the real negotiation starts now

As of today, it may seem early to examine the consequences of new Trade and Cooperation Agreement to which the United Kingdom and the European Union (EU) have signed. This agreement, which is lengthy in details, nevertheless authorizes some preliminary reflections.

It is the agreement that we all expected. Not the one we wanted, but it is the only one that could reasonably be achieved. The alternative was to have no agreement. The treaty is not a surprise for those who have followed the endless Brexit itinerary since its germinal hour, that is, when former Prime Minister David Cameron, after his negotiation with Brussels in February 2016 in which he demanded limitations on the freedom of movement, called the Brexit referendum for June 23, 2016. The EU, already back then, although it was pragmatic and made some concessions, reminded him that the four communal freedoms were indivisible. With a conservative party divided on the issue and David Cameron playing offended, like Prefect Renault, he exclaimed smugly and with a serious face “scandal, I discovered that it is played here”, as if he did not know in advance the answer from Brussels. The rest is well known.

The same red lines That Brussels reminded him of David Cameron in 2015 and 2016, and that the European Council itself demanded the EU negotiating team in its session of April 29, 2017, have determined a good part of the negotiation. What the Council came to say is that a third State could not enjoy the benefits of the single market without accepting the indivisibility of the four freedoms. For its part, the United Kingdom has also seen its most important aspirations fulfilled: the end of the jurisdiction of the CJEU, complete control over immigration, the end of the common fisheries policy and the absence of an express obligation to converge with the EU on regulation matter, which has allowed it to reach the end of its negotiation without concessions that affect its sovereignty (except in the particular case of Northern Ireland).

The agreement is, therefore, the only one that could be reached after the overwhelming victory of Boris Johnson in December 2019, with some conservative deputies and a united government cabinet with hardly any fissures around the same idea: andhe transition period was to end with few concessions on December 31, 2020. And so it has been.

The paradox of this agreement is that, being a free trade agreement, it inevitably is intended to create barriers in the trade of goods and services. This was always the metaphysical drama of this negotiation. No deal was going to match the benefits of the single market without crossing the British red lines.

An agent reviews a trucker's documentation upon arrival at the port of Dover.  (Reuters)An agent reviews a trucker's documentation upon arrival at the port of Dover.  (Reuters)
An agent reviews a trucker’s documentation upon arrival at the port of Dover. (Reuters)

The agreement is much broader than it seems, as it regulates the trade of goods between both parties, digital trade, public procurement, fishing, energy, intellectual property, climate change, transportation (land and air), coordination in matters of social security and visas, and, finally, cooperation on criminal justice. It rests on a touchstone that will sustain the building of the new regulation: the commitment to maintain equal conditions (‘level playing field’) so that free competition is not distorted, although it is true that neither party renounces altering the regulatory framework.

Regarding goods, as expected, the agreement contemplates zero tariffs and fees, provided that the certificate of origin guarantees that, in fact, such good comes mostly from the United Kingdom or the EU. Likewise, in key sectors for Spain, additional measures have been agreed to facilitate trade in: chemical products (cooperation in regulatory matters), came (simplification of certificates and common principles on labeling), organic products (equivalence of the legislation of both parties), pharmaceutical products (recognition of the other party’s inspections) and, especially, automotive (use of international standards, application of the relevant UN certificate and cooperation on security standards).

Inevitably, the deal involves more bureaucracyIt will be necessary to comply with British regulations, which has not been done to date. For example, a key sector for Spain such as agri-food it will be affected by the divergence of regimes for sanitary and phytosanitary measures, although some measures have been introduced to alleviate these discrepancies.

Nacho Alarcón. Brussels

In its attempt to “regain sovereignty” by leaving the European Union, the United Kingdom has ended up seriously wounding it.

The agreement is first and foremost a goods agreement and, predictably, does not regulate services broadly. Although it covers more aspects than those included in the model of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS, for its acronym in English), does not include mutual recognition to facilitate the provision of services. It is the sector most affected by the treaty and will affect, above all, British companies, which will have to adapt to the regulations of each member state.

In financial services matter, the situation is one of uncertainty. Especially for the UK, which has not achieved mutual recognition for the City and is now awaiting a decision on EU equivalence. Such decision, which depends exclusively on the Commission, is independent of the agreement and is defined as being revocable in 30 days, with what is not a long term solution. Both parties have given themselves until March 31 of this year to reach a memorandum of understanding on the matter. For its part, London has granted equivalence to European entities in certain aspects of financial regulation. In the case of the non-European banking sector based in London, the main financial institutions have carried out their contingency plans, that is, replicate equipment in a European city to access the community market.

On the principle of equal conditions, true Gordian knot of this system of balances that is the agreement, although the obligation is not imposed (but the commitment is), corrective measures have been included in the event that one of the parties distorts this principle through, for example, the concession of public aid. By last, on public procurement —Essential for Spanish direct investment in the United Kingdom—, the agreement (very ambitious in this matter) foresees that European companies will be able to tender under equal conditions in a good number of sectors.

