Connect with us

Europe

“Gas War”: Europe as a Battleground

Published

on

On October 11, the US Congress presented a bill aimed at reducing Russian gas supplies to EU (!). According to TASS, the document envisages the allocation of $1 billion to finance projects on the use of new sources of energy in the EU, as well as the provision of diplomatic and technical assistance to the European Union between 2019 and 2023. The bill envisages measures for a number of US government agencies to support private US investment in strategically important energy projects in Central and Eastern Europe.

It also proposes to allocate an annual $5 million for project evaluation and technical seminars for early stage project support. The State Department is advised to ramp up political and diplomatic assistance to certain countries in the development of their energy markets. The draft of the European Energy Security and Diversification Act was submitted by the chairman of the Senate subcommittee on European and regional security cooperation, Ron Johnson, and a fellow subcommittee member, Senator Chris Murphy.

On October 17, Russia’s Deputy Energy Minister Anatoly Yanovsky said that Russia is the only country capable of offering Europe such great volumes of natural gas so cheap, therefore there is no real alternative to pipeline gas coming to Europe from Russia. How realistic are US plans to phase Russia out of the European gas market?

Prerequisites for redrawing the European gas market arose in 2009 with the adoption of the EU’s Third Energy Package. Capitalizing on the fact that the policy of developing alternative sources of energy has led to stagnation or a bigger drop in hydrocarbon imports than expected, the European Union has switched to a strategy of diversifying supplies and, in general, imposing new rules of doing business with supplier countries. Comprehensive measures were later taken to develop a new gas import infrastructure. The past years have seen the integration of individual states’ pipelines via the construction of numerous interconnectors as part of the EU’s effort to make sure that the consumer, not the supplier, dictates the rules in the energy market. As a result, a conflict of interest between the consumer and the supplier has moved from the sphere of purely commercial disputes to the area of political confrontation between countries.

It is no secret that the United States had both geopolitical and economic reasons to encourage the Europeans’ policy, with experts still undecided which of these two reasons was actually prevalent. A more traditional standpoint explains this by the current tendency for the US to return to the world energy market as a potentially significant exporter. The energy boom that started in the US in the mid-2000s, caused by the wide-scale use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), made the country much less dependent on foreign exports. This simultaneously revived Washington’s claim to be the main regulator (arbiter) of global hydrocarbon markets.

The United States accuses Moscow for its alleged attempts to exert political pressure against the EU and Ukraine as a pretext for its desire to limit Russia’s presence on the European energy market. When meeting with EU leaders in March 2014, US President Barack Obama demanded (!) measures from Brussels that would reduce its energy dependence on Russia. The very same desire is at the core of Washington’s rejection of the Nord Stream 2 project [1]. Last year, the US adopted the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) that allows Washington to impose sanctions on companies participating in the construction of any new gas pipeline.  As an alternative to Russian gas, Washington is offering Europeans to buy liquid natural gas (LNG) from the United States. In summer 2017, President Donald Trump unveiled an ambitious plan to make the US the world’s number one gas supplier.

The White House hopes to make America a net exporter to the LNG market by 2020.

Well, these hopes are not entirely ungrounded though. In line with the strategy of increased gas production initiated by President George W. Bush, the US Department of Energy reported in the spring of 2018 that United States had (for the first time in 60 years) reached the net gas export. The growth of shale production allowed the United States to produce 733 billion cubic meters by the end of 2017. Now, according to lenta.ru, America accounts for 21 percent of global gas production, and Russia, for 16 percent.

That being said, there are quite a few hurdles on the way of expanded US gas supplies to Europe. There is a notable energy shortage in the US domestic market. Therefore, it is hard to imagine an effective strategy for seizing foreign energy markets based on increased export of resources that are not in sufficient supply at home. What is the point of selling what you do not have enough yourself, the business weekly Expert wonders. Storms and severe frosts that hit the US in the early 2018 led to increased consumption of natural gas in the country, effectively dashing hopes for exports abroad.

As a result, 2017 gas deliveries to Europe did not exceed 3 billion cubic meters, while Europeans’ gas consumption in 2017 had reached 500 billion cubic meters. Moreover, within the next two or three years the currently high prices in the European gas market may drop due to growing LNG supplies, Reuters reported early this month, citing Norway’s draft budget for 2019. 

