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Charting a course through stormy waters: The EU as a maritime security actor

25-02-2021

The European Union (EU) is a one-of-a-kind maritime actor, which brings both opportunities and responsibilities. It is argued that if the EU-27 were to combine the capacities and capabilities of their navies, they would form one of the world's largest maritime powers. There is therefore space for better integration of capabilities and for greater coherence among the EU's tools to promote its multi-dimensional strategic maritime interests. As around 90 % of global goods are traded via maritime routes ...

The European Union (EU) is a one-of-a-kind maritime actor, which brings both opportunities and responsibilities. It is argued that if the EU-27 were to combine the capacities and capabilities of their navies, they would form one of the world's largest maritime powers. There is therefore space for better integration of capabilities and for greater coherence among the EU's tools to promote its multi-dimensional strategic maritime interests. As around 90 % of global goods are traded via maritime routes, freedom of navigation, security, sustainability and respect for international law are crucial for the EU. These routes are however becoming increasingly contested and restricted, reflecting new patterns of global power distribution. In the security and defence field, the EU's common security and defence policy instruments, particularly its missions and operations abroad, are the most visible manifestation of its maritime actorness. The maritime dimension of the EU's security and defence policy has been put in the spotlight by Portugal, the holder of the EU Council presidency in the first half of 2021. Two of the 17 EU missions and operations are naval military operations: EUNAVFOR Somalia Atalanta in the western part of the Indian Ocean, and EUNAVFOR MED Irini in the central part of the Mediterranean Sea. EU Member States also participate in multinational maritime coalitions as well as in NATO's own maritime operation, Sea Guardian, patrolling the entire Mediterranean Sea. In following the orientations provided by its maritime and global strategies, the EU is aiming to increase its capacity and reliability as a maritime security actor. One example is its coordinated maritime presences, launched in January 2021 with a pilot case in the Gulf of Guinea to boost the EU's maritime capacity and global outreach. Another is the EU's action to boost its maritime defence capabilities through the various post-2016 initiatives that aim to incentivise collaborative projects. Finally, the EU has also enhanced its cooperation with NATO in ensuring maritime security in the transatlantic space, although political obstacles remain.

Implementation of the common foreign and security policy (CFSP)

13-01-2021

Through the common foreign and security policy (CFSP), the European Union (EU) seeks to develop relations and build partnerships with third countries and international, regional or global organisations with shared principles on human rights, democracy and fundamental freedoms. The CFSP promotes multilateral solutions to common problems, based on international law and values. The European Parliament is set to vote on the annual CFSP report covering 2020 during the January 2021 plenary session.

Through the common foreign and security policy (CFSP), the European Union (EU) seeks to develop relations and build partnerships with third countries and international, regional or global organisations with shared principles on human rights, democracy and fundamental freedoms. The CFSP promotes multilateral solutions to common problems, based on international law and values. The European Parliament is set to vote on the annual CFSP report covering 2020 during the January 2021 plenary session.

EU-Turkey customs union: Modernisation or suspension?

15-12-2020

Turkey is the EU's fifth largest trading partner, while the EU is Turkey's largest. The association agreement concluded between the European Economic Community (EEC) and Turkey in 1963 was an interim step towards the country's accession to the EEC, membership of which it had applied for in 1959. The EU-Turkey customs union came into force in 1995, and Turkey obtained EU candidate status in 1999. In December 2004, the European Council decided that Turkey qualified for EU accession, making it possible ...