We are before a text that it will be subject to continuous review and interpretation and that it will be very actively nourished by the experience of both public and private institutions. This extreme is essential to begin to understand how the future of the relationship will unfold. The agreement itself is subject to an Association Council led by a representative from the EU and another from the United Kingdom, both – please note – with ministerial rank.

The negotiation is not closed with the agreement; the real Brexit negotiation begins ‘hic et nunc’, and it is precisely this Association Council – co-chaired by two politicians – that will administer the new economic and commercial model. Its powers are broad and include taking decisions on certain matters of the agreement, making recommendations and, especially, agree modifications to the agreement in the anticipated cases. There is also a trade association committee, 10 committees specialized in trade affairs, eight committees specialized in other matters (energy, fisheries, security, etc.) and up to four working groups.

The ideal agreement never existed because we came from a perfect situation

This institutional scaffolding (which ironically reminds the European Commission) is essential to understand how Brexit will unfold and run. Not only because the decisions adopted by the Association Council or, where appropriate, by a committee will be binding on both parties, but because the agreement will be in constant motion; the text continuously refers to modifications, rectifications, consultations, revisions, decisions, transition periods, etc. Thus, Brexit does not end with the signing of the treaty, but rather on the contrary, it will be a gradual, dynamic process that will change over time.

The new agreement stands before us as a point of departure, not of arrival. It is an open agreement and its practical implementation – yet to be defined – will differ from the literal text.

The ideal agreement never existed because we came from a perfect situation. The business model has changed and needs to change with it. Faced with this new reality that the treaty imposes on us, it is time to move away from the skepticism that unwanted changes usually generate. Although with more barriers (to which we will adapt), the British market will continue to be attractive for our companies. New rules, but same market. Being successful will require effort and the ability to adapt, qualities that Spanish companies are not unaware of.

* Eduardo Barrachina is president of the Official Chamber of Commerce of Spain in the United Kingdom, ‘solicitor’ and lawyer at White & Case.


Numerous challenges for Portugal in the rotating presidency of the EU

He has six months of hard work ahead of him. Portugal will try to fulfill the arduous task that awaits it in its recently inaugurated presidency of the European Union. Both Lisbon and Brussels will have to put into practice the achievements made during the German administration. The pandemic is, still today, a great threat to the community bloc.

“Fear feeds populism. If we want to combat this populism we have to give citizens confidence. And we have to give them confidence to confront fear. Today what we all fear is the coronavirus. And, that is why why vaccination is essential “, declares the Prime Minister of Portugal, António Costa.

“The possibility of joint success that we will have this year 2021, with an effective distribution of the vaccine, is the essential condition for a new economic and social relaunch”, says Charles Michel, President of the European Council.

In the coming months, the EU will also have to implement the Brexit agreement, reached with the United Kingdom on December 24.


A busy December in Brussels: sprint before Christmas

This December is a hot month for the European agenda. We will have several fronts and many moments of action, with a European Council on December 10 and 11 and a plenary session of the European Parliament that will begin on 14. What are the fronts?

Budget pulse

Hungary and Poland decided last week to cast their veto on the budget package, which includes the € 750 billion Recovery Fund from which Spain could get up to 140 billion. It is in retaliation for the agreement on a rule of law mechanism that could cut off their access to European funds for their attack on judicial independence.

Press conference of the Prime Ministers of Poland (in the foreground) and Hungary.  (EFE)
Press conference of the Prime Ministers of Poland (in the foreground) and Hungary. (EFE)

The safest thing is that this matter is pending until the summit of December 10 and 11. Charles Michel, President of the European Council, intends to hold this meeting in person in Brussels, because the videoconference format has proven to be of little use in solving serious problems.

When Hungary and Poland formalized their veto two weeks ago, it was thought that a change in the wording could be enough, but Budapest and Warsaw are directly opposed, and the rest of the Member States and the European Parliament do not feel like making concessions. That is why many voices in Brussels believe that it is only a matter of waiting for them to continue seeing each other alone and without the possibility of obtaining concessions so that they end up withdrawing their bluff in exchange for some minimum transfer.

The agony of Brexit

After Michel Barnier, chief negotiator of the European Commission, traveled to London on Friday after a difficult week, this past weekend has been one of intense negotiations. Many assume that the Frenchman’s trip is due to a good signal from the British side.

Michel Barnier, the EU negotiator, in London for another round of Brexit negotiations.  (EFE)Michel Barnier, the EU negotiator, in London for another round of Brexit negotiations.  (EFE)
Michel Barnier, the EU negotiator, in London for another round of Brexit negotiations. (EFE)

The three pending issues are those already known to all: governance of the agreement, fishing and ‘level-playing field’ or equal conditions. With 95% of the agreement completed in its technical aspects, as they have assured from the European Commission, these three issues are linked to an ideological element. That is precisely what is making them especially difficult to negotiate.

Once an agreement is reached, if at all, the job is not done. The ratification process will not be straightforward either, and Brexit will surely have to continue to be paid attention to well into December. The European Parliament has been willing to ratify the agreement as late as is December the 28th.

