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Outlook for the European Council meeting of 15-16 October 2020

09-10-2020

Only two weeks after the last European Council meeting, EU Heads of State or Government gather again on 15-16 October 2020, to address future EU-UK relations, EU-Africa relations and climate change. On climate, EU leaders will evaluate the progress on the EU’s objective of climate neutrality by 2050 and hold an orientation debate. Regarding EU-UK relations, they will assess the implementation of the withdrawal agreement, receive an update on the negotiations on the future EU-UK partnership and discuss ...

Only two weeks after the last European Council meeting, EU Heads of State or Government gather again on 15-16 October 2020, to address future EU-UK relations, EU-Africa relations and climate change. On climate, EU leaders will evaluate the progress on the EU’s objective of climate neutrality by 2050 and hold an orientation debate. Regarding EU-UK relations, they will assess the implementation of the withdrawal agreement, receive an update on the negotiations on the future EU-UK partnership and discuss the preparatory work for all scenarios after 1 January 2021. In addition to EU-Africa relations, other external relations issues are likely to be discussed, notably the poisoning of Alexei Navalny. EU leaders will also return to the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Outcome of the special European Council meeting, 1-2 October 2020

05-10-2020

The European Council meeting of 1-2 October 2020 was largely dedicated to external relations. EU leaders discussed a wide range of foreign policy issues, including relations with China, Nagorno-Karabakh and the Navalny poisoning attempt. Particular attention was paid to the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, with EU leaders extending an offer to cooperate with Turkey – provided the current path to dialogue was maintained – while envisaging all options otherwise. On Belarus, the leaders agreed ...

The European Council meeting of 1-2 October 2020 was largely dedicated to external relations. EU leaders discussed a wide range of foreign policy issues, including relations with China, Nagorno-Karabakh and the Navalny poisoning attempt. Particular attention was paid to the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, with EU leaders extending an offer to cooperate with Turkey – provided the current path to dialogue was maintained – while envisaging all options otherwise. On Belarus, the leaders agreed on restrictive measures against officials responsible for repression and election falsification. Also on the agenda were the single market, industrial policy and digital transformation, notably in the context of EU strategic autonomy. There was also an in-depth discussion on coordination of the coronavirus pandemic response. Finally, the President presented the new Leaders' Agenda 2020-21, foreseeing the main topics for discussion up to June 2021.

Russia, arms control and non-proliferation

29-09-2020

Multilateral non-proliferation treaties have curbed the spread of the world's dangerous weapons. The international security order also builds on a series of bilateral agreements between the two leading nuclear powers, the Soviet Union/Russia and the United States (US), mostly concluded towards the end of the Cold War or soon afterwards. Although the multilateral treaties are still in place, the bilateral elements have mostly come unstuck. In 2019, the US pulled out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear ...

Multilateral non-proliferation treaties have curbed the spread of the world's dangerous weapons. The international security order also builds on a series of bilateral agreements between the two leading nuclear powers, the Soviet Union/Russia and the United States (US), mostly concluded towards the end of the Cold War or soon afterwards. Although the multilateral treaties are still in place, the bilateral elements have mostly come unstuck. In 2019, the US pulled out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and it is probable that the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the last remaining major bilateral arms control agreement, will expire in 2021. Russia's systematic violation of its arms control commitments is partly to blame. Other factors include increased US unilateralism and the failure of both sides to adapt the system to changing realities such as China's rise as a military power. Russia is investing heavily in its nuclear forces and developing new and more powerful weapons. Its arsenal is equal to that of the US and in some areas it may even have at least temporary superiority, partially compensating for weaknesses in terms of conventional weapons. As geopolitical tensions rise, arms control has become more necessary than ever. However, it seems unlikely that the US, Russia and possibly China will manage to conclude a new generation of agreements. The implications are not yet clear: neither a major shift in the military balance nor a new arms race are expected, but the lack of formal constraints creates uncertainty.

