European Union Geopolitical Watch – From May 28 to June 3, 2022

European Union Geopolitical Watch Team: Sara Brouwers, Amandine Paillette, Antoine Bézier, Léo Caget, Louis Harand, Etienne Mathieu

05/30/2022: The extraordinary European Council delivers its conclusions on the situation in Ukraine. -Sara Brouwers-

This Monday, the Summit on Ukraine concluded with the sentence “the atrocities that continue to be committed by Russian forces and the suffering and destruction inflicted are beyond comprehension”. This Summit refers to the Council that was held on May 19 about the preservation of evidence and the denunciation of war crimes committed in Ukraine by the Russian army. The only conclusion was that international humanitarian law was not respected. Faced with this, the European heads of state had set up a joint investigation team coordinated by Eurojust and supported by Europol so that Russia, Belarus and those responsible for these crimes could be held accountable in accordance with international law. At the Summit, European leaders also ordered Russia to allow immediate access for humanitarian aid, safe passage for all affected civilians, the return of forcibly displaced Ukrainians to Russia, and the withdrawal of Russian troops and all military equipment from all Ukrainian territory.

In view of the Russian blockades of Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea, the Council strongly condemned the destruction and illegal appropriation by Russia of agricultural production in Ukraine. Thus, in order to limit the effects of this blockade, the European Council invited the Member States to intensify work on the solidarity corridors proposed by the Commission and to facilitate food exports from Ukraine via different land routes and ports of the European Union. In addition, the Council also decided to suspend import duties on all Ukrainian exports to the European Union for one year.

In the area of defense and security, the European Council called for a strengthening of “programmatic and industrial” cooperation between its members. Indeed, determined to continue strengthening Ukraine’s ability to defend its territorial integrity and sovereignty, the European Council concluded “to increase military support to Ukraine within the framework of the European Peace Facility”. From a political point of view, the European Union and the Member States committed themselves to multiplying their efforts to fight against the manipulation of information in Russia and to prevent the circumvention of the above-mentioned sanctions.

05/30/2022: European Union leaders agree on a gradual embargo on Russian oil. -Léo Caget-

At a summit held on Monday May 30th, the heads of state and government of the European Union agreed on a progressive embargo on Russian oil shipments to the EU. The decisions taken would immediately affect oil arriving by sea, which represents two-thirds of total imports of this fossil fuel from Russia. As the decision had to be taken by unanimity, a compromise was adopted to lift the veto of Viktor Orban from Hungary, a landlocked country that depends on the Droujba pipeline for 65% of its oil imports. Despite this adjustment, by the end of the year, “Almost 90% of Russian oil imported into the European Union will be affected by this measure”, according to European Council President Charles Michel. French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country still holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council, tweeted, “Russia is making the choice to continue its war in Ukraine. As Europeans, united and in solidarity with the Ukrainian people, we are taking new sanctions tonight. We have decided to end 90% of Russian oil imports by the end of 2022.”

This new measure will be part of the 6th package of sanctions against Russia after several weeks of negotiations. Following an announcement made the next day, Tuesday, May 31st, by the President of the European Commission Ursula Von Der Leyen, these sanctions would concern new Russian personalities, and in particular the exclusion from the international banking system SWIFT of 3 new Russian banks, including Sberbank, the most important. 

05/30/2022: A French journalist is killed in Ukraine. -Etienne Mathieu-

In the afternoon of May 30, the journalist Frederic Leclerc-Imhoff was killed in Ukraine. He was reporting on a convoy evacuating civilians from the Sievierodonetsk region in eastern Ukraine, where fighting continues to be intense. The French journalist was hit by shrapnel after a Russian shot.

Frederic Leclerc-Imhoff had been working for BFMTV for six years. The report that cost him his life at the age of 32 was his second mission in Ukraine. He was accompanied by journalist Maxime Brandstaetter, who was slightly injured, and a Ukrainian translator, Oksana Leuta. Both are fine, according to Mr. Patrick Sauce, a senior reporter for BFMTV.

The new Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne, expressed her sympathy to the family of the missing man in a tweet. Catherine Colonna, Minister of Foreign Affairs, exchanged with Volodomyr Zelensky. She asked for the opening of an investigation on “a drama that is actually a crime“. This investigation has been entrusted to the Central Office for Combating Crimes against Humanity and Hate Crimes, by decision of the National Anti-Terrorist Prosecutor.