If it is not possible to close a deal, it goes without saying that the matter will gain importance as Member States have to prepare for an unknown scenario in their trade with the United Kingdom. as of January 1, 2021. Again, deal or no deal, Brexit will be one of the main issues at this month’s summit and will keep diplomats busy for weeks to come.

Turkey continues to give problems

European leaders promised Cyprus, which was calling for sanctions against Turkey for its oil and gas exploration in Cypriot and Greek waters, that they would take up the issue in December. In the meantime, Ankara would be offered the possibility of building a “positive agenda”. Despite strong friction between Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and French President Emmanuel Macron, the dialogue between Berlin, Brussels and Ankara has not ceased.

Ships of the Turkish navy in the Aegean.  (Reuters)Ships of the Turkish navy in the Aegean.  (Reuters)
Ships of the Turkish navy in the Aegean. (Reuters)

But the tensions between the Hellenic, Cypriot and Turkish governments have not abated either. “Europe cannot pretend that Turkey is acting as an acceptable player in the regionNikolaos Dendias, the Greek foreign minister, complained last week, calling Ankara’s behavior “delinquent and provocative.” Last week, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign and Security Policy, the Spanish Josep Borrell, explained to the European Parliament that the EU bloc is at a “critical moment” in its relationship with Turkey.

The European Parliament called in a non-binding resolution addressed to the meeting of leaders on December 10 and 11, that the European Union “act and impose harsh sanctions in response to the illegal actions of Turkey.” The atmosphere will heat up in the coming days, especially if there is any kind of tension in the Aegean Sea.

This week

This coming week, the one prior to the key dates of December, it will also come loaded, with meeting of finance ministers of the Eurozone and the European Union this Monday and Tuesday, with a review of the national budget plans, including the Spanish one, which have received the general approval of the European Commission.

Huawei's counter at an electronics conference in China.  (Reuters)Huawei's counter at an electronics conference in China.  (Reuters)
Huawei’s counter at an electronics conference in China. (Reuters)

Also on Monday there will be a videoconference of ministers of Education and also of Youth. It will be the turn of those of Culture and Sports on Tuesday, and on Wednesday that of the Ministers of Justice, who will discuss the launch of the European prosecutor’s office, and also of those of Health, who in an informal meeting will address the fight against the coronavirus pandemic in the European Union. Also on Thursday Thierry Breton, Commissioner for the Internal Market, will have a meeting with Ken Hu, CEO of Huawei, and also with Abraham Liu, CEO of Huawei in Europe.

The week will close with an employment and social affairs council. In addition, Yolanda Díaz, Minister of Employment, will see a lot of faces with the commissioner of the branch, the Luxembourgian Nicolás Schmit, because in addition to the Council they will participate together in a videoconference on social economy that same Friday.


Europe breathes for the end of the Trump era and launches to congratulate Biden

07/11/2020 19:14Updated: 11/07/2020 20:02

The European Union has followed in silence and with some amazement the last days of the electoral recount in the United States. The final victory of Democrat Joe Biden has been a relief to a community bloc that feared the consequences of another four years of the Trump administration. And yet leaves a bittersweet taste: the days of electoral chaos, the declarations of the still president, and the sensation of lack of leadership, have left in the European Union the sensation that the United States is somewhat adrift, that the idea that “America is back” may be wrong, and there are turbulent years ahead on American soil.

Yes, Biden’s win lets you breathe on some key issues. The new president-elect has shown his commitment to the 2015 Paris Agreement, key to the EU and its climate ambitions, and in major European capitals they hope to heal the wounds of recent years. It will not change the general trajectory of the United States, which is increasingly pivoting towards the Pacific in its rivalry with China, and it will not change its demand for greater involvement of its partners in NATO, but at least it will change the tone and forms, and that, after what has happened in the last four years, is seen as a great advance.

These have been very tense days in the EUROPEAN Union. On Wednesday, hours after the polls closed, the only message sent by someone from the institutional leadership of the EU arrived during the most tense days of the count. Josep Borrell, High Representative of the Union for Foreign and Security Policy, pointed out the need to count every vote. In the rest of the capitals, in general, silence. After knowing this Saturday the results in Pennsylvania and therefore the victory of Joe Biden, the first European leader to speak has been Michaél Martin, Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, a country especially interested in a Democratic presidency, since Biden has repeated on several occasions his full commitment to the peace process on the island and his opposition to Brexit. “I want to congratulate the newly elected president of the United States, Joe Biden has been a true friend of this nation his entire life and I look forward to working with him for years to come. I also look forward to welcoming you home when circumstances allow! “Martin wrote on social media.

Biden with the former president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, during his time as vice president of the United States.  (Reuters)
Biden with the former president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, during his time as vice president of the United States. (Reuters)

After the Irish leader came the congratulations of the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and also the Maltese Prime Minister, Robert Abela. Alexander de Croo, Prime Minister of Belgium, was also one of the first European leaders to react and to send a message especially addressed to future Vice President Kamala Harris: “She will be an incredible example and an important role model for girls around the world.”

