Region

EU plus

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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Macron travels to New Caledonia to solve the crisis on volatile territory

Macron travels to New Caledonia to solve the crisis on volatile territory

French President Emmanuel Macron embarked on a flight to New Caledonia Tuesday night (21 May) to address an ongoing crisis following a violent insurrection on the French territory. The archipelago, over 15,000 kilometres from mainland France, has become a top priority for the government after a week of violent protests left six people dead. The protests, between pro-independence supporters and French loyalists, were triggered by the French National Assembly’s vote to allow all citizens who have been living in New Caledonia for over 10 years to elect the local legislature. Voting in these elections has previously been reserved for citizens who settled in the archipelago before 1998 or their descendants. Pro-independence forces argue that expanding the electorate would further reduce the influence of the indigenous Kanak population, whose share of the population has decreased since France took control of the territory over 170 years ago. Proponents of the reform argue it is a democratic necessity, noting that current rules exclude even certain New Caledonia-born citizens from voting. 
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A new era of peace in the Eastern Mediterranean

A new era of peace in the Eastern Mediterranean

A ground breaking meeting between the President of Turkiye, Recip Tayip Erdogan, and Greek Prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, on Monday (13 May) is being hailed as the dawn of a new era of peace in the Eastern Mediterranean. Mitsotakis was in Ankara as the guest of the Turkish leader. There are no unsolvable problems between Athens and Ankara, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, as he and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis praised the state of relations between the two neighbors while pledging to further enhance bilateral ties. "We had a constructive and positive meeting and discussed problems in Türkiye-Greece relations; We will solve problems through dialogue," Erdoğan said at a joint news conference with Mitsotakis. Erdoğan said that Ankara and Athens are committed to resolving issues via "cordial dialogue, good neighborly ties, and international law" as outlined in last year's Athens Declaration on Friendly Relations and Good-Neighborliness. Improvement of bilateral relations with Türkiye is yielding concrete and positive results, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said "I can only begin by thanking you for the warm hospitality today in Ankara, it was a fourth meeting in the last 10 months, which I believe proves that the two neighbors can now establish this approach of mutual understanding, no longer as some exception, but as a productive normality that is not negated by the known differences in our positions," Mitsotakis said. He said bilateral relations have been progressing, as agreed by the parties, on three levels: political dialogue, positive agenda and confidence-building measures. "I believe that it is a positive development in a difficult time for international peace, but also for the broader stability in our region," the Greek leader said.

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Borrell briefs EU colleagues after damage limitation trip to Middle East

Borrell briefs EU colleagues after damage limitation trip to Middle East

The foreign ministers of the 27 EU member states held an informal video conference on Monday (20 January) to hear from the EU High Representative for foreign and security policy, Josep Borrell, the results of his recent visit to the Middle East. Borrell travelled to Israel, Palestine, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan from 16-20 November. A statement from his office in Brussels at the start of the visit said that “the visit will take place against the background of the war against Hamas and the deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza, following the 7 October Hamas terrorist attacks against Israel, and in the context of EU’s regional outreach, following-up to the latest European Council and Foreign Affairs Council.”Since the Gaza crisis erupted in October, the European Union has appeared to be confused and undecided.  Deep divisions in the position of many of the member states became evident in somewhat contradictory statements by leaders of the various EU institutions in the early days of the crisis, with some rushing to express solidarity with Israel, whilst others reminding of the long-suffering of the Palestinian people. The problem became more acute as the humanitarian crisis in Gaza escalated sharply following the launch of an Israeli military offensive. The divisions within the EU reached a climax at a vote at the UN General Assembly session on 28 October with some EU members voting for and others against a resolution on Gaza, whilst others simply abstained. Many saw this as a low point in the process of developing a “common foreign and security policy” for the EU, whilst others contemplated the damage that current EU positions were having on future relations with Arab and Muslim countries. The situation improved somehow following a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, where some sort of compromise position emerged. Borrell is constrained in having to reflect not only his position, and that of the European External Action Service, which he leads, but also the view of all the other European institutions and all the 27 member states. No mean task. None of them however appear to fully comprehend the sense of anger and frustration in the Arab and Muslim world at ongoing events in Gaza. As one young Arab commentator put it, the time the EU spoke from the moral high ground has gone, and will not come back. If the EU wants to communicate with the Arab and Muslim world in the future it has to find a new language. Borrell has taken a step in this direction through his visit and his op-eds, but it is just a small step in what promises to be a long and unpleasant journey.
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Commentary
Commentary: EU muddles along in its relations with the South Caucasus

Commentary: EU muddles along in its relations with the South Caucasus

It has been a roller-coaster sort of week for EU relations with the South Caucasus. It started on Wednesday (8 November), with the decision of the European Commission to recommend that Georgia be recognized as a Candidate Country, opening the way for eventual membership. By Tuesday, (14 November) the Foreign Affairs Council was considering providing military assistance to Armenia through possible assistance from the European Peace Facility. In the days in-between relations between the EU and Azerbaijan appeared to have dipped to their lowest point in a decade, with Azerbaijan accusing the EU of inciting separatism. Except that on Wednesday (15 November), the Azerbaijani presidential foreign policy aide surfaced in Brussels where he was told that Azerbaijan was an important partner for the EU in the South Caucasus and that the EU will continue to support the Armenia-Azerbaijan normalisation process to advance a peaceful and prosperous South Caucasus. One would like to think that all this was part of some grand strategy. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov seems to think so, accusing the EU of trying to oust Russia out of the South Caucasus (and Central Asia). But a closer look at this week’s events suggest that the EU is doing, what it often does: muddling along, reacting to events and situations rather than fulfilling some grand strategy. This is risky, and the EU needs to develop a strategic framework for dealing with the South Caucasus. There is an urgent need for the European Union to develop a strategic perspective towards the region that is based on realism, and that has enough support from different stakeholders – Commission, Member States; Parliament – for it to be credible. Developing a comprehensive EU strategy will take time and will require an alignment of different views and interests that may take months, if not years, to achieve. In the meantime however, the EU should have the ambition to publish by early Spring 2024 a short but ambitious statement of intent with its vision for the region that may provide a framework around which different ad hoc policies and initiatives can be organized. The first half of 2024 may offer a window of opportunity for this to happen.
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EU is worried about Armenia