The secessionist government of the Lugansk People’s Republic, supported by Russia, justified the death of the photojournalist by accusing him of having participated in “deliveries of arms and ammunition” to Ukrainian troops.

05/31/2022: Spain partially opens its borders to Moroccan workers in Ceuta and Melilla. -Antoine Bézier-

On Tuesday 31st May, Spain opened the borders of its two enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla to Moroccan border workers. However, this remains limited to Moroccans with a valid work contract. However, from Wednesday, between 35 and 40 illegal Moroccan workers will be able to cross the border each day and regularise their situation with the Spanish authorities. According to a spokesperson for the Ceuta prefecture, “the objective is a gradual and orderly reopening and, above all, to put an end to the underground economy“. On the night of 16-17 May, the borders between Spain and Morocco had reopened after more than two years of closure, and only holders of passports or visas from Schengen countries were concerned. The border crossings of Ceuta and Melilla were closed in March 2020 during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, and this state was prolonged throughout 2021 due to a diplomatic crisis between Rabat and Madrid over the Western Sahara issue. The quarrel started in April 2021, when Spain welcomed the leader of the Polisario Front (a political and armed movement supported by Algiers, and fighting since 1976 against the Moroccan state and for the independence of Western Sahara) Brahim Ghali, to be treated for Covid-19. A dramatic turnaround occurred on 18th March 2022, when Madrid recognised and approved the autonomy plan proposed by Rabat for the former Spanish territory. Through this decision, Spain would like to obtain from Morocco a firmer management of migratory flows, while the Moroccan authorities skimped on border controls (supposedly in a logic of blackmail), which resulted in a migratory crisis in May 2021. As part of this reopening, Rabat and Madrid decided to stop smuggling between the two enclaves and Moroccan territory. This duty-free trade, which deprived Moroccan customs of important revenues, brought in between 600 and 800 million euros per year in Ceuta and around 500 million in Melilla, so a serious blow to the economy of both cities and local traders are at odds with the new customs system. The Moroccan authorities have tried to find a solution by inaugurating an economic activity zone (EAZ) in Fnideq in February 2022. This project, which required an investment of 200 million dirhams, is expected to create 1,000 direct jobs and put an end to smuggling. 

06/01/2022: Historical referendum on the participation of Denmark in the European defense policy, the Danes voted in favor. -Amandine Paillette-

On June 1st, the Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen called the Danish citizens to participate in an exceptional referendum concerning the country’s foreign policy. In 1992, Denmark had negotiated an “opt-out” clause allowing the country not to participate in the European Union’s Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). The consultation was thus about the end or not of the exception from which the country has benefited for almost 30 years, the question was the following; “Are you for or against the participation of Denmark in the European security and defense cooperation by abolishing the option of withdrawal on the defense of the European Union?“. Among the 4,260,944 registered voters, 66.60% were in favour of ending the country’s withdrawal option from CSDP and associating the country to European policy. Approved by more than two-thirds of voters, this referendum was a direct consequence of the war in Ukraine. The Danish Prime Minister had declared following the results “We show that when Putin invades a free country and threatens the stability of Europe, we come together”

In this context, several Nordic countries are reviewing their security policies. Thus, Sweden and Finland had submitted their applications for membership in NATO, three months after the start of the armed conflict. 

06/01/2022: Conference on the EU Strategic Compass, organised in Sofia within the framework of the French Presidency of the EU. -Louis Harand-

The Minister of Defence, Dragomir Zakov, the Deputy Minister, Yordan Bojilov, and the French Delegate General for Armaments, Joël Barre, were among the speakers at the international conference on the European Union’s Strategic Compass, organised jointly on 31 May by the French Embassy in Bulgaria, the “G. S. Rakovski”  Military Academy and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, within the framework of the French Presidency of the Council of the EU. In her introductory speech, the French Ambassador, Mrs Florence Robine, stressed that Russia’s actions constitute a direct threat to security in Europe.

Asked about the protection of Bulgarian airspace, Minister Zakov confirmed that the mission of the Dutch F-35 aircraft was coming to an end on 31 May and that it was not yet clear which country would take over from June. Zakov noted that Bulgaria has several alternatives, including the deployment of other foreign fighters or enhanced air policing. “Bulgaria will be supported and will continue to be supported. It will not be left alone,” he said, adding that Turkish aircraft could ensure the protection of the country’s airspace.