The President of Lithuania, Gitanas Nausedas, was the first Baltic leader to congratulate Biden, recalling that the United States is the “guarantor of the security of the Baltic countries.” The relations of all these countries, as well as those of the eastern bloc, with the United States is special: they consider Washington their main defender in the face of the Russian threat, and in fact that is what caused some member states to speak in favor of the re-election of Donald Trump, who in some capitals was considered a greater guarantee. In fact, Janez Jansa, Slovak Prime Minister, who was the most vocal in his support for the Republican candidate, has stayed true to the president’s version of electoral fraud, and you haven’t complimented Biden.

Carlos Barragan. Washington dc

The Democratic candidate has finally managed to conquer Pennsylvania, adding more than the 270 electoral votes necessary to win the elections

Congratulations from the main European leaders have arrived at seven in the afternoon. According to a European source, the President of the European Council, the Belgian Charles Michel, had been in contact with the main European leaders throughout the day, and They agreed that it would be from seven in the afternoon when they would send their congratulations to Biden after the Pennsylvania results, while showing respect “for the electoral process.”

Emmanuel Macron, French president, has assured that there is “much to do to overcome current challenges”. “Let’s work together!” Asks the French leader. Pedro Sánchez, President of the Spanish Government, wished Biden and Harris luck and has assured that Spain is prepared “to cooperate with the United States and face together the great global challenges”. Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, has sent a message through her spokesperson, also congratulating the newly elected US president. They have also been joined by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Biden with the German Chancellor during his time as Vice President of the United States.  (Reuters)Biden with the German Chancellor during his time as Vice President of the United States.  (Reuters)
Biden with the German Chancellor during his time as Vice President of the United States. (Reuters)

Also about that time the three “institutional” congratulations of the Union have arrived: Michel’s; Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission; and David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament. “Covid-19, multilateralism, climate change and international trade are some of the challenges that Europe wants to tackle together,” the President of the European Council wrote. Von der Leyen recalled that the European Union and the United States are “allies and friends” and notes the “particular importance” of transatlantic relations in a changing world.

European sources have confirmed that during the last weeks Michel’s team had been preparing all possible scenarios after the American elections. This has also happened in the European Commission and in the offices of the presidents and prime ministers of the entire European Union.

After seven in the afternoon, messages of congratulations continued to arrive. Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, a member state that has special relations with the United States, has indicated his desire to speak soon with the newly elected president, while Andrej Babis, Czech Prime Minister, has reminded Biden of the importance that has for Prague and close partners the American commitment to NATO. Stefan Löfven, Prime Minister of Sweden, made special reference in his message to transatlantic environmental cooperation: “Together, we can lead a green transition by creating jobs for the future.”

Beyond European leaders

The reactions have not been limited to European leaders. Paolo Gentiloni, Commissioner for the Economy, assured that he was embracing himself, assuring that it is “an unforgettable day for Europe and democracy”. Some ministers have also joined in the congratulations, such as the Spanish Arancha González Laya or her Irish counterpart, Simon Coveney. Frenchman Michel Barnier, chief negotiator of the European Commission for future relations with the United Kingdom, has also sent him a message.

In the European capitals, a result in the American elections has been expected with great nervousness. The general rule was total caution. Germany was the only one to break ranks on Friday morning. In an interview, Heiko Maas, the German Foreign Minister, pointed out that “voters always have the last word” and showed his “faith” in the “American legal system”. All hours after a statement by Trump in which he once again questioned the electoral system and claimed victory in the elections. In a clear message to the American president, Maas pointed out that “democracy is based on trust in free and fair elections. Democrats must never undermine this confidence. “

American and European flag in the European Commission.  (EFE)American and European flag in the European Commission.  (EFE)
American and European flag in the European Commission. (EFE)

In another dart aimed at the still tenant of the White House, Maas pointed out that “Honorable losers are more important to the functioning of a democracy than successful winners”. “America is more than a one-man show. Anyone who adds fuel to the fire in such a situation is acting irresponsibly, “he said. Until then, no one in the European Union had spoken so directly about President Trump.

Beyond the EU, Boris Johnson, British Prime Minister, although he no longer sits in the European Council room, he was probably the international leader who received the most attention, since the conservative leader always maintained a direct link with Trump and they were considered natural allies. But the premier ‘Tory’ has in fact been the first international leader of weight to offer his congratulations to Biden, who has always been against Brexit and who criticized the Internal Market Act with which the British Government has proposed to blow up parts of the Withdrawal Agreement that would put at risk the Good Friday Agreements that guarantee peace in Northern Ireland.

The European Union thus leaves behind a series of tense days that have made it clear in Brussels that the Old Continent must remain firm in the agenda of strategic autonomy that it has been defending in recent years, especially encouraged by the lack of cooperation with the administration Trump on a number of key issues. Days of chaos, with a president claiming that there is electoral fraud and a divided society, have left Europe deeply concerned about the situation in the United States, and for some Member States it has been the final sign that the EU must take care of herself in the face of an increasingly unstable world from which, as has been demonstrated since 2016 and also in these elections, Washington cannot escape.


