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European Union Geopolitical Watch – From May 14 to May 20, 2022

European Union Geopolitical Watch Team : Sara Brouwers, Audrey Moisan, Louis Harand, Léo Caget, Etienne Mathieu

05/15/2022: Switzerland people vote “Yes” to the referendum on Frontex agency. -Léo Caget-

Swiss citizens voted 71.48% “Yes” in a referendum on Sunday, May 15th, on the financing of the European Coast Guard and Border Guard Agency, better known as Frontex. The initiative for this referendum came from left-wing parties, condemning the activities of the European body, whose executive director Fabrice Leggeri had resigned in April 2022, following an investigation by the European Anti-Fraud Office. He had been accused of tolerating pushbacks at European borders that were considered illegal and contrary to European law, as well as of being indulgent towards the Greek authorities on these practices.

The referendum was to decide on the increase in resources for Frontex, to reach the goal of 10,000 coast guards and border guards by 2027. Parties from the center to the far right, some of which are particularly critical of agreements with the EU, had warned against the risks of exclusion from the Schengen and Dublin agreements, of which Switzerland remains a member. Marie-France Roth Pasquier, a Swiss deputy from the Centre, commented on the outcome of the vote with these words: “when we talk about security, we manage to have a majority of citizens in Switzerland who support this security.” However, if the “Yes” vote wins by a large majority, the Swiss daily newspaper Le Temps adds a nuance by indicating that the people behind the referendum have “put their finger on justified criticisms of a European agency whose budget has grown exponentially“.

Switzerland’s participation in the agency is expected to increase progressively from 6 to 40 posts, and from 24 to 58 million euros in financial support.

05/16/2022: Resignation of Jean Castex Government in France, appointment of the new Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne. -Leo Caget-

On May 16th, French Prime Minister Jean Castex submitted the resignation of his Government to the recently re-elected President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron. The choice of the person who would replace him had been pending for several weeks now.

It is finally Elisabeth Borne who has been appointed by Emmanuel Macron. She has been a member of Territoires de progrès since 2020, a party considered the left wing, social democratic, of the presidential majority. According to most analysts and political observers she would have a “technician” profile. She has held various positions during her career, prefect of the Poitou-Charentes region in 2013, then a member of Ségolène Royal’s cabinet at the Ministry of Ecology the following year, under President François Hollande. She also directed from 2015 to 2017 the Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens. In 2017, she became Minister of Transport, then Minister of Ecological Transition and Solidarity in 2019, and finally Minister of Labor, Employment and Integration under the Government Jean Castex.

Despite a personality considered rather discreet, she is nevertheless known for the passage of two complex and difficult reforms that had generated some agitation: the reform of the railroads, as well as the reform of unemployment insurance at the end of 2021. She is particularly expected today on the pension reform, which could not pass in 2021, as well as on the fight against climate change. In her inaugural speech, she mentioned the current and future challenges: “You can count on me to continue on this path in the face of the many challenges that lie ahead. I am thinking in particular of the international situation, but also of the climate and ecological challenge on which we must act faster and stronger.

Formerly close to certain left-wing figures such as Jack Lang or Lionel Jospin and affirming herself in February 2022 to be “a left-wing woman” she nevertheless quickly came under criticism, particularly from Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the left-wing alliance NUPES formed in view of the legislative elections of June 12 and 19: “A new season of social and ecological abuse has begun. Elisabeth Borne embodies the continuity of the policy of the President of the Republic“. Within the Republican right, opinions are more mixed, but the far right has openly expressed its disagreement with this choice. Marine Le Pen, second in the presidential election in April, tweeted this Monday, May 16: “By appointing Elisabeth Borne as Prime Minister, Emmanuel Macron demonstrates his inability to bring people together and the desire to continue his policy of contempt, deconstruction of the state, social ransacking, tax racket and laxity.

05/18/2022 : Europe “perishes“, Russia “will save it“. How has Russian propaganda in Bulgaria intensified in a few months? -Louis Harand- 

Russian propaganda in Bulgaria has increased tenfold since the start of the war against Ukraine, show the results of a study by the Foundation for Humanitarian and Social Research. From the beginning of the year until 24 February 2022, when Russia attacked Ukraine, Bulgarian online media published an average of 39 articles in defence of the Kremlin per day. Since the start of the war, this figure has risen to an average of 397 articles per day. According to researchers, Russian propaganda in Bulgaria presents the world as a geopolitical conspiracy in which the US is destroying Europe and Russia is the one who will save it.