Turkey is the EU's fifth largest trading partner, while the EU is Turkey's largest. The association agreement concluded between the European Economic Community (EEC) and Turkey in 1963 was an interim step towards the country's accession to the EEC, membership of which it had applied for in 1959. The EU-Turkey customs union came into force in 1995, and Turkey obtained EU candidate status in 1999. In December 2004, the European Council decided that Turkey qualified for EU accession, making it possible to open negotiations to this end. In 2008, the Council of the EU adopted a revised accession partnership with Turkey. Since 2016, EU-Turkey relations have suffered due to a deterioration of democratic principles, human rights and the rule of law in Turkey, in the wake of a failed military coup. A European Commission recommendation of 21 December 2016 to launch talks with Turkey on modernising the EU-Turkey customs union was halted by the General Affairs Council of 26 June 2018, which concluded that no further work in this direction should be planned. In 2019 and 2020, Turkey's military operations in Syria, Libya and the eastern Mediterranean, coupled with its maritime disputes with Greece and Cyprus, further eroded its relations with the EU. Following some positive signs by Turkey, on 1 October 2020 the European Council once again gave a green light to modernising the customs union, provided that constructive efforts to stop illegal activities vis-à-vis Greece and Cyprus were sustained. The European Council also stressed that in case of renewed unilateral actions or provocations in breach of international law, the EU would use 'all the instruments and the options at its disposal', including in accordance with Article 29 of the Treaty on European Union and Article 215 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, to defend its interests and those of its Member States. However, in the light of Turkey's recent conduct and given that the EU-Turkey customs union has not been modernised, but not suspended either, the EU could agree on some new sanctions, as called for in the European Parliament's 26 November 2020 resolution on escalating tensions in Varosha.

Turkey: Remodelling the eastern Mediterranean: Conflicting exploration of natural gas reserves

04-09-2020

Since the discovery of offshore natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean in the early 2000s, Turkey has challenged its neighbours with regard to international law and the delimitation of their exclusive economic zones (EEZs), and destabilised the whole region through its illegal drilling and military interventions. Ankara has used military force and intimidation, including repeated violations of the territorial waters and airspaces of neighbouring countries. Ankara has also used bilateral ...

Since the discovery of offshore natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean in the early 2000s, Turkey has challenged its neighbours with regard to international law and the delimitation of their exclusive economic zones (EEZs), and destabilised the whole region through its illegal drilling and military interventions. Ankara has used military force and intimidation, including repeated violations of the territorial waters and airspaces of neighbouring countries. Ankara has also used bilateral deals, such as its November 2019 memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), which purports to determine new maritime boundaries. The Turkey-Libya MoU effectively drew a dividing line between the eastern and western parts of the Mediterranean, threatening maritime security, natural gas exploration and new infrastructures such as the EastMed pipeline. Turkey's behaviour, beyond its geo-economic interests, reflects a more ambitious geopolitical 'neo-Ottoman' agenda intent on remodelling the whole region by spreading the country's influence from northern Iraq and Syria to Libya and leaving behind the Kemalist tradition of secularism and regional neutrality. Tensions in the Aegean Sea and the eastern Mediterranean have not been conducive to good neighbourly relations. The international community has strongly condemned Turkey's behaviour. Taking into account Turkey's poor track record in upholding human rights and the rule of law, the European Union has suspended accession negotiations and all pre-accession funds under the planned new multiannual financial framework for 2021 to 2027. The European Parliament has condemned Turkey's illegal drilling activities as well as its military interventions in the region.

Hagia Sophia: Turkey's secularism under threat

24-07-2020

Turkey's decision to convert Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a mosque, announced on 10 July 2020, created a wave of protest from international and EU authorities, who fear for religious freedom and the republican secular tradition in Turkey. The Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union (EU) condemned this decision at its meeting of 13 July 2020, alongside international organisations including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), raising concerns that the ...

Turkey's decision to convert Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a mosque, announced on 10 July 2020, created a wave of protest from international and EU authorities, who fear for religious freedom and the republican secular tradition in Turkey. The Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union (EU) condemned this decision at its meeting of 13 July 2020, alongside international organisations including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), raising concerns that the decision would 'fuel mistrust, promote renewed divisions between religious communities and undermine efforts at dialogue and cooperation'. While Turkey is still an EU candidate country, several recent initiatives, ranging from military interventions in Syria and military assistance to Libya in breach of the arms embargo, to illegal gas drilling and repeated threats to EU Member States in the eastern Mediterranean, undermine the country's path towards EU membership and open the door to possible sanctions.