Foreign interference in democracies: Understanding the threat, and evolving responses

22-09-2020

Across the world, democratic societies, institutions, processes and values are under increasing external and internal attack. The coronavirus crisis has, meanwhile, exacerbated the systemic struggle between democracy and authoritarianism, prompting authoritarian state and non-state actors to deploy a broad range of overt and covert instruments in their bid to destabilise their democratic counterparts. Against this backdrop, and following a string of examples of hostile meddling by authoritarian actors ...

Across the world, democratic societies, institutions, processes and values are under increasing external and internal attack. The coronavirus crisis has, meanwhile, exacerbated the systemic struggle between democracy and authoritarianism, prompting authoritarian state and non-state actors to deploy a broad range of overt and covert instruments in their bid to destabilise their democratic counterparts. Against this backdrop, and following a string of examples of hostile meddling by authoritarian actors to undermine democratic governing processes in countries such as Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States (US), Canada and Australia, the focus on foreign interference continues to sharpen. Among the EU's institutions, the European Parliament − arguably the flagship of European democracy − is pushing the policy response to foreign interference to the top of the political agenda. Among other initiatives and actions, in October 2019 it passed a resolution on countering foreign interference and has set up a special committee on foreign interference, whose constituent meeting is scheduled to take place in September 2020.

The poisoning of Alexey Navalny

21-09-2020

EU-Russia relations hit a new low in August 2020, after Alexey Navalny, one of Russia's leading opposition activists, was poisoned by a banned nerve agent. Although the perpetrators have not yet been identified, the attack has to be seen in the context of repression and growing discontent against Putin. In response to this clear breach of international law and human rights, the EU is considering additional sanctions against Moscow.

EU-Russia relations hit a new low in August 2020, after Alexey Navalny, one of Russia's leading opposition activists, was poisoned by a banned nerve agent. Although the perpetrators have not yet been identified, the attack has to be seen in the context of repression and growing discontent against Putin. In response to this clear breach of international law and human rights, the EU is considering additional sanctions against Moscow.

Belarus on the brink

25-08-2020

As usual in Belarus, the 9 August presidential election was marred by fraud, repression and state violence against the opposition. As expected, the long-standing President, Aleksander Lukashenko, claimed a landslide victory. What was unusual this time, however, was the scale of Belarusians' disappointment: peaceful protests and strikes spread throughout the entire country in response to the stolen election, despite brutal crackdowns. What started as a national crisis now represents a wider struggle ...

As usual in Belarus, the 9 August presidential election was marred by fraud, repression and state violence against the opposition. As expected, the long-standing President, Aleksander Lukashenko, claimed a landslide victory. What was unusual this time, however, was the scale of Belarusians' disappointment: peaceful protests and strikes spread throughout the entire country in response to the stolen election, despite brutal crackdowns. What started as a national crisis now represents a wider struggle between truth and lies, democracy and autocracy, raising the stakes for both Minsk and Moscow, whose nervousness has spilled over into mounting aggression.

The EU and Russia: Locked into confrontation

28-07-2020

Following the post-Cold War reset of the 1990s, EU-Russia relations have become increasingly tense. Although initially seen as a pro-Western reformer, since the start of his first presidency in 2000 Vladimir Putin has shown increasingly authoritarian tendencies, and his efforts to assert Russian influence over post-Soviet neighbours threaten the sovereignty of those states. Russia's 2008 war against Georgia led to no more than a temporary cooling of relations with the European Union (EU). However ...