Any further diversification of sources of gas supply, much talked about in the EU in recent years, will only reinforce this trend. How, in this case, US authorities will manage to convince their energy producers to continue supplies to Europe, where they will have to compete with possibly cheaper Russian or Iranian oil is a big question.

Despite a notable increase in political and sanctions pressure since 2014, in late 2017, Russia accounted for 35 percent of the European gas market. Still, it has had to pay a price for this by making concessions in terms of price and terms of supply. Anticipating a further sanctions squeeze, in late December 2017, Vladimir Putin ordered corrections to the country’s energy security doctrine, the transport strategy for the period until 2030, and also the energy strategy until 2035. He also ordered new projects in the field of LNG where Russia currently occupies a rather modest niche. Russian forecast an over 40 percent increase in global demand for gas by the year 2040. The largest uptick – up to 70 percent – is projected exactly in the LNG trade where competition will obviously heat up.

At the same time, Moscow will need to work out measures to prevent competition between Russian LNG and pipeline gas, Expert believes. This would call for urgent development of technologies and infrastructure in big- and medium-scale gas liquefaction and transportation.

The turn of 2019-2020 could become a turning point for the European gas market.  By the end of 2019, the ten-year Russian-Ukrainian gas transit agreement expires. To bolster its position, in 2018-2019, Gazprom plans to complete two gas transportation megaprojects – Nord Stream 2 and Turkish Stream. President Trump’s announcement of entering the market exactly in 2020 may have also factored in the assessment of Gazprom’s future plans and the EU’s next steps to “liberalize” the gas market.

Meanwhile, pragmatically-minded politicians in Europe, primarily in Germany, have consistently been supporting the idea of the entirely economic nature of the second leg of Nord Stream – Nord Stream 2.

On October 12, the Prime Minister of the German Federal State of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Manuela Schwezig, posted an article on the website of the weekly Wirtschaftswoche about a steady increase in energy demand in Germany, adding that natural gas is the most efficient way of meeting this demand. She refutes the notion that a new gas pipeline will allegedly make Germany more dependent on Russia. Berlin and Moscow are equally interested in ensuring reliable energy supplies, Schwezig noted. Despite some lingering disagreements between the two, they have shared interests too, including the possibility of an early return to a “close partnership.” She believes that a gradual lifting of sanctions from Russia could also speed up the normalization of relations.

There is one more geostrategic view on what is going on. Many Russian analysts believe that a long-term US strategy is not about a struggle for the gas market (European or even global) as such, but for its transformation by analogy with the current oil market. Washington’s goal is to block as many existing gas pipelines and those still under construction so that the lion’s share of gas is transported by sea in the form of LNG.

This will help ‘‘unpeg’’ gas prices from oil and transform the international gas market into a single whole – global and spot [2] – where transactions are short-term  and made in US dollars to minimize costs and risks. Such reformatting of the market will eventually make it possible to dictate terms to sellers and buyers through exchange rules and Fed policy. This means that the main purpose of the hype that has been going on about the “shale revolution” and “snapping up the world gas market” is to keep the world’s traditional energy market pegged to the US dollar.

Both the aforementioned scenarios are fraught with serious problems for Europe. If Russia halts gas transit via Ukraine from 2020, and all attempts to avoid the blocking of Nord Stream 2 fail, Europe will have to urgently look for alternative suppliers, and US LNG will be the first thing it will have to go for. However, in this case Germany’s economic leadership will be thrown in doubt, and, consequently, the prospects of strengthening the unity of the EU.

If the European Union is to fight for real energy independence, then it will have, among other things, to look for ways to bring down the share of international commodity trade made in US in dollars. In September 2018, the European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, described as “absurd” a situation where 80 percent of the EU’s its energy imports (300 billion Euros a year) are paid for in dollars. Meanwhile, a mere 2 percent Europe’s energy imports come from the United States. Juncker said that the euro should become “an instrument of a new, more sovereign Europe” and promised to “present initiatives to strengthen the international role of the euro.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas later came up with a proposal for the EU to have its own system of international payments. To make this happen, European financial authorities will need a greater deal of financial centralization of the EU and  a political partner for the European Central Bank in the form of a pan-European Finance Ministry.

In this largely unpredictable and controversial situation, it is necessary to prepare for different scenarios. However, this task per se could further stoke up conflicts  between EU members.

Faced with this largely unpredictable and controversial situation, countries need to get ready for different scenarios.