EU is worried about Armenia

The European Union is increasingly worried about Armenia, and attempts to destabilise it both internally and externally. The matter was discussed by the foreign ministers of the 27 member states meeting in Brussels in the format of the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday (14 November). Briefing journalists after the meeting, EU High Representative, Josep Borrell said "The October European Council discussed how to strengthen our cooperation with Armenia and support its democratically elected authorities, its resilience, its security and the continuation of reforms in the country. We decided to beef up our mission in Armenia: more observers and more patrols in sensitive areas of the border.   And we will explore a possible support to Armenia under the European Peace Facility and options for visa-liberalisation for Armenia.  We have to be very much vigilant for any attempts of destabilisation of Armenia, internally and externally. And our message to Azerbaijan has been clear: any violation of Armenia’s territorial integrity will be unacceptable and would have severe consequences for the quality of our relations.   We call for the resumption of negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan and on the work done by the President of the [European] Council [Charles Michel]. We need a peace treaty to be concluded and we are committed to continue our mediation role.   We decided to invite the Armenian Foreign Minister [Ararat Mirzoyan] to join us in the margins of the next, maybe the next, Foreign Affairs Council, it has to be decided - but an upcoming Foreign Affairs Council." In a statement this morning the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected Borrell's statement and accused the EU of inciting separatism.
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European Commission recommends opening EU membership talks with Ukraine and Moldova and  proposes to grant Georgia EU candidate status

European Commission recommends opening EU membership talks with Ukraine and Moldova and proposes to grant Georgia EU candidate status

The European Commission has taken a step towards the enlargement of the European Union by recommending the opening of formal EU membership talks with Ukraine and Moldova. The Commission's endorsement is significant as it could lead to Ukraine, currently in conflict with Russia, joining the EU. However, both Ukraine and Moldova will be required to accelerate their internal reforms to meet EU standards. The EU had previously recognised Ukraine as a potential candidate, and this latest development is a continuation of that process. Moldova is on a similar path. The recommendations are part of the EU's routine assessment of potential new members to ensure they are in line with EU rules and values. The final decision on this matter will be taken by EU leaders at a summit in Brussels in December. In the wider context of the enlargement strategy, the Commission has also suggested that Georgia could be granted candidate status if it implements certain reforms. The commission statement says: Georgia has taken steps to strengthen engagement with the EU and increased pace of reforms in the recent months. To address the twelve priorities identified in the Commission Opinion on its membership application, Georgia has adopted legislative acts and policy actions on gender equality, on fighting violence against women and organised crime, as well as on taking into account European Court of Human Rights judgments. A judicial reform has been brought forward although a holistic reform of the High Council of Justice is still needed. Georgia has shared laws as well as its action plan for deoligarchisation with the Venice Commission for an opinion. A strategy on the protection of human rights was adopted and an action plan is being elaborated. A memorandum of cooperation with civil society representatives was concluded. Building a strong cross-party political consensus would contribute to addressing polarisation and accelerate its European path. The Commission has also proposed steps for six Western Balkan countries that want to join the EU, with Bosnia and Herzegovina mentioned as a potential candidate for negotiations "once the necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria is achieved".
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Opinion
Opinion: EU-Azerbaijan relations are important for both sides

Opinion: EU-Azerbaijan relations are important for both sides

EU-Azerbaijan relations are important for both sides, and the Brussels format of the Armenia-Azerbaijani peace talks, are likewise important to reach negotiated solutions over the remaining unresolved questions between Baku and Yerevan, writes Vasif Huseynov in this op-ed for commonspace.eu. "The reactivation of the Brussels format and the revitalization of the constructive role of the EU in the South Caucasus should happen sooner rather than later. A balanced approach by the EU and its leading member states vis-à-vis the countries of the region is of utmost necessity towards this end", he argues.
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Ambitious EU-Central Asia agenda requires political will and public engagement

Ambitious EU-Central Asia agenda requires political will and public engagement

It was overshadowed by more dramatic events in the world, yet despite this, the 19th  EU-Central Asia Ministerial meeting held in Luxembourg on 23 October was a significant event, and another step in the process of building closer co-operation between Europe and the countries of Central Asia. A statement from Brussels said that “for the EU, the Ministerial meeting was an opportunity to highlight its strong commitment to the region and stress the importance of deeper cooperation in the context of the challenges emerging from regional dynamics, with a focus on the fall-out of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and the situation in Afghanistan.” A joint communique issued after the meeting covered a wide range of issues, and indicated the expanding agenda in the relations between the two group of countries. commonspace.eu political editor said in a comment that the documents coming out of the Luxembourg Meeting of EU and Central Asia foreign ministers on 23 October are significant – they are not only declaratory as sometimes such statements are, but also offer a large number of tangible frameworks, proposals and action points that should keep officials on both sides busy for a while. The two sides have set an ambitious agenda for their future co-operation, but implementing this agenda is going to require political commitment. That will ensure its success up to a point. More will depend on public engagement on both sides, and securing that may be even more challenging.
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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.