Does the hanging game go on?

Comment from Helmut Scholz on the ongoing negotiations with the UK government:

It’s Friday early in the morning and Brussels is waiting for London to wake up too. October 15th has passed. Will Boris Johnson stick to the deadline he set himself today? The man loves the big theater appearance and today, with the announcement of the end of the negotiations, he could create the image that will go down in the history books as a symbol for Brexit.

The leaders of the EU27 have indicated that it doesn’t have to be the last round and that after four weeks, on 12/13. November could meet one more last time in Brussels. The agreed line of communication from official Brussels is that everyone is almost in agreement and that details only need to be clarified when it comes to fishing or ensuring a level playing field.

But according to what a few of us MEPs are reporting behind closed doors and under the seal of secrecy about the state of negotiations, the differences are considerable. And so the question arises: Will the holding lines demanded by Parliament be maintained: Implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement including the Irish Protocol, level playing field, i.e. also civil rights? Would the obviously still big differences force us to agree on a joint deception process at best? A so-called “political agreement” would be declared and the clarification of the outstanding details would be left to the technical level for further negotiation – maybe over a period of years?

These negotiations are characterized by a lack of transparency. Companies, trade unions, citizens and their organizations have little insight into the details. But the capitals and the heads of parliament in the European Parliament are involved relatively closely. You also become something of an accomplice, which in the case of the left is sanctified by the purpose of protecting the Irish peace and the Good Friday Agreement from the consequences of Brexit, as well as the individual rights of the many thousands of citizens across the future border live and work between our EU and Britain. But so much time has already passed that a negotiation result would have to be beaten through the European Parliament at so much speed that most MEPs would probably have to vote on words they have not read. That mocks the parliamentary tasks.

The controversial questions appear to me, such as, among other things, whether in future British standards adopted in Brussels must be observed, whether the European Court can watch over whether British companies and service providers can travel freely through the EU, whether the London financial world can be deregulated from 10 Downing Street, yes and also whether the fishing trawlers of Spain, France, Belgium, Holland and Germany can continue to catch the fish there where he swims, all so wide open that they cannot be clarified by the end of October. Boris Johnson and David Frost, but also Angela Merkel, Charles Michel, Ursula von der Leyen and Michel Barnier can no longer get out of the number without losing face if there is to be an agreement. The workers would need this agreement. But it is more and more likely: No Deal.


the Chancellor’s complex relations with China, Russia and Turkey

Ethics and pocket: values ​​and interests. That is one constant dilemma in German foreign policy. Angela Merkel knows this well, for many years she has struck a difficult balance, promoting the international business of the DAX 30 while denouncing human rights abuses and defending democracy beyond her borders. But 2020 has gotten in his way. The opacity with which China concealed the beginnings of the pandemic, the abuses of Beijing in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, the poisoning with Novichok of the Russian opponent Alexéi Navalni and the Turkish aggressiveness in the eastern Mediterranean are making it impossible for the Chancellor to maintain her equidistant pragmatism . Their position, which has come to be seen as lucrative and inspiring, may end up being seen as self-serving, contradictory, and ultimately counterproductive.

Few leaders in Europe, and throughout the West, know how to quickly get the presidents of China, Russia and Turkey on the phone. When things go wrong with the coronavirus, with Ukraine or Belarus, with Syria, Nagorno-Karabakh or Libya, It is Merkel who speaks with Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But is his unappealable recourse to dialogue with these autocrats really effective? Is his conciliatory and negotiation-prone character worth the fait accompli and testosterone? Can the commercial interests of the largest European economy be demarcated from the foreign policy decisions of its Executive?

Carlos Barragan

That it is accepted to lose the idiosyncrasy of Hong Kong, between the indifference and the conformity of world public opinion, is the greatest symptom of a change of era between the superpowers

China: Hong Kong, the Uyghurs and covid-19

2020 was going to be the big year for Germany and China. Berlin had been carefully preparing for months its rotating presidency of the European Council, from July to December this year. The climax was to come in September, when an event was scheduled to take place in Leipzig (Germany). EU-China summit with the leaders of the 27 and the Chinese president. There, a bilateral investment protection agreement was to be signed with great pomp that would make the bloc the preferred partner of the Asian giant.

But the summit did not take place. There was hardly a video conference. The agreement was not reached either. And it seems difficult to finally reach an ambitious and consensual text by December, the deadline for Brussels. The EU has been disappointed by Beijing’s unwillingness to step forward. Europe demands reciprocity – that European companies can do in China what Chinese companies are allowed in Europe – and Beijing does not want to make that qualitative leap. The president of the European Commission (and former Merkel Defense Minister), Ursula von der Leyen, assured that China had a lot to do.