According to one such scenario, by increasing its LNG production and export capacity, the United States can toughen its sanctions on Russia. If and when Washington is ready to replace Russian gas with its LNG, the EU could once again consider restrictions on Russian gas supplies to Europe. According to expert estimates, shale gas liquefaction plants currently under construction in the US, will not be able to produce necessary volumes before 2020 and even 2022. In spite of all sticking points currently existing between the EU and the US, after meeting with President Trump in Washington in July 2018, Jean-Claude Juncker announced the EU’s intention to build “more terminals for importing LNG from the US.”

Another option could be a possible US attempt to impose a price war on Russia. If Washington shows readiness to sell its LNG to Europe at dumping prices, Gazprom would have to engage in an even tougher political and price struggle to keep the European gas market.

First published in our partner International Affairs

  • [1] Nord Stream 2 project envisages the construction of two legs of a gas pipeline to annually deliver 55 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea. The construction’s estimated cost is 9.6 billion Euros. Nord Stream 2 AG acts as the project operator, while Gazprom is the only shareholder. Due to be wrapped up before the end of 2019, Nord Stream 2 is a joint project of Russia’s Gazprom with France’s Engie, Austria’s OMV AG, UK-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell, and Germany’s Uniper and Wintershall, which will finance 50 percent of the construction costs (Deutsche Welle)
  • [2] Spot (business deal) a contract of buying or selling a commodity, security or currency for immediate settlement (payment and delivery) on the spot date, which is normally two business days after the trade date.

Europe

Tactical Retreat: Madrid Makes Concessions to Catalonia and the Basque Country

Published

on

The November 2019 general parliamentary elections in Spain resulted in none of the parties getting an absolute majority needed to form a government. Following two months of negotiations, a left-wing coalition between the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party) and Unidas Podemos (United We Can) was formed in January 2020. Having received the necessary parliamentary support, Pedro Sanchez, the leader of the socialists, assumed the post of the Spanish Prime Minister.

Catalan and Basque parties are now vital for the Spanish government

Since this is the first coalition government in the history of modern Spain that does not rely on a stable parliamentary majority, the role of regional parties has significantly increased. The PSOE-Podemos coalition only has 155 mandates, falling short of the majority (176) by 21 votes. In such a situation, success of any initiative put forward by the left-wing government depends on the support of other parliamentary parties—in particular, the nationalist movements of Catalonia and the Basque Country. The Republican Left of Catalonia (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, the ERC) and “Together for Catalonia” account for 13 and 8 seats, whereas the Basque Nationalist Party (BNP) and the EH-Bildu are each represented by 6 and 5 MPs.

Support of the four regional parties facilitated a number of crucial events in the Spanish political process. These include Pedro Sanchez, the PSOE leader, taking the office of Prime Minister in January 2020, a repeated extension of the state of emergency in the country in spring 2020, the adoption of the state budget for 2021 as well as passing the bill on the distribution of money from the EU recovery fund into law.

In this regard, both Catalonia and the Basque Country are now presented with more opportunities to promote their interests in broadening autonomous powers in exchange for their support of the governmental projects. At times of the bipartisan system, when the party to win general elections could independently form a majority government, regional forces had weaker bargaining positions. However, the value of their votes in the Congress of Deputies today has increased drastically. Amid such conditions, P. Sanchez has no other way but intensify interaction with the two autonomies on the issues of interest to them. He is driven by the desire to sustain support of the regional forces, ensuring the viability of his government.

Different aims: Catalonia is seeking referendum while the Basque Country is keen to broaden its autonomy

The coronavirus pandemic, which broke out in 2020, did not allow to launch another stage of negotiations between the Spanish government and the political leadership of Catalonia and the Basque Country. Notably, each autonomy has its own strategy and aims to pursue in their negotiations with Madrid.

The negotiations agenda of the new Catalan government, formed by the ERC and “Together for Catalonia” following the regional elections on February 14, 2021, includes: 1) amnesty for all the prisoners detained after the illegal referendum on October 1, 2017; 2) agreement with the government on holding another, this time official, referendum on the status of the autonomy; 3) revision of the current structure of financial inflows in favor of increasing investments from Madrid in the budget of the autonomy.

