To face the permanent flow of information in which one piece of news replaces another one, we have decided to offer you a weekly EU news focus: 1 topic/week/theme (on five selected themes: internal affairs, economics, citizenship, international relations, and industry/technology/business).
We hope you will enjoy it and, please, do not hesitate to comment on the content and format of this “European newsletter”.
The row over Gibraltar between the UK and Spain
Spanish fishermen have been protesting at the decision of Gibraltar’s government to install an artificial reef which allegedly aims at “encouraging sea-life to flourish”. Spain argues that the reef was installed outside the territorial waters of Gibraltar, damages the environment, and affects the activities of the Spanish fishing industry. In retaliation, Spain decided to impose stricter controls at the border with Gibraltar, claiming it wants to tackle tobacco smuggling. This created lengthy delays to cross the border and consequently affected the freedom of movement. David Cameron and other British politicians consider that the border checks are politically motivated and, thus, illegal under EU law. Therefore (and quite ironically), the British government asked the Commission, the “guardian of the Treaties”, to “urgently” send observers to the border to investigate the problem and determine whether the Spanish additional controls are “disproportionate” and violate EU rules on free movement. Since Gibraltar (as part of the UK) is not part of the Schengen area, Spain can carry out some border checks, but they must remain “proportionate” under EU law, i.e., a lot will depend upon the interpretation of the notion of “proportionality”. As for Spain’s threat of imposing a levy on crossing the border, the issue is straightforward: it would be totally illegal under EU law. José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, confirmed the Commission would “ensure respect of EU law” and already agreed with Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s PM, that “a Commission fact-finding mission should as soon as possible examine in loco the border control, movement of people and goods questions”. It will not focus only on the British claim, but will also examine the Spanish claims of tobacco smuggling. In any case, the Gibraltar row could drag on for a couple of weeks if no bilateral political solution is found in the meantime.
A third rescue plan for Greece?
Although the German government officially continues to dismiss the idea of a third rescue plan for Greece at the end of next year, several voices start considering this option plausible. So, Wolfgang Schäuble, German Minister of Finance and a heavyweight of Angela Merkel’s CDU party, declared that a third rescue package would be necessary, but he excluded the possibility of a new haircut imposed on Greek bondholders. Indeed, there is some speculation that public loans by the EU Member States, the ECB, and the IMF may be affected by such a measure aimed at reducing the huge Greek debt, if the objective of limiting that debt to 120% in 2020 is to be met. On the other side, the Greek Minister of Finance, Yannis Stournaras quickly dismissed the possibility of a new rescue plan, stating that the Greek government was not contemplating such an option and that the targets set by the Troika for 2014 would be met (the latter point was supported by Angela Merkel in a recent interview). Olli Rehn, Vice-President of the European Commission and in charge of Economic and Monetary Affairs, took an intermediary position, declaring that a new bailout was “not the only option” and that other alternatives were conceivable, e.g., “extending the repayment schedule on existing loans”. A decision could be taken after a programme’s review scheduled this the autumn.
Note: This topic could also have an impact on the German electoral campaign. The SPD, a Europhile party, started playing the dangerous populist game of trying to attract some Eurosceptic voters, with Sigmar Gabriel, its leader, asking Angela Merkel to clarify whether more German money will be needed to avoid a Greek bankruptcy. Indeed, transparency is a good thing but within certain limits, and the Greek issue should not become the central topic of the German electoral campaign.
A Citizen’s agora to combat youth unemployment
The European Parliament will organise a “citizen’s agora” to combat youth unemployment. The aim is to consult those directly concerned by the issue: young people. There will be discussions with both young people in employment and those who do not access the job market. Selectedapplicants will participate in the agora (6-8.11.2013, in Brussels) and make proposals which will then be debated at a “major youth forum to be held in May 2014”, to which some MEPs will take part. Applications can be made until the 31 August! Discover more here.
Reaction of and in the EU to the Egyptian crisis
The bloody clearing of two sit-ins in Cairo and the further killings of pro-Morsi demonstrators in the subsequent days have generated a quasi-global oral criticism of the new Egyptian government controlled by the army.
A statement on behalf of Catherine Ashton, the chief of the EU diplomacy whose mediation failed a few hours before the massacre, indicated that “the confrontation and violence… is not a way forward to address the main political issues and challenges the country is facing at the moment”. William Hague, UK Foreign secretary, expressed his deep concern and disappointment, and he condemned the use of force. The German Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, also urged the authorities to allow peaceful protests and the “other forces” to refrain from using violence. The French foreign ministry condemned “the bloody violence in Egypt in the strongest possible terms”, and called for “an immediate halt to the crackdown”. Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, took the matter to the UN Security Council (with little result, because of China’s and Russia’s opposition to a formal condemnation). The Italian Foreign Minister, Emma Bonino, called for all parties to exert self-control to avoid a further blood bath. It is striking that most Member States reacted with stronger words than the EU.
Getting 28 Member States to agree on a common position is, as usual, not an easy task. Everyone agreed that a quick reaction was necessary, but the proposals ranged from “revising” the relationship with Egypt to suspending financial aid (+/- €5 billion), or even diplomatic links. But there are also diplomatic interests at issue and, in the end, the EU decided to only suspend weapon deliveries. The position could, however, evolve if the repression continues. Denmark has already suspended its bilateral aid. Several countries, e.g., Germany, have frozen development aid and will not support new development projects. Finally, Catherine Ashton announced she was ready to go back for a further mediation, if the various parties to the conflict wish it.
Note: The decision by the EU seems, once more, weak, disappointing, and hostage of the other interests of the EU in the region. Given that the military aid to the Egyptian army comes mainly from the USA, stopping European weapon deliveries is unlikely to impress the new Egyptian rulers. Moreover, Qatar alone provides more aid than the EU, further reducing the European leverage. Furthermore, claiming that Egypt can contribute to the region’s stability makes no longer sense, considering the current state of the country, at the brink of a civil war. In addition, it is true that civilians and civil society organisations should not suffer too much because of their government’s fault. Finally, European leaders should understand that each time they keep a close eye on a violation of the principles they advocate and want to promote worldwide it will get more difficult to spread these same values in other areas (e.g., Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, etc.) where opponents to democracy and individual freedom remain strong. Remains the question: what could and should the EU do? Suspending any financial aid which is administered by the Egyptian government would be a first step. In parallel, the EU should continue its diplomatic efforts to bring all the parties at the table of negotiations (though this will take a long time, if it ever happens). And the EU should also try to convince the Gulf States to stop supporting the new Egyptian regime until it becomes more cooperative and tolerant to peaceful political opposition – of course, violence and terrorism still have to be fought, but the majority of demonstrators are not terrorists.
Further consequences of the US spying affair…
The US spying affair, which arose following Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA (National Security Agency) programmes, continues to trouble minds in Europe. In a recent electoral speech, Angela Merkel, the German outgoing chancellor, declared that Europe and Germany had to think about their capacities in the area of information technologies. She stated that “ensuring the application of a German data protection standard is always more difficult when the data is carried by foreign firms using non-European technologies”. Therefore, she called upon the Europeans to work together “to overcome their dependence upon the American and Chinese technology giants”, e.g., with the emergence of a “European Google”.
Source: Le Monde.
The 28 Ministers of European Affairs will meet in Vilnius for an informal meeting. They will discuss several issues, among others the upcoming European elections of 2014 and the relationship between the European Parliament and the Council since the Lisbon Treaty entered into force.
Source: Lithuanian Presidency of the Council.