Macro-financial assistance to enlargement and neighbourhood partners in the coronavirus crisis

11-05-2020

On 22 April 2020, the European Commission submitted a proposal for a decision for macro-financial assistance (MFA) to support ten enlargement and neighbourhood partner countries in their efforts to mitigate the economic and social consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, for a total amount of €3 billion. The Parliament is expected to vote on its position on the legislative proposal during the May plenary session.

On 22 April 2020, the European Commission submitted a proposal for a decision for macro-financial assistance (MFA) to support ten enlargement and neighbourhood partner countries in their efforts to mitigate the economic and social consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, for a total amount of €3 billion. The Parliament is expected to vote on its position on the legislative proposal during the May plenary session.

Libya: Geopolitics of protracted civil war in the western Mediterranean

27-04-2020

Libya's third civil war in a decade began when Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) launched an offensive on Tripoli in April 2019. Fayez al-Sarraj, leader of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) turned to Turkey for military help in an effort to remain in power. Libya has been divided since 2014 into rival military and political camps, based respectively in the capital Tripoli and in the east. The renewed armed conflict risks not only dismantling the fragile modus vivendi ...

Libya's third civil war in a decade began when Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) launched an offensive on Tripoli in April 2019. Fayez al-Sarraj, leader of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) turned to Turkey for military help in an effort to remain in power. Libya has been divided since 2014 into rival military and political camps, based respectively in the capital Tripoli and in the east. The renewed armed conflict risks not only dismantling the fragile modus vivendi of these two administrations but also enhancing the interference of regional players that are using this conflict for their own geostrategic interests. A growing number of countries and international organisations, among the latter the United Nations and the European Union, have intervened ever more decisively in the conflict. Taking into account that warring Libyan factions, broadly aligned with either the GNA or the LNA, are vying for foreign support and arms supplies, the critical point for a peaceful solution is to enforce the UN arms embargo. To this end, following the January 2020 Berlin conference on Libya, the EU launched, on 31 March 2020, a new common security and defence policy mission: Operation EU Active Surveillance (Operation Irini), that has as its goal the implementation of the arms embargo imposed by the United Nations Security Council. The European Union remains a supporter of the UN-led efforts to bring about a lasting solution to the political and security crisis in the country. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Libya hosts around 45 000 refugees and asylum-seekers from troubled areas in the region. In addition, hundreds of thousands of Libyans have been internally displaced due to ongoing military conflicts. Following the 90 % decrease in the number of Libyan migrants heading for Europe in recent years, compared to the peak in 2014-2016, the main efforts of the international community are focused on securing a ceasefire and bringing about a lasting political solution to the internal conflict, while honouring the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement.

A new approach to EU enlargement

11-03-2020

The Thessaloniki Summit (2003) opened the door to a European future for the Western Balkans. However, since then progress towards EU membership has been slow. The countries of the region have struggled to implement economic and political reforms, and the rule of law remains particularly problematic. The 2018 Enlargement Strategy for the Western Balkans gave new impetus to the enlargement policy, offering the six countries of the region a 'credible strategy' through enhanced EU engagement and indicating ...