At the same time, the Basque government, headed by the BNP, has a different set of objectives: 1) implementation of all the remaining provisions enshrined in the Statute of Autonomy of the region, namely the transfer of some 30 competencies in self-governance to the regional authorities; 2) resuming talks on a new Statute of Autonomy; 3) formation of a broad negotiating platform involving the largest Spanish and Basque political forces.

In 2021, negotiations on these issues were intensified between Madrid and the regions. Each autonomy has managed to achieve certain results in pursuing their interests.

Catalonia: two tactical victories with no prospects for a referendum

Both Catalonia and the Basque Country managed to get a number of significant concessions in the course of June to October 2021. By doing it, P. Sanchez has shown the importance of the two autonomies in maintaining stability in the PSOE-Podemos coalition government.

Catalonia succeeded in achieving two important outcomes. The first victory was a judicial one. On June 23, 2021, amnesty was granted to all 12 prisoners sentenced to terms from 9 to 13 years on the charges related to the illegal referendum on the status of the autonomy that was held on October 1, 2017. This step sparked a severe backlash in the Kingdom, with demonstrations held in many regions. The majority of Spaniards (61%) expressed disagreement with such a move. However, it manifests that P. Sanchez is ready to make controversial compromises to maintain his political allies, despite possible long-term losses of the electorate support.

The second success of Catalonia was in the political domain. Due to a flexibility of the central government, the first talks in a year and a half that took place between Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Pere Aragones, the head of the Catalan government, became possible. While the sides only exchanged views on topical bilateral issues at their first face-to-face meeting on June 27, 2021, the parties could hold a substantive discussion of a plan to normalize interaction during the second round on September 15.

In the meantime, it was the Catalan side that set the agenda. This emphasizes the increasing role of the autonomy in bilateral relations, while indicating that Madrid is keen to garner support among the Catalan deputies. This is the why the central government is ready to offer some concessions.

Following the talks, the Prime Minister stated that the sides managed to agree on 44 out of 45 points of the document presented by P. Aragones. However, the only stumbling block remaining is a new referendum in Catalonia. On this issue, P. Sanchez is not going to make any concessions.

The Basque Country: higher flexibility and new competencies for the autonomy

Madrid has also stepped up negotiations with the Basque Country. However, it should be added here that the region has managed to achieve more tangible results in terms of expanding its autonomous powers in judicial and financial matters.

First, as the agreement signed in April 2021 suggests, three penitentiary centers with 1,378 prisoners were handed over to the Basque Government from October 1, namely the Department for Equality, Justice and Social Policy.

Second, the talks on July 28 between Pedro Sanchez, Spanish Prime Minister, and Inigo Urkullo, head of the Basque government, within the framework of the Joint Economic Commission resulted in new tax competencies handed over to the Basque Country. Local authorities are now in charge of collecting taxes from e-commerce, financial transactions and digital services. This may lead to an inflow of additional 220 ml euros to the Basque budget.

In response to such steps of the Spanish government, I. Urkullo made an eleventh-hour decision to attend the Conference of regional leaders on July 29, 2021. This event is of political importance as it unites the heads of all Spain’s 17 autonomies. At the same time, the Catalan Pere Aragones did not participate in the meeting. Had both Catalonia and the Basque Country been absent, this would have come as a real blow to P. Sanchez. Therefore, it was of utmost importance for the Prime Minister to persuade at least the Basque leader to attend the meeting. Urkullo’s presence partly contributed to the image of Sanchez as a politician who can reach agreement with the regions.

Key differences between the Catalan and the Basque government that influence relations with Madrid

In Catalonia, the coalition government is dominated by the ERC, which is more moderate and ready to move away from harsh rhetoric in favor of discussing common problems with Madrid. At the same time, its partner, “Together for Catalonia” that lost the February 2021 regional elections to ERC by only a narrow margin, stands for more straightforward actions.

Such a configuration within the coalition restricts Catalonia’s flexibility. The main goal of the radical wing is a new referendum. The ERC’s moderate approach is counterbalanced by “Together for Catalonia”. It does not support excessive rapprochement with Madrid or any deviation from that idea.

At the same time, the situation is different in the Basque Country. The moderate BNP enjoys leading positions in the government coalition while the EH-Bildu has a much lower weight in strategy setting. It allows the autonomy to be flexible, interacting with Madrid in a more successful manner.

