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European Union Geopolitical Watch – From May 7 to May 13, 2022

European Union Geopolitical Watch Team: Audrey Moisan, Sara Brouwers, Etienne Mathieu

05/05/2022: Towards a revival of Irish nationalism? Sinn Fein gains a majority in the Northern Irish Parliament. -Audrey Moisan-

As the parliamentary elections in Belfast were held on May 5, 2022, the Irish nationalist party came out with a majority of votes, amassing 29.02% of the votes in the whole of Northern Ireland. This is the first time the party has won an election since its inception.

From a representative point of view, this result allows the party to keep its 27 seats in the Assembly, thus passing the DUP, the unionist party, which lost three seats, going from 28 to 25 representatives.

However, the overall result of these elections must be qualified. Rather than a resurgence of popularity on the part of Sinn Fein, it shows the rise of another party, Alliance, which won an additional nine seats against the two traditional opposition forces, increasing from eight to 17. The latter is committed to communion between the two communities, thus showing a certain willingness in Northern Ireland to initiate peace between supporters of the Union Jack and fervent defenders of Eire.

Finally, this election could rekindle tensions on Northern Irish soil, as the DUP has declared through its representative Jeffrey Donaldson that it will refuse to appoint a deputy prime minister until the Northern Ireland protocol on Brexit is reformed by the British government. This statement could lead to complex negotiations and paralysis of the Northern Irish government.

05/10/2022 : France commemorates the slave trade. -Etienne Mathieu-

Since 2006, France has commemorated the memory of the slave trade every May 10. French President Emmanuel Macron presides over the ceremony in the Jardin du Luxembourg. This ceremony mobilizes especially the French public television channels.

The date corresponds to that of the law passed on May 10, 2001, known as the “Taubira Law”, which recognizes slavery and the slave trade as crimes against humanity. This law provides, in addition to symbolic commemorations, for the teaching of this memory and the history of the slave trade in school programs.

05/12/2022 : Delegations from Qatar and the EU visit Tehran in a bid to revive talks and the 2015 Vienna Agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme. -Sara Brouwers-

While the negotiations on Iran’s civilian nuclear programme, which were supposed to revive the 2015 Vienna Agreement and provide a framework for Iran’s nuclear programme, had been at a standstill since 11 March due to disagreements over the Revolutionary Guard (Tehran wanted to remove Iran’s ideological army from the US blacklist of “foreign terrorist organisations“), the file has been reopened. Indeed, with the support of Joseph Borell and despite Iranian reluctance, the European Union coordinator for negotiations on the Iranian nuclear issue, Enrique Mora, travelled to Tehran to relaunch discussions with the Qatari delegation. According to the official news agency Irna, the Emir of Qatar, Tamim ben Hamad Al Thani, met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raissi, while Enrique Mora held talks with the Iranian chief negotiator Ali Bagheri.

In fact, Iran had engaged a year ago in direct negotiations with Germany, France, China, Russia, Great Britain and indirectly with the United States in order to revive the agreement concluded in 2015 that had put an end to twelve years of crisis, and from which Washington withdrew in 2018 after the multiple opposition of President Donald Trump. In a context where the Iranians refuse to exchange directly with the Americans, considering that the latter have abandoned the agreement and cannot, therefore, be present for the negotiations, they are placing the Europeans in a position of mediator. Josep Borrell told the Financial Times that he was looking for a “middle way” to end the impasse, threatening to sabotage European diplomatic efforts to seal a deal that would lead to the US rejoining the 2015 agreement and lifting sanctions against Iran. For its part, Russia, hit by Western sanctions following its invasion of Ukraine, sought US guarantees that retaliatory measures would not affect its economic cooperation with Iran.

12/05/2022 : The European Commission sets up an aid plan for Ukraine’s grain exports. -Sara Brouwers-

Before the Russian military offensive, 90% of grain and oilseed exports were loaded at Ukrainian ports, but since the invasion, the Black Sea through which the cargo ships passed has been blocked by the Russian navy. The conflict is taking place in the most productive agricultural areas of Ukraine and “Russia has already taken over many ports,” notes Paolin Pascot, co-founder of Agriconomie. Both countries are among the world’s largest exporters, and the conflict is obviously taking shape on the global food market. In total, “twenty million tonnes of grain must leave Ukraine in less than three months using the European Union’s transport infrastructure“, said the European Commissioner for Transport, Adina Valean. 

On 12 May, the European Commission launched an action plan to help Ukraine export its 20 million tonnes of grain in a timely manner through the establishment of “solidarity corridors” and “one-stop shops” by Member States. To address persistent problems such as rail gauge, lack of trucks and ships, the EU executive wanted to optimise the logistics chain with new routes, create a “matchmaking platform” involving Commission services, transport companies and traders to match supply and demand and reserve rail slots. The Commission also noted that “mobile crane structures can be deployed relatively quickly” and that suitable wagons would be “widely available in the EU“.

12/05/2022 : Finland calls for NATO membership “without delay“. -Etienne Mathieu-

The President of the Republic of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, and the Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, issued a joint statement on May 12. In this communiqué, the two Finnish heads of government declare themselves in favour of their country joining NATO “without delay“. The statement said that membership would strengthen Finland’s national security, while improving NATO’s overall defence posture.

A press conference is scheduled for Sunday, May 15 to formalize the Finnish government’s position.

The statement comes in the context of the Russian Federation’s war in Ukraine. A rapprochement, or even membership, of a traditionally neutral Finland in NATO is perceived in the Kremlin as a threat to Russian national security.

Finnish Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen has called on Sweden, Finland’s “closest partner“, to follow suit and apply for membership together. The Scandinavian kingdom, also historically neutral, has been engaged for several years in a process of rearmament for fear of Russia.

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