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Stories in this section cover the EU-27 countries plus the UK, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Andorra and the Balkan Countries (Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia).

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UN General Assembly overwhelmingly votes for a humanitarian truce in Gaza leading to a cessation of hostilities

UN General Assembly overwhelmingly votes for a humanitarian truce in Gaza leading to a cessation of hostilities

The United Nations General Assembly on Friday (27 October), voted overwhelmingly, with 120 countries in favour, 14 against and 45 abstentions, to a resolution calling for an end of hostilities in Gaza and for humanitarian relief to the Palestinian people of Gaza. The resolution calls for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities.” The vote, whilst not binding, gives moral support to efforts to get a similar resolution passed in the Security Council. As decided by the General Assembly earlier, the resolution required a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting to be adopted. There are 193 members of the United Nations. Most members of the Non-Aligned Movement, eight members of the European Union, and UN Security Council members France, China  and Russia were amongst those voting for the resolution. There could be noted however divisions in the voting patterns of EU members: Several of the EU 27 member states voted for the resolution, including: Belgium, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Spain and Slovenia. Five, joined the United States and Israel to vote against, namely Austria, Croatia, Czechia, Hungary Most EU countries abstained, including Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, The Netherlands, Poland and Romania, Slovakia and Sweden. Of the three South Caucasus countries, Armenia and Azerbaijan voted for the resolution, Georgia abstained. Ukraine and Moldova also abstained.
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Dennis Sammut: The EU needs a comprehensive strategy towards the South Caucasus

Dennis Sammut: The EU needs a comprehensive strategy towards the South Caucasus

The 2023 APRI Forum is taking place at the Marriott Hotel in Yerevan on 25-27 October 2023. More than a hundred participants from Armenia and beyond are participating. Speaking at the event in Yerevan on Thursday, 26 October, LINKS Europe Director, Dr Dennis Sammut, spoke about relations between the European Union and the South Caucasus. He said that since the 1990s EU policy was guided by four pillars: Support for the independence of the three South Caucasus countries; support for peace and the peaceful resolution of conflicts in the region; political and economic stability; and prosperity. Whilst these principles guided EU policy towards the region there was not a comprehensive policy towards the region, mainly because the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict made any sort of regional interaction difficult. Thus whilst there is an EU Strategy towards Central Asia, and towards the Black Sea Region, there is no EU strategy towards the South Caucasus. One of the consequences has been that the EU has mainly been conducting its relations with the three countries bilaterally. Dennis Sammut said that the time has now come to develop a regional approach in EU policy towards the region, and that an eventual Armenia-Azerbaijan normalisation of relations will open the way for this to happen. This opportunity needs to be seized. Dennis Sammut said that currently the EU has different contractual relations with the three South Caucasus, and bilateral relations will continue to be important. Speaking about EU Armenia relations, Dennis Sammut said that relations between the Armenian state and Europe were stronger today than they have been since the time of Byzantium. The challenge was to turn this from simply symbolic expressions to tangible co-operation. He said that the EU and Armenia should prioritise four sectors: Institution building; education; innovation and connectivity. Think tanks and civil society need to work to develop tangible ideas on how this work can be taken forward. The speaker warned that recent signs of displeasure in Moscow at the policies of the Armenian government may lead to some actions from Russia to try to put pressure on Armenia, and the EU needs to be ready to stand by Armenia in such circumstances. Dennis Sammut said that EU relations with the South Caucasus in general and with Armenia in particular need to keep in mind three important realities: first, the EU is not the provider of hard security – it is not a military alliance, such as NATO, and what it can provide in areas of security was limited; second the EU was not an ATM: it can provide financial support, as it has done in the past, but expectations of what kind of assistance can be expected need to be managed; third, the EU is not a charity, but a geo-political player. It has its own interests in the South Caucasus and these need to be recognised. A solid relationship is one in which both sides recognise the other’s interests. Dennis Sammut said that increased EU engagement in the South Caucasus may bring a reaction from Russia. Russia has for decades been trying to exclude other international actors from being active in the region. The EU is not interested in excluding anyone, but is not ready to be excluded either.
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Toivo Klaar: "We are moving slowly in the right direction"

Toivo Klaar: "We are moving slowly in the right direction"

A meeting with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan will be held in Brussels in the very near future, but it will not be held before the end of this month as had been previously hoped. This was stated by the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus, Toivo Klaar. Speaking about the state of Armenia-Azerbaijan negotiations that are being facilitated by the European Union, Klaar said "We are moving slowly in the right direction". The EUSR for the South Caucasus addressed the forum "Making Progress in time of uncertainty" organised in Yerevan by the Applied Policy Research Institute, Armenia. Klaar spoke to participants on-line from Brussels. In his address Klaar spoke about the reaction of the European Union to events in Nagorno-Karabakh in September and said that the EU had taken a clear position , which was robustly communicated to interested parties. The EU is now calling for conditions to be created for the safe return of Armenians displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh. As regards on-going negotiations, Toivo Klaar said that the situation now is qualitatively different. The objective is the normalisation of relations between the sovereign state of Azerbaijan and the sovereign state of Armenia. There is now a window of opportunity to move forward with the objective of normalising relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The signing of a peace treaty is not an aim in itself, but simply an expression of this objective. Klaar said that peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan will have benefit for the whole region, and the aim of the EU was to see the South Caucasus as a place where all countries have normal diplomatic relations, there is movement of people and goods, and the whole region is opened up for economic co-operation. Speaking about Russia, EUSR Klaar said that the EU is not in the business of including and excluding anyone from the South Caucasus. Russia was an important close neighbour of the region and has its interests, as have the EU and the US. Klaar criticised the negative rhetoric coming from Moscow. Toivo Klaar said the EU will continue to support civil society initiatives aimed at promoting trust and confidence across the South Caucasus. He however emphasised that this can never be an alternative to political will on the part of the governments who need to lead by changing official narratives.
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EU and US leaders say they are "bound together by the most dynamic relationship on earth"