06/01/2022: German government announces delivery of air defence system to Ukraine. -Antoine Bézier-

During the general debate in the Bundestag on Wednesday 1st June, in a heated argument with the leader of the opposition, the Christian Democrat (CDU) Friedrich Merz, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced new arms deliveries to Ukraine. In particular, Germany will deliver to Ukraine the most modern air defence system it has. It corresponds to the IRIS-T guided missile, equipped with an infrared seeker and digital signal processing, which locates its target autonomously. According to the Social Democratic Chancellor (SPD), Ukraine will thus be able to “protect an entire large city from Russian air attacks”. In addition, Ukraine should receive radars to detect enemy howitzers, mortars and rocket launchers. For several weeks, the German government has been accused of supporting Ukraine too timidly and of not delivering enough weapons, especially heavy ones. These announcements are a response to criticism. Friedrich Merz had accused the tripartite government of not having delivered the promised weapons and reproached Olaf Scholz for not explicitly stating that he wanted Ukraine to win. In an unusually vehement tone, the German Chancellor defended his record, and in particular the unprecedented decision to deliver arms to war zones, which broke with German tradition since 1945.

06/02/2022: The European Union and Jordan meet to define new priorities in their partnership. -Sara Brouwers

On Thursday, the Jordanian Foreign Minister, Ayman Safadi, and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, signed the new priorities of the partnership between the European Union and Jordan (until 2027), in accordance with the new EU agenda. During this discussion, the European Union made available to Jordan “364 million euros” in aid to achieve three objectives. The first was to deepen their cooperation on regional security and stability. In this respect, they reaffirmed their common vision for the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The second objective was to promote sustainable economic stability. For example, in order to support the fields of renewable energy and water resources management in Jordan, the European Union agreed to support the Aqaba water desalination project in Amman with a contribution of 50 million euros. The last objective addressed was the strengthening of good governance and respect for human rights. While last June, King Abdullah II ordered the creation of a royal commission with the aim of modernizing the legislative system, on Thursday the Hashemite kingdom confirmed its efforts with its “modernisation and reform programme aimed at further increasing political participation and further protecting fundamental freedoms and the rule of law”. The European Union, “aware of Jordan’s extraordinary generosity” in hosting Syrian refugees, reaffirmed its willingness to provide assistance to the host country and to the refugees in question. During the meeting, Josep Borell spoke of the “special relationship” and “a trust between them”. This demonstration of trust echoes the appointment of Ahmad Massadeh as Secretary General of the Union for the Mediterranean in 2010. On Thursday 2 June, for the first time since their first partnership, the Association Council was held in Jordan, confirming the words of Josep Borell: the desire for a renewed partnership based on a similar vision and common interests.

06/03/2022: The European Union reiterates its support to the Ukrainian authorities by taking a sixth package of sanctions against Russia. -Amandine Paillette- 

On June 3, the Council of the European Union reacted firmly through two press releases to the evolution of the conflict in Ukraine.

First, it blamed Moscow’s attempts to integrate the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. Indeed, through a decree of May 25 and 30, the Russian president had among other things put in place measures facilitating the obtaining of Russian passports for Ukrainians living in the two self-proclaimed regions of Ukraine, recognized as independent by Russia on February 21. Following these decisions of the Russian government, the Council of UE declared “Any attempts to alter the status of parts of Ukrainian territory are a clear violation of international law, the UN Charter and Ukraine’s Constitution, they further undermine sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and will not be recognised by the European Union“. Recalling at the same time its unwavering support for the Ukrainian people. 

In a second step, it was announced the adoption of a sixth package of sanctions against Russia and Belarus, recognized as supporting the Russian aggression of Ukraine. This new wave of sanctions was approved on Thursday, June 2. The Council of the EU used strong terms stating “In light of Russia’s continuing war of aggression against Ukraine and Belarus’ support to it, as well as the reported atrocities committed by Russian armed forces in Ukraine, the Council decided today to impose a sixth package of economic and individual sanctions targeting both Russia and Belarus“. This new package of sanctions focuses thus on economic exchanges between the European Union, Russia and Belarus. It also targets new individuals. 

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