to him, within two months, the battle group will be fully formed.

04/01/2022: EU-China summit in the middle of the Ukrainian crisis -Victor Martin-

On April 1st, a European Union-China summit was held. Mrs. Ursula Von Der Leyen, President of the European Commission will be accompanied by Mr. Charles Michel and Mr. Josep Borrell, respectively President of the European Council and High Representative for Foreign Policy. The discussions focused on the Ukrainian crisis and the role of China in the crisis, but also on the bilateral relationship. 

First of all, the European representatives stated that China, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, must ensure respect for international law and therefore condemn the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. In addition, the European Union has asked China not to help Russia to circumvent European sanctions, although this request will most likely remain unheeded.

The parties then discussed bilateral relations. The EU and China reiterated their willingness to cooperate on certain issues such as global warming or the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. On the other hand, the European Union was concerned about the access of its companies to the Chinese domestic market and the conditions of investments in China. The European Union seeks above all to balance trade relations with the Asian giant. Finally, the EU expressed its concern about the situation of Uyghurs in Xinjiang and said it was “disappointed” by China’s unjustified sanctions against members of the European Parliament. 

This meeting is therefore the perfect illustration of the European strategic compass’ definition of China: “a cooperation partner, an economic competitor and a systemic rival“. 

01/04/2022: Andrzej Duda visits Pope Francis and talks about security in Europe. -Etienne Mathieu-

The President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda visited the Vatican on Friday April 1. The Polish head of state and the head of the Catholic Church spoke of the need for peace and the means to achieve it, through politics as well as through support for individuals. This visit took place in the context of the Russian attack in Ukraine, which has now lasted five weeks. The Holy See has sought to play a mediating role and has regularly stressed the importance of the plight of refugees. For his part, Andrzej Duda has repeatedly expressed his support for Ukraine. The two countries have maintained close relations for several years. Andrzej Duda and François spoke about the future of Europe and the situation of the populations in the Middle East. The Polish president and his wife also collected themselves in front of the tomb of Saint John Paul II, the only Polish pope in history.

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