EU and US leaders say they are "bound together by the most dynamic relationship on earth"

A summit between the US and the EU has re-affirmed the resilience of the transatlantic relationship at a time of increased global turmoil. On Friday (20 October), EU leaders, notably the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, met with US President, Joe Biden, and the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, in Washington DC. The summit was an opportunity to review the close transatlantic partnership and areas of cooperation within the partnership. At the end of the summit the leaders adopted a joint statement, which includes a roadmap to underpin and further strengthen the relationship for years to come. A statement issued at the end of the meeting said: Representing nearly 800 million citizens, united by our values and bound together by the most dynamic relationship on earth, we reaffirm our commitment to a transatlantic partnership that delivers for all our people. The statement added that the EU and the US are close and like-minded partners that share a strong bond and a commitment to a rules-based international order and effective multilateralism. The summit also discussed global issues, including Africa, the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Indo-Pacific Region. On the Caucasus, the summit statement said that the EU and the US remain fully committed to supporting Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and its European perspective.  They also said that they remain committed to advancing a lasting peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan based on mutual recognition of sovereignty, inviolability of borders and territorial integrity. We urge Azerbaijan to ensure the rights and security of those who remain in Nagorno-Karabakh as well as for those who wish to return to their homes. We also call for all parties to adhere to the principle of non-use of force and threat of use of force.
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Pashinyan:  "Armenia is ready to be closer to the European Union, as much as the European Union considers it possible." 

Pashinyan: "Armenia is ready to be closer to the European Union, as much as the European Union considers it possible." 

Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan on Tuesday, 17 October spoke to the European Parliament meeting in Strasbourg addressing important issues of Armenia-EU relations, peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and South Caucasus regional co-operation. commonspace.eu political editor said in a comment that this was one of Pashinyan's most important speeches since he took office as leader of Armenia in 2018. Throughout his speech Pashinyan made reference to "common values" and to "democracy", saying that for Armenia this was a strategic choice, and not a choice dictated by circumstances. Pashinyan said that "Armenia is ready to be closer to the European Union, as much as the European Union considers it possible."  But Pashinyan focused most in his speech on peace in  the South Caucasus and Armenia-Azerbaijan relations. He spoke in detail about the issues under consideration, stating "we are ready to sign a peace and relations settlement agreement with Azerbaijan by the end of the year."
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Donald Tusk set to become Poland's next leader

Donald Tusk set to become Poland's next leader

After parliamentary elections held on Sunday (15 October) in Poland, Donald Tusk is set to become the country's next leader. Exit polls results after the close of voting showed that Poland’s opposition parties look like they’ve won convincingly opening the way for the leader of the Civic Coalition led by former president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, to become the country's next leader. Whilst the current governing party, the Law and Justice (PiS) party still emerged as the largest party, winning 36.8 percent of the vote, it will still not be enough to form a government and other opposition parties are likely to join the Civic Coalition, which won 31.6 percent, to form the new government. Two smaller opposition parties, the center-right Third Way which won 13 percent, and the Left which won 8.6 percent, are likely to join the new government. A far-right Confederation won 6.2 percent, but is unlikely to be included in the new coalition. In 2019, PiS won 43.6 percent of the vote. The poll was conducted by IPSOS and was shared with Poland’s three main television networks. The poll has a 2 percent margin of error. Turnout was was high at 73 percent. If the exit poll results are confirmed, the Law and Justice will win 200 seats, Civic Coalition 163, Third Way 55, the Left 30 and Confederation will take 12. Poland is one of the largest and most important members of the European Union but in recent years its government has clashed continuously with the European institutions, as the PiS tried to implement changes in the judicial system and other sectors of government that Brussels considered to be against accepted European norms and values.
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EU and GCC countries hold first joint ministerial meeting in eight years amidst deepening crisis in the Middle East

EU and GCC countries hold first joint ministerial meeting in eight years amidst deepening crisis in the Middle East

It has been planned for many months, and it took place for the first time after a gap of eight years, but the meeting of the foreign ministers of the six GCC countries and the 27 EU member states when it eventually took place yesterday in Muscat, capital of Oman, was inevitably overshadowed by the deepening crisis in the Middle  East triggered by Saturday's attack by Hamas on Southern Israel. Addressing the issue, whilst speaking to the media at the end of the meeting, EU High Representative Josep Borrell stated that in the meeting, the two sides agreed that "the priority is to cease violence and to prevent further regional escalation. It is of utmost importance to ensure the release of hostages, as well as the protection of civilians at all times and by all parties."  commonspace.eu political editor said in a comment that it is good that after years of neglect, the EU is finally giving relations with the Gulf Co-operation Council countries the importance that they deserve. The final declaration from the Muscat meeting is ambitious and wide ranging. It needs to be seen how the EU proposes to take it forward, and what is the mechanism it will put in place to ensure that it does not remain merely a piece of paper. The final declaration announces the holding of an EU-GCC summit of Heads of State and Government but gives no details. Whilst this summit will need to be well prepared, the aim should be to have it as soon as possible. But in the meantime the crisis in Middle East will remain the topic of the day for a while, and it is good that, even if by co-incidence of timing, the EU and the GCC countries could co-ordinate their positions in such a sensitive time.