The agreement was ruined by the lack of economic progress, but the European side was seeing less and less politically digestible an agreement with China in the current context, regardless of the letter of the text. The image of Beijing has fallen whole in recent months due to political repression in Hong Kong – where it has ended judicial independence and freedom of expression – and in Xinjiang, where it is estimated that one million of members of the Uighur Muslim ethnic minority are in concentration camps. But also due to the increasing aggressiveness with Taiwan and the feeling that Beijing concealed the severity of the coronavirus in the early stages of the pandemic, which made it impossible to tackle it in time. In addition, it continues to refuse international experts to travel to Wuhan for an independent investigation and has raised its financial contribution to the World Health Organization (WHO), already questioned in its impartiality, increasing doubts about its independence.

Enrique Andrés Pretel

Under normal circumstances, WHO is often profiled in the media. But these are not normal circumstances and the proof is that you are reading this confined to home

These reasons have also led Merkel to distancing itself from China in recent months, blurring, one year after leaving power, one of the pillars of his legacy: his political and, above all, commercial approach to China. In her fifteen years at the Foreign Ministry, she has traveled to the Asian giant twelve times, always accompanied by a select group of businessmen. The chancellor has helped large transnationals such as Volkswagen, Siemens, Mercedes and BASF do multi-million dollar deals in the world’s second largest economy.

An example of this distancing is Germany’s turnaround on the thorny issue of 5G. If the German government, led by Merkel, began by defending the possibility that the Chinese Huawei participated in the deployment of this new telecommunications standard in its territory, now it is maneuvering so that, in practice, it is out of the game. After defending the importance of the free market and the need to adopt the latest technologies as soon as possible, the government’s draft of the new Telecommunications Security Law does not prevent Huawei’s participation, but it qualitatively limits it in practice. According to the economic daily ‘Handelsblatt’, the legislation provides for a technical control and a political scrutiny of each provider of critical elements of telecommunications networks.

File photo of Russian opponent Alexei Navalni.  (Reuters)File photo of Russian opponent Alexei Navalni.  (Reuters)
File photo of Russian opponent Alexei Navalni. (Reuters)

Russia: Navalny and the Nord Stream 2

For Merkel, Putin’s Russia has always been a difficult interlocutor, but an interlocutor. The chancellor did not consider cutting off the dialogue even in 2014, when Moscow militarily annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and armed and financed a separatist guerrilla in eastern Ukraine. He supported expelling Russia from the G8 and imposing a series of sanctions from Europe that are still in force, but kept in contact. In fact, it was mainly her, although she led the then French president, François Hollande, by the hand, who a year later he brought Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to the table, to seal the Minsk Accords.

Merkel has endured a lot from Putin (perhaps more than anyone) and not only in foreign policy, where the chancellor has received rudeness and indifference from the Russian president when addressing the crises in Syria, Libya or, more recently, Belarus. Also in matters that directly affected Germany. In 2016, the Bundestag suffered a serious cyber attack that experts say was launched from Russia, but Moscow denied the biggest. And last year a Chechen ex-combatant and confidant of various Western secret services was shot in broad daylight in Berlin. The author of the shots, arrested shortly after, was a Russian agent. But for the Kremlin it was all a hoax.

Carlos Barragan. Kyiv

The end of the war in Ukraine sheds light on the turbulent geopolitical landscape. Europe is divided, the US is in internal crisis, Russia is weakened and China is positioned as the silent giant

What reasons could Merkel have to put up with this behavior? On the one hand, there are historical ties of Germany and Russia, in the cultural and human. Like the relations between Spain and Morocco, they are not always simple. There is also the conviction that carrot it is always better than stick, a thesis supported by the chancellor and her government.

But there is also the mere business. The most obvious and controversial example is the Nord Stream 2. It is a gas pipeline that directly connects both countries through the Baltic Sea and that, in addition to providing cheap energy insurance for the German private sector, is an oxygen balloon for Gazprom, the Russian state gas company. The project, which is close to completion despite opposition from Washington -which has imposed extraterritorial sanctions against the companies involved- and several European partners, represents a significant financial setback for Ukraine, which according to an estimate will stop receiving 1.8 billion euros annually in passing taxes.

But Merkel’s patience seems to be over with the Navalni case. The Novichok poisoning of the Russian opposition leader has shocked the chancellor, who has demanded cooperation from Russia and a thorough and transparent investigation of what happened, because only the Russian state possesses this nerve agent. The German government has warned that the use of chemical weapons cannot be left “without consequences” and has advanced talks with its European partners for a “joint response”. It will be time to see if the Chancellor is serious and is really willing to break the deck. The suspension of the Nord Stream 2 would be a good start.

Turkey: The eastern Mediterranean and the refugee crisis

Merkel has once again bet on dialogue on the last front that has been opened to her, the crisis in the eastern Mediterranean between Turkey and Greece. Ankara’s oil prospecting in disputed waters has raised the temperature in the region. Numerous warships on both sides patrol the area and the possibility that human error could unleash an armed conflict has been warned.