Moreover, the talks between Catalonia and Madrid are still held in a narrow format of face-to-face meetings between the Prime Minister of Spain and the head of the autonomy. At the same time, the Basque Country has already resumed dialogue within the Joint Economic Commission. This is a more inclusive format that enables the sides to cover a wider range of topics.

Currently, the Basque Country’s give-and-take strategy results in smaller but more meaningful concessions, bringing about a broadening of its autonomous powers in exchange for political support of the central government. Meanwhile, Catalonia’s attempts to achieve more significant results, which may affect the image of P. Sanchez, bump up against Madrid’s reluctance to cross the red line. The Prime Minister is ready to make some tactical concessions to the autonomies in order to garner political support for his initiatives. Despite certain criticism from the right wing, such steps confirm the effectiveness of the PSOE-Podemos coalition, demonstrating the viability of the incumbent government to the electorate.

Talks have future as long as the left-wing coalition remains in power

The future of the negotiations between the center and the autonomies heavily depends on the 2023 Spanish general elections. Right-wing parties like the People’s Party, VOX and “Citizens” are not inclined to broad negotiations with Catalan and Basque nationalists. If these parties form the next government just in two years, the entire process of normalizing relations with the regions may be put on hold.

P. Sanchez’s excessive flexibility in negotiations with Catalonia and the Basque Country may lead to a higher popularity of the right-wing VOX party. Those among voters, who are dissatisfied with the policy of offering concessions to nationalists, may switch to the forces that safeguard the Spanish constitutional order. Another problem for the PSOE-Podemos government is the socio-economic recovery of Spain from COVID-19.

Little progress in these two directions is likely to result in the loss of public support. The influence of Catalonia and the Basque Country will not see a decline in the coming years. It is therefore essential for Madrid to make new concessions similar to those made to the Basque Country. But they should be gradual to provoke less publicity.

From our partner RIAC

Continue Reading

Europe

Is British Democracy in Danger?

Published

on

On Sunday 12th of December 2021 Boris Johnson went on national television to warn about a tidal wave that would threaten Britain. He was back then referring to the Omicron Covid-19 variant, little did he know back then that he could have been referring to his own political future. Johnson is facing increasing demands from his own party to step down after having admitted to attending a party in Downing Street on May 20th, 2020, during the UK’s first national lockdown.

Johnson has been facing increasing risks for quite a long time by now: from collapsing poll ratings, to violation of lockdown rules and an ill-managed pandemic that has continued to strain the National Health Service; among many others. These crises have compromised his moral authority both with the citizenry and with his own frontbenchers. Although in the UK confidence votes can happen relatively quick: the no confidence vote on Theresa May’s government was held on December 12th, 2018, just a day after she was informed that the minimum threshold had been reached, this is still not on the horizon for the current Prime Minister.

To trigger a leadership contest 15% of the Tory MPs need to submit a letter to the chair of the 1922 Committee. There are currently 360 Tory MPs, 54 of them are needed to spark a confidence vote. As up to now, very few have publicly confirmed to either have submitted or to have the intention to submit a letter. If such threshold is reached, this would open the debate as to whether there is someone suitable enough to replace him. The frontrunners are Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss; neither have the proven record of vote-winning Boris Johnson has had ever since he was the Mayor of London. Such vote of confidence is also unlikely to happen as majority of the crises the government has faced are of their own making. Johnson is not the cause; it is the symptom of a deeper decay of the British State and their politicians.

While the Conservatives will not be able to escape the cumulative effects of current and past scandals, this latest turmoil us unlikely to trigger the collapse of Boris Johnson. The next British election is scheduled to happen in May 2024, giving both Johnson and the Tories enough time to move on from this crisis and work on rebuilding electoral support. Boris Johnson has long defied political gravity and has survived a long history of scandals and mismanagements that may have destroyed the electoral chances of many other politicians and their political parties. It is highly likely that in the coming local elections in May 2022 the Conservatives will suffer electoral defeats, this is still preferable than what the political and electoral consequences for the Conservatives would be if they were to get rid of Johnson. Sacking him now would be accepting losing the war rather than losing a battle in the coming local elections. The long-term aim of the Tories is to hold on power for as long as they can, and at least ensure their electoral base is secure coming the 2024 general elections. For this, Boris Johnson still may come in handy.

Although Boris Johnson’s record has been shockingly poor; the Tories will not give Labour a chance for a general election before the scheduled for 2024, especially not now that they are leading the polls on the question as to who would make a better prime minister. The reality is that although his ratings have plummeted dramatically over recent years, there is no real threat of a general election for at least 2 years if one considers the larger political landscape.