Among the main theories spread in the Bulgarian public space are the assumptions that: i) “the US, NATO and Western countries want to achieve global domination” while ii) “the “venal” liberal elites help them to achieve their goal“. At the same time iii) “Europe is perishing” while iv) “Russia is being reborn and is the only one who can save the old continent“. Other Russian propaganda messages include claims that sanctions against Russia only harm those who impose them, as well as claims that Ukraine is run by neo-Nazis.

05/18/2022: Russia retaliates against Russian diplomats suspected of spying in France. – Sara Brouwers-

While Paris had already sent back the 41 Russian diplomats, it is today that the French diplomats in Russia were forced to leave the country.

France sent them back for attempted espionage, saying that the sanction was part of a European approach. Russia decided to respond to this by also sending back European diplomats. For the Quai d’Orsay, Russia’s response was therefore illegitimately unfounded. The same was true for Spain and Italy. The former had 27 of its diplomats expelled and Italy 24 in retaliation for previous expulsions by Madrid and Rome. Mario Draghi referred to these expulsions as “a hostile act“. The Quai d’Orsay also recalled what French diplomacy underlines regarding the presence of diplomats: “The work of diplomats and staff of our embassy in Russia is, on the contrary, fully within the framework of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic and Consular Relations“.

In addition, dozens of Belgian, Dutch, Swedish, Polish and Austrian diplomats have also been expelled in recent weeks.

05/18/2022: Sweden and Finland apply to join NATO, Turkey vetoes. -Etienne Mathieu-

On May 18, Sweden and Finland formalized their application to join NATO. Finland had mentioned this joint application to the two neighbouring countries as early as May 12, through its President Sauli Niiniströ and its Prime Minister Sanna Marin. Sweden subsequently expressed interest in the proposal. Both countries are now candidates to join the Atlantic Alliance.

This candidacy is motivated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has been underway for almost three months. This invasion has reinforced Sweden’s and Finland’s concerns about Russian aggression. Sweden had already been complaining for several years, and especially since the first Russian-Ukrainian crisis in 2014, about intrusions by Russian military aircraft into Baltic Sea airspace.

This is a historic decision for two traditionally neutral countries – a neutrality that dates back to 1945 for Finland, and even to the late nineteenth century for Sweden. Faced with the Russian threat, Sweden has increased its military budgets for several years, and in 2017 reinstated the military service suspended in 2010. As for Finland, its current borders are the result of territorial concessions made to Stalin during the Second World War.

NATO membership requires the unanimous agreement of the Alliance’s members. The accession of the two Nordic countries is blocked by Turkey’s veto. The subject will be discussed at the next NATO summit, to be held in Madrid on June 29 and 30.

05/19/2022: Irish protocol questioned: towards a resurgence of Brexit-related issues. -Audrey Moisan-

This May 17, 2022, following the political impasse in which the Northern Irish government finds itself after the election of Sinn Fein as the majority party, the British government is threatening to change the Northern Irish protocol around Brexit.

This protocol was one of the main points of contention during the Brexit negotiations between 2019 and 2020. It consists of creating a border between Ireland and Great Britain, in order to keep the entire Irish island in the European Customs Union, and also to avoid the return of a “hard border”, a controlled border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The protocol was necessary in view of the tensions between Irish nationalists and unionists, which have led to fears of a return to the “Troubles”, of which the Bloody Sunday massacre remains one of the most striking symbols.

Ending this protocol would mean the end of the border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and a return to customs posts between the two Irelands. The British threat appears to be a means of pressure so that the Northern Irish will find an agreement regarding the establishment of the new government, between nationalist and unionist wills.

But these threats also seem to affect the European Union, which, on May 19, disagreed with the statements made by Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Commonwealth and Development. The renegotiation of the protocol would indeed have an impact on the borders of the Customs Union, and therefore on the European Union.

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