The Thessaloniki Summit (2003) opened the door to a European future for the Western Balkans. However, since then progress towards EU membership has been slow. The countries of the region have struggled to implement economic and political reforms, and the rule of law remains particularly problematic. The 2018 Enlargement Strategy for the Western Balkans gave new impetus to the enlargement policy, offering the six countries of the region a 'credible strategy' through enhanced EU engagement and indicating 2025 as a possible accession date. In June 2019, and again in October 2019, the Council postponed the decision to open negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, despite the positive recommendation from the European Commission and the agreement of the European Parliament. By delaying this decision, the European Union was sending an ambiguous message to the region, reducing its credibility and potentially fuelling nationalistic rhetoric, whilst opening the door to the influence of third-country powers, in particular China and Russia. These problems have sparked a debate which has led to a fundamental re-think of the EU's enlargement policy. In February 2020, European Enlargement Commissioner, Olivér Várhelyi, announced a revised methodology. The new approach aims to strengthen the process. It improves tools to push reforms forward, notably in the areas of the rule of law and the economy. It makes the accession negotiations more credible, more predictable, more dynamic and guided by a stronger political steer. The candidate countries need to deliver on the reforms they promised and the EU needs to deliver when they do so. The criteria will be made clearer and more concise on what is required. Dynamism also means that related issues will be negotiated together in clusters. This can speed up the process. However, if there is backtracking, the process can go backwards with chapters reopened and the level of negotiations scaled back. The Commission's new proposals also envisage further integration of Western Balkan countries into EU policies, programmes and markets, which would deliver some of the benefits of EU membership even before accession. These proposed changes, together with the updated report of the Commission on Albania and North Macedonia pave the way for a decision of the Council, on opening accession negotiations with these two countries, before the EU-Western Balkans summit, to be held in May 2020 in Zagreb, Croatia.

EU-Turkey relations in light of the Syrian conflict and refugee crisis

09-03-2020

Approximately 3.6 million refugees have entered Turkey since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011, the highest number in the region. Despite on-going international and European Union financial and humanitarian support, this ever-increasing refugee presence has resulted in heightened social tensions in Turkey. In the 2019 local elections, the loss of the Istanbul mayoralty by the governing Justice and Development (AK) party was perceived as a major setback for the 'imperial presidency' ...

Approximately 3.6 million refugees have entered Turkey since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011, the highest number in the region. Despite on-going international and European Union financial and humanitarian support, this ever-increasing refugee presence has resulted in heightened social tensions in Turkey. In the 2019 local elections, the loss of the Istanbul mayoralty by the governing Justice and Development (AK) party was perceived as a major setback for the 'imperial presidency' of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Istanbul's new mayor, Ekrem İmamoğlu (Republican People's Party, CHP), played a leading role in nurturing aversion for Syrian refugees, stating that Turkey was managing the refugees badly and that 'people are unhappy'. Some Turkish politicians also regard refugees as a security threat – a trend that has grown since September 2019 when the Turkish military began Operation Peace Spring in north-east Syria, with the aim of containing the Kurds and creating a 'safe zone' to which Syrian refugees could return. The Turkish military operation in Syria, as well as the Turkish incursion into Libya, and other geostrategic issues, such as gas drilling disputes with Cyprus, have led relations between the EU and Turkey, already tainted by the drop in democratic standards since the failed military coup in 2016, to deteriorate further. Repeated threats by Erdoğan that Turkey would 'open the gates' and let the refugees enter the EU materialised on 28 February 2020, when Turkey opened its borders with Greece, setting the scene for a new refugee crisis. A swift European response, with the presence of the presidents of the main EU institutions in Greece on 3 March 2020, demonstrated the unity and will to face this critical situation together. Past experience, in particular the 2015 refugee crisis, has however highlighted the weaknesses in the internal and external dimensions of the EU's migration policy. The current crisis is both a stress-test and an opportunity for the EU to clarify its own strategic position in order to develop a new consolidated geopolitical blueprint for the whole Mediterranean and Middle East that would not only tackle the ambition and behaviour of regional powers such as Turkey, but also place the EU on an equal footing with other global powers active in the region.

Religion and the EU's external policies: Increasing engagement

12-02-2020

Religion has been emerging as a new dimension in the EU's external policies. This paper provides an overview of the principles, institutional set-up and policies underpinning the EU's approach to religious issues in third countries. Nine case studies meanwhile serve to illustrate the important role played by religion in the foreign policies of a number of different countries worldwide.

Religion has been emerging as a new dimension in the EU's external policies. This paper provides an overview of the principles, institutional set-up and policies underpinning the EU's approach to religious issues in third countries. Nine case studies meanwhile serve to illustrate the important role played by religion in the foreign policies of a number of different countries worldwide.

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