One of the major threats British democracy does not come from Boris Johnson but rather from a deterioration of what sustains democracy as a healthy system of government. The UK electorate is highly volatile. Unlike countries like the US whose electorate has become highly polarised, the British electorate has shown less party loyalty, and voters have switched more and more between political parties in each election. However, this volatility will not get Johnson out of office, that is something only the Conservatives can do. This is closely linked to trust in politicians and the government. Lack of trust in both is one of the major issues of contemporary democracies around the world. Trust, is, after all, the basic condition for a legitimate government. Lack of trust in politicians, institutions, political parties, and the government in general enables populist tendencies, polarisation, political extremism and impacts the voting preference of citizens. It also favours the support of more stringent stances towards minorities, opposition, immigration, and human rights violations. A second threat that should not be disregarded is the attitude towards democratic institutions and bodies that sustain the British political system. While it is true that Johnson’s behaviour does not push to extremes such as Donal Trump did, or many other highly divisive politicians around the world, he is drawn to the same unconventional styles to deal with political challenges.

Democracy around the world is facing a backlash that is organised and coming from within, from elected officials. Our democratic rights can either be taken away suddenly as a result of a revolution or a coup d’état, or gradually through the election of leaders who slowly erode rules, standards and institutions that help sustain democracy. This is potentially more dangerous for the overall prospects of democracy because gradual erosion of democratic values is harder to perceive. The state, under this progressive attack, becomes prone to the systematic corruption of interest groups that take over the processes and institutions in charge of making public policy. It is during this gradual democratic backsliding that elected officials disregard norms and institutions while, at the same time, trying to redesign the structure of the state. An informed and active citizenry is crucial to prevent further erosion of democracy. We need to be aware that it is not only democratic rules and institutions that are in danger, but also the respect of our fundamental civil, political, social and human rights.

Continue Reading

Europe

The French Dispatch: The Year 2022 and European Security

Published

on

2021 has been rich in negative events for European security: the world has witnessed the collapse of the Open Skies Treaty, American-French discord concerning AUKUS, the termination of the official dialogue between Russia and NATO, and the migration crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border.

Over the past year, the Western countries seem to have been searching for new strategies. Since the end of 2019, NATO has been developing a new concept, and in June 2021 at the summit in Brussels, to the displeasure of sceptics, it was possible to agree on its basis—the transatlantic agenda NATO 2030 (# NATO2030) . While the broad formulations and a direct hierarchy of threats still require clarification, new projects in the field of weapons development, combating climate change, and increasing interoperability have already been declared.

In parallel, since the end of 2020, work has continued on the EU European Parliamentary Research Service project—the Strategic Compass. The dialectic between Atlanticism and Europeanism softened after Joe Biden came to power in the United States, but the European interests and red lines retain their significance for transatlantic relations. In 2022, together with the rotating post of the President of the EU Council, the role of a potential newsmaker in this area has been transferred to Emmanuel Macron, who feels very comfortable in it.

On December 9, the provisions of the Paris programme were published under the motto “Recovery, power, belonging” France, as expected, is reiterating its call for strengthening European sovereignty. The rhetoric of the document and its author is genuine textbook-realism. But now for the entire European Union.

Objectives of the French Presidency, are not articulated directly but are quite visible—making the EU more manageable and accountable to its members, with new general rules to strengthen mobilisation potential, and improve the EU’s competitiveness and security in a world of growing challenges.

Paris proposes reforming the Schengen area and tightening immigration legislation—a painful point for the EU since 2015, which has become aggravated again in recent months. This ambitious task has become slightly more realistic since Angela Merkel’s retirement in Germany. At least a new crisis response mechanism on this issue can be successful, even if it is not fully implemented.

In addition, the Élysée Palace calls on colleagues to revise the budget deficit ceilings of the Maastricht era to overcome the consequences of the pandemic and finally introduce a carbon tax at the EU borders. The latter allows for a new source of income and provides additional accountability for the implementation of the “green” goals by member countries.

The planned acceleration of the adoption of the Digital Markets Act (DMA) and Digital Services Act (DSA), developed by the European Commission at the end of 2020, is also aimed at unifying the general legislation and consolidating the European position in the world. In other words, the French Foreign Ministry quite soberly assesses the priority areas and vulnerabilities of the European Union and focuses on them, but with one exception.