The chancellor has once again displayed her ability to balance here, defrauding Athens and sparking skepticism within the EU. And at the last European summit he has gotten away with it. Merkel has opted to avoid confrontation with Turkey, sacrificing the possibility of building a common European front. He has insisted that we must show “solidarity” with Greece, but at the same time seek a diplomatic solution to the conflict. The chancellor has not taken sides with her community partner -as other members of the bloc have done-, but has wanted to act as a mediator, sending her Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, to speak with the two parties, as if they were two alike . Equidistantes.

Behind this diplomatic effort is its interest in keeping Turkey in NATO, but also its need, for internal political reasons, for Ankara to maintain its commitment to host Turkey in its territory. refugees arriving from Syria and Iraq, preventing them from advancing towards Europe. Because Merkel doesn’t want another crisis like the one in 2015, in which she kept her country’s borders open and allowed a million people to enter, but suffered great political wear and tear and caused a deep internal crisis within the conservative German bloc (and the take off of the extreme right). That cannot be repeated. Not a year from the elections.


Sanctions on Belarus and dialogue with Turkey, thus concluded the European Council Summit

The confrontation in the Upper Karabakh region, the strategies to improve the European single market, the Brexit negotiations and the response of the community bloc to the Covid 19 pandemic were other main topics discussed at the meeting.

After two days of meetings between the 27 member states of the European Union, the European Council Summit concluded with a statement against impunity for those responsible for the repression of protesters and opposition politicians in Belarus thanks to a list of sanctions prepared by the different political groups of the community bloc with the purpose of advancing against those responsible for the violence in the electoral process.

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“After the presidential elections in Belarus, we decided to hold an extraordinary European Council to address the issue and express a unanimous position on the situation, and we have agreed today to apply the sanctions that we decided on. A very important signal for our credibility ”, assured the President of the European Council, Charles Michel.

The executive added that there are about 40 names on the table, on which he mentioned that “the people of Belarus have the right to decide their future,” and affirmed that the objective of this resolution is to continue deploying efforts to support values ​​such as freedom of the press. , freedom of expression and support for civil society.

One of the points that generated the most debate around the process of preparing this list was the inclusion of the President of Belarus, Alexandr Lukashenko, who was not finally part of it. “We follow the evolution of situations. We are in favor of an inclusive debate in Belarus and it may play a positive role in improving the situation, ”said the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen.

Michel also confirmed that the formal decision was made yesterday and today, through a written procedure, “what we have decided politically” will be applied. This measure was responded to by the Lukashenko government through a list of sanctions against the community bloc that will be effective during the day.

Another issue that occupied an important point on the agenda was the situation in the eastern Mediterranean and relations with Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, where the latter requested sanctioning measures for the nation governed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan due to illegal drilling in Cypriot waters. and Greeks in search of natural gas.

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In this regard, Von der Leyen stressed that the EU has “two toolboxes”. If Turkey continues to apply unilateral measures and violate international law, the president stressed that it has “all the instruments at our disposal to act quickly.” The other option to which he referred, and which he says “is the one we want to use”, is an agenda and a constructive relationship with Turkey, although he affirmed that it is the nation itself that has to demonstrate that it opts for this path.

“We made that offer today, but if not, we are ready to take all the measures that are imposed. The option of sanctions is there, and on the other hand, the constructive agenda, which is what we want to use to modernize the customs union, work on a declaration on migration, improve trade between the EU and Turkey, “he said.

Von der Leyen also supported the fact that there is a reliable dialogue that has started between Turkey and Greece, but regretted that the same figure does not exist with Cyprus. In turn, Michel commented that the issue will be addressed again in December to assess its evolution. “We remain in contact with Turkey also to explain the European approach to them and we are confident that more reliable behavior will improve relations. We hope to use all the instruments at our disposal if necessary ”, he specified.

The third issue addressed by the member states on the first day of discussions was the conflict that is taking place in Upper Karabakh and involving the nations of Armenia and Azerbaijan. At that point, Michel stressed that the European Council requested an immediate cessation of hostilities and is mobilizing with all acts designed to resume political dialogue. At the same time. Von der Leyen emphasized the need for an urgent de-escalation in the area, reaffirming that “there can be no military solution to these foreign interference.”

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“We ask everyone to play a constructive, positive and favorable role in dialogue in the face of the serious hostilities that have occurred in recent weeks. There is a possible political process, a channel, and within this framework, meetings of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the affected countries have been scheduled in the coming days and we hope that they can be held to give space for dialogue, ”added both executives.

The second day was marked by the conclusions of the twenty-seven on the European single market, where negotiations in progress were heard with the European Parliament to implement what was approved during the month of July in relation to the multiannual financial framework and the economic recovery fund.

Likewise, Michel stressed that digital sovereignty, the development and repair of capacities in the internal market, the digital transition and the green pact are some of the tools and initiatives necessary for the single market to function better and that it can continue to progress “for the benefit of of our project and our values ​​through concrete and ambitious proposals ”.

For his part, Von der Leyen revealed that trade between member states amounts to 25% of GDP and 60 million jobs depend on it. As for the industry, it covers 37% of jobs and two thirds of European exports, reasons for which he stressed that “a single market that works well is essential”.

