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European Union Geopolitical Watch – from March 5 to March 11, 2022

European Union Geopolitical Watch Team: Sara Brouwers, Victor Martin, Etienne Mathieu

03/07/2022: Ukraine and Russia open a 3rd round of negotiations. -Etienne Mathieu-

The 3rd round of Ukraine-Russia negotiations was held on March 7. The two sides met at the Polish-Belarusian border. 12 days after the beginning of the war, the fighting did not stop. However, a temporary ceasefire was granted by the Russians in Kyiv and Kharkov to secure the escape of civilians. Mykhaïlo Podoliak, member of the Ukrainian delegation, reported positive results of the negotiation regarding humanitarian aid. Ukraine and Russia have agreed on the principle of civilian evacuation corridors; but Ukraine has denounced the fact that Russia has favored corridors to its own territory or to Belarus. More than 1.7 million Ukrainians have already left their country, not counting internal displacement. Nearly one million of these refugees are hosted in Poland.

03/07/2022: Denmark wants to rethink its defense strategy. -Victor Martin-

On March 7, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced at a press conference a review of the country’s defense policy. First, Ms. Frederiksen said that on June 1 a referendum would be held to abolish Denmark’s exemption clause. This clause allows Denmark to opt out of all European defense decisions. In addition, the Danish Prime Minister wants to increase the defense budget to 2% of GDP (from the current 1.44%), which would meet NATO’s demands. The last time Denmark spent so much on security was in 1989, at the end of the Cold War. Finally, Mette Frederiksen emphasized the need to stop depending on Russian gas. It is important to note that Denmark is the first hydrocarbon producer in the European Union and is therefore not strongly dependent on its energy imports.

03/08/2022 : Facing the oil embargo and Europe’s dependence on Russia: the « REPowerEU » plan. -Sara Brouwers-

« We simply cannot depend on a supplier that openly threatens us » said Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

On Tuesday, following the Ukrainian crisis, the European Commission met to propose a plan to « diversify its energy sources and strengthen its energy security in order to be less dependent on Russia after the invasion of Ukraine », Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis had announced the day before. These measures include the setting up of strategic storage and the diversification of supplies, which would enable the European Union to reduce Russian gas imports by two thirds by the end of the year : on the one hand by increasing the volumes purchased from Europe’s current suppliers (Qatar, the United States and Algeria). And on the other hand by reducing gas consumption in general, the deployment of wind and solar power generation facilities.

03/08/2022 : Combating violence against women: the Commission makes a legislative proposal. -Sara Brouwers-

Across Europe and according to a World Health Organisation estimate on violence against women, published in 2015, « one in five women is physically or sexually abused and every day seven women die as a result of violence by their partners ». Over the past two years, WHO Europe Member States have recorded a 60% increase in emergency calls from women victims of violence.

This has spread exponentially since the beginning of the health crisis. Many Member States have set up 24-hour helplines and launched awareness-raising campaigns in pharmacies, but although these measures have been positive, they have not been sufficient. Therefore, on International Women’s Day, the European Commission adopted a legislative proposal introducing common standards for all Member States on prevention, protection, victim support, access to justice, and cooperation and coordination of services. Helena Dalli, European Commissioner for Equality announced that it was imperative to « further strengthen our prevention programmes and improve services, by setting minimum standards for the whole of the European Union ». Once adopted, the new legislation would require enhanced measures to be put in place through an EU-wide harmonised number that would direct victims to the appropriate authorities and services, wherever they are. It also provides for targeted support for women fleeing armed conflict.

03/09/2022: The United Kingdom and the United States support Poland on the supply of arms to Ukraine. -Etienne Mathieu-

Ben Wallace, UK Defense Secretary, expressed the British government’s support for Poland. It is at the forefront of countries helping Ukraine in the war between it and Russia. In addition to welcoming refugees, Poland plans to supply warplanes to Kiev. The Polish Air Force has several MiG-29 aircraft. The United States supports this proposal, proposing to replace the planes supplied by Poland with American aircraft. The British stood alongside Poland, «as a member of NATO», said Ben Wallace. However, the British minister underlined the « enormous responsibility » this represented for the Polish government, which would place Poland « into direct line of fire » from Russia.

03/10/2022: The far-right Spanish party Vox enters the regional government of Castile and Leon. -Etienne Mathieu-

On March 10, 2022, Juan Garcia Gallardo, candidate of Vox in Castile and Leon, expressed his joy at the electoral results of his party. Vox enters the junta, the local government of this autonomous community (Spanish region grouping several provinces). The party obtains three ministries, the vice-presidency of the junta and the presidency of the Cortes – the regional Parliament. Vox has benefited from the conservative right-wing alliance, which has held the region for 30 years, but found itself in the minority in the February 2022 snap elections and had to form a coalition. This is the first time that the far right has returned to executive power in Spain since the end of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in 1975. In this almost federal country, such responsibilities are very important. Castile and Leon includes the northwestern half of the ancient historic region of Castile, which formed the heart of present-day Spain. The autonomous community has just under 2.4 million inhabitants; the region suffers from rural exodus and a lack of public services. The region’s president, Alfonso Fernandez Mañueco, speaks of a « sense agreement » allowing him to form a « stable government ». On the other hand, the Socialist Prime Minister of Spain, Pedro Sanchez, spoke of « bad news for democracy ».

03/10/2022: Katalin Novak is elected President of the Republic of Hungary. -Etienne Mathieu-

On March 10, 2022, the Hungarian Parliament elected Katalin Novak as the new President of the Republic, succeeding Janos Ader. She is the first woman elected to the presidency. Katalin Novak is close to Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the true leader of the parliamentary regime. But this election to the presidential function, essentially ceremonial, remains a real political issue. This is a new victory for Fidesz, the conservative and nationalist party in power, of which Katalin Novak has been vice-president since 2017. She was Secretary of State and then Minister of the Family between 2014 and 2021. In addition to placing one of her faithful to the head of state, Viktor Orban thus reaffirms the importance of social conservatism and traditional family values ​​in his government. This is a strong signal, which comes shortly before the next legislative elections, on April 3. Fidesz and its ally, the Christian Democratic Party (KDNP), currently control two-thirds of Hungary’s unicameral parliament.

03/10-11/2022: The European heads of state meet in Versailles. -Victor Martin- 

On March 10 and 11, the 27 European heads of state met in Versailles, invited by the French President, Emmanuel Macron. This informal summit was marked by the war in Ukraine and focused on the European response to the crisis, whether it was about European Union (EU) aid to Ukraine, European defense or the dependence of European countries on Russian gas. Also discussed were ways to strengthen European sovereignty and to build a new growth model. 

March 10 was dedicated to the situation in Ukraine and the heads of state announced that they will continue « to provide coordinated political, financial, material and humanitarian support ». Josep Borel, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Policy, even proposed doubling European military aid from 500 million to 1 billion euros. This project has not yet been validated by the 27.  On the other hand, the European leaders did not pronounce themselves in favor of an accelerated accession of Ukraine to the EU, but reminded that « Ukraine is part of our European family ».

March 11 was dedicated to European sovereignty and the ways to strengthen it, notably concerning European defense capabilities and energy dependence (in particular with regard to Russia). 

However, due to disagreements, the decision on a potential embargo on Russian hydrocarbons pushed by Poland and the Baltic States was postponed to a summit to be held on March 24 and 25.

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