A special priority of the French presidency is to strengthen the defence capabilities of the EU. On the sidelines, the French diplomats note that the adoption of the Strategic Compass in the spring of 2022, as originally planned, is a fundamental task, since otherwise the process may be completely buried. With a high degree of probability, this is so: the first phase of the development of the Compass—the general list of threats—lasted a year, and consisted of dozens of sessions, meetings, round tables with the involvement of leading experts, but the document was never published. If Macron won’t do it, then who will?

As the main ideologist and staunchest supporter of the EU’s “strategic autonomy”, the French president has been trying for five years to mobilise others for self-sufficiency in the security sphere. With his direct participation, not only the Mechanism of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) in the defence area was launched, where France is the leader in a number of projects, but also the so-far failed European Intervention Initiative. Even without focusing on French foreign policy traditions and ambitions, the country remains a major European arms exporter and a nuclear power, where the military-industrial complex is closely affiliated with the state.

Implementing the 2022 agenda is also a matter of immediate political gain as France enters a new electoral cycle. The EU Summit will take place on March 10-11, 2022, in Paris, a month before the elections, and in any case it will become part of the election campaign and a test for the reputation of the current leader. Macron has not yet officially announced his participation in the presidential race, but he is actively engaged in self-promotion, because right-wing politicians espousing different degrees of radicalism are ready to take advantage of his defeats to purchase extra points.

The search for allies seems to be of key importance for victory at the European level, and the French Foreign Ministry has already begun working on this matter. In 2016–2017 the launch of new initiatives was predetermined by the support of Germany and the Central and East European countries. The change of cabinet in Germany will undoubtedly have an impact on the nation’s policy. On the one hand, following the results of the first visit of the new Chancellor Olaf Scholz to Paris on December 10, the parties announced the closeness of their positions and a common desire to strengthen Europe. On the other hand, the coalition of Social Democrats (SDP) was made up with the Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) who are not at all supporters of excessive involvement in security issues. What “strategic autonomy” means for France, constitutes a more restrained “strategic sovereignty” for Germany Therefore, an intensification of dialogue with Italy and Spain, which are both respected and potentially sympathetic, is likely. The military cooperation agreement concluded in the autumn of 2021 with Greece, an active member of PESCO, can also help Paris.

Gaining support from smaller countries is more challenging. Although the European project is not an alternative to the transatlantic one, the formation of a common list of threats is a primary task and problem for NATO as well. As mentioned above, it is around it that controversy evolves, because the hierarchy determines the distribution of material resources. The countries of Eastern Europe, which assume that it is necessary to confront Russia but lack the resources to do so, will act as natural opponents of the French initiatives in the EU, while Paris, Rome and Madrid will oppose them and the United States in the transatlantic dialogue. The complexity of combining two conversations about the same thing with a slightly different composition of participants raises the bar for Emmanuel Macron. His stakes are high. The mobilisation of the Élysée Palace’s foreign policy is one of the most interesting subjects to watch in the year 2022.

From our partner RIAC

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

East Asia3 hours ago

China and Indo-Pacific democracies in the face of American boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

Despite the US administration’s announcement of a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, with the “American Olympic Committee allowing...

New Social Compact6 hours ago

E-resilience readiness for an inclusive digital society by 2030

The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly demonstrated the link between digitalization and development, both by showing the potential of digital solutions...

Tech News7 hours ago

Maintenance Tips for Second-Hand Cars

With a shortage of semiconductors continuing to plague the automotive industry, many are instead turning to the second-hand market to...

New Social Compact8 hours ago

Delivering on Our Promise for Universal Education

On the International Day of Education, we call on world leaders to transform how we deliver on education. The clock...

Africa Today10 hours ago

Bringing dry land in the Sahel back to life

Millions of hectares of farmland are lost to the desert each year in Africa’s Sahel region, but the UN Food...

Middle East12 hours ago

“Kurdish Spring”: drawing to a close?

For decades, the Kurdish problem was overshadowed by the Palestinian one, occasionally popping up in international media reports following the...

Central Asia14 hours ago

Great powers rivalry in Central Asia: New strategy, old game

In international politics, interstate rivalry involves conflicting relations between two international rivalries that are nation states. A fundamental feature of...

Trending