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To achieve this, he delved into the need to increase the strength of the digital strategy during the first half of 2021 and to take stock of the launch of strategies such as hydrogen technology and access to raw materials, as well as a global review of ” how we are interested in adapting competition rules to a new digital world “

At the same time, the president spoke about proposing artificial intelligence legislation for next year, as well as the creation of a European digital identity that allows citizens to act at the European level. Additionally, she expressed the importance of continuing to expand the 5G and 6G networks and invest 20% of the new generation EU money in this issue, “because digital sovereignty depends on it.”

The meeting also made reference to the Brexit negotiations, at which point Von der Leyen was emphatic in stating that “the withdrawal agreement cannot be applied in its current form.” For this reason, she has scheduled a work agenda with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, where issues such as the internal market bill will be discussed, which contradicts some principles, especially with the Northern Ireland protocol.

“It was asked to withdraw that bill in a month, and since it has not been done, we initiated an infringement file, an action that is part of the procedure of the withdrawal agreement,” added the directive, and then refer to the general negotiations, where it is expected to make a balance in the future to seek an agreement that does not reach any price, but “achieving equal conditions between the two economies.”

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Finally, Von der Leyen referred to the actions of the community bloc in response to the Covid 19 pandemic, and stressed that progress in vaccines is key to finding a long-term solution. In turn, he pointed out that the EU is making progress with the conclusion of two pre-acquisition agreements and another five under negotiation, while also debating with four other companies for the same objective.

He also made reference to the investment in production capacity that will start from now on in order to make access to the vaccine possible for European citizens, starting production lines and ingredients, as well as a vaccination plan presented by the Commission European, which is expected to be adopted before the summer of the following year.


Brexit: Say no to Berlin

In the early hours of Thursday to Friday, European leaders managed to finally unblock sanctions against Belarus and the regime of Alexandr Lukashenko. The European response has been slow. More than a month has passed since the foreign ministers agreed at the political level to implement these sanctions. A price that a Union that supposedly seeks to be geopolitically relevant cannot afford. What happened to take so long? Unanimity, that has happened.

During this month Cyprus has blocked the sanctions, asking that the Twenty-seven act with the same harshness against Turkey, which harasses Greece and Cyprus itself with oil and gas exploration in its waters. Nicosia’s use of unanimity to veto sanctions against Minsk to advance its own interests has angered many in Brussels, and has given more force to the voices that ask to definitively abandon unanimity in foreign policy decision-making in favor of a qualified majority.

Room where European leaders meet in Brussels.  (Reuters)
Room where European leaders meet in Brussels. (Reuters)

You would have to think twice. Charles Michel, President of the European Council, has argued that unanimity is useful because means that when the Union acts it does so with much more forcefulness, with the weight of having the Twenty-seven agree. However, that is not the best defense of unanimity.

The value of unanimity is, in part, the value of the European Union. A small country like Cyprus, with a million inhabitants, has been able to keep up with Berlin, Madrid or Paris in defense of its interests. It is the value of a project that offers a country like Greece, Slovenia or Malta to be able to do something that in no other context would be possible: look Berlin or Paris in the eye and say “no”. And let it be no.

It is true that Nicosia may have tightened the rope too tight, and that Europe could not afford a blockade that has gone too far on an issue like the crisis in Belarus. And it is also true, as Josep Borrell, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has expressed, that a change to the qualified majority is more than justified. On many occasions the Union falls into irrelevance being unable to move fast enough.

It is also true that unanimity is a double-edged sword, and that it can be very valuable when everyone involved is responsible, and can become poisonous in the hands of Member States in the desperate pursuit of their strictly individual interests and contrary to the principles of solidarity and respect for the Treaties. There are many examples of this: from countries with aggressive fiscal policies that take advantage of unanimity to block progress in this regard and continue to drain tax revenues from other member states, to club members who use the lever of unanimity to play dirty in parallel negotiations .

A protester with a European bathrobe during the Polish presidential elections.  (Reuters)A protester with a European bathrobe during the Polish presidential elections.  (Reuters)
A protester with a European bathrobe during the Polish presidential elections. (Reuters)

But if that debate is tackled, which is surely necessary if the EU wants to have greater influence in its neighborhood and in the world, it is crucial that it be done with the knowledge that the value of unanimity must be preserved even if it moves towards a qualified majority. Whenever possible, the interests of the smallest must be protected, because that is what the European Union project consists of.

The big argument against Brexit is that Being outside the Union today does not help protect your sovereignty, it weakens it. The way to strengthen it is within the bloc, getting the rest of the countries to support you in the face of something that, otherwise, you should face practically without support. Even if the Union moves towards a more agile, faster and more accurate version of foreign policy, it must do so while preserving that unanimously armored value. Because, in large part, it is the value of the European Union. A small country that kicks and blocks everyone else’s agenda may be irritating for the rest of the Member States, but that is also Europe, and far from eliminating it, it must be understood as a European virtue: think that perhaps one day that little country that kicks will be yours. It will have to be protected even without unanimity.