Following the post-Cold War reset of the 1990s, EU-Russia relations have become increasingly tense. Although initially seen as a pro-Western reformer, since the start of his first presidency in 2000 Vladimir Putin has shown increasingly authoritarian tendencies, and his efforts to assert Russian influence over post-Soviet neighbours threaten the sovereignty of those states. Russia's 2008 war against Georgia led to no more than a temporary cooling of relations with the European Union (EU). However, its 2014 annexation of Crimea caused a more permanent rupture. Responding to Russian aggression in Ukraine, the EU adopted hard-hitting sanctions. In 2016, the EU decided to base its Russia policy on five principles, which remain as valid as ever in 2020. They are: insistence on full implementation of the Minsk Agreements on eastern Ukraine as a condition for lifting sanctions against Russia; efforts to strengthen relations with Russia's former Soviet neighbours; greater EU resilience to Russian threats; selective engagement with Russia on certain issues such as counter-terrorism; and support for EU-Russia people-to-people contacts. After six years of deadlock, French president Emmanuel Macron is among those calling for renewed EU-Russia dialogue. Improved relations between Ukraine and Russia following the election of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in spring 2019 raised hopes of a solution to the Donbass conflict, which is still the main obstacle to better relations between the two sides. However, there is still no sign of a breakthrough.

Scenarios for geo-politics after coronavirus: A recent Atlantic Council analysis

16-07-2020

The Atlantic Council report, 'What World Post-Covid-19? Three Scenarios', has two main takeaways: first, Chinese-US rivalry could get worse and go global, destabilising an increasingly divided EU and endangering the United States' alliances system in Asia. Second, there is no way around the US, Europe and China cooperating to develop a positive, global 'new normal'.

The Atlantic Council report, 'What World Post-Covid-19? Three Scenarios', has two main takeaways: first, Chinese-US rivalry could get worse and go global, destabilising an increasingly divided EU and endangering the United States' alliances system in Asia. Second, there is no way around the US, Europe and China cooperating to develop a positive, global 'new normal'.

Outlook for the European Council video-conference of 19 June 2020

12-06-2020

The European Council meeting on 19 June, to be held by video-conference, will be almost exclusively dedicated to the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and the proposed new EU recovery fund, dubbed ‘Next Generation EU’. The two European Commission proposals are now to be considered as one package for the purpose of negotiation, since the recovery fund is in effect embedded within the revamped EU long-term budget. This has increased the pressure on Member States to reach a political agreement ...

The European Council meeting on 19 June, to be held by video-conference, will be almost exclusively dedicated to the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and the proposed new EU recovery fund, dubbed ‘Next Generation EU’. The two European Commission proposals are now to be considered as one package for the purpose of negotiation, since the recovery fund is in effect embedded within the revamped EU long-term budget. This has increased the pressure on Member States to reach a political agreement on the MFF, but also multiplied the issues of disagreement among the EU leaders. In addition to the MFF-specific issues, on which divergences could not be overcome at the special European Council meeting in February 2020 – namely the overall size of the EU budget, the use of rebates and the funding allocation per policy area – the proposal for the recovery fund raises sensitive new questions, notably on the balance between loans and grants, the allocation criteria for funding and the modalities for repayment.

Constitutional change in Russia: More Putin, or preparing for post-Putin?

27-05-2020

In January 2020, Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, opened the constitutional debate by outlining a series of amendments that, according to him, aimed to improve the balance of power and adapt the Constitution to the changes that had taken place since 1993, when the original text was adopted. With Putin's fourth and – as it seemed till recently – final presidency due to end in four years, observers speculated that the proposed amendments were intended to give Putin options for continuing to rule ...

In January 2020, Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, opened the constitutional debate by outlining a series of amendments that, according to him, aimed to improve the balance of power and adapt the Constitution to the changes that had taken place since 1993, when the original text was adopted. With Putin's fourth and – as it seemed till recently – final presidency due to end in four years, observers speculated that the proposed amendments were intended to give Putin options for continuing to rule the country from behind the scenes, beyond 2024. Events took an unexpected turn in March 2020, when lawmaker and former cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova, tabled a last-minute amendment. Her proposal envisaged re-setting the clock for presidential terms, allowing Putin to stay on as president for another 12 years, should he choose to do so. Shortly afterwards, the bill was rubber-stamped by both houses of the federal parliament, and all of Russia's 85 regional parliaments. Altogether, the amendments revise nearly one-third of the Constitution's 137 articles. Apart from presidential term limits, they also clarify the role of Russia's main institutions, with some additional powers for the parliament. Reflecting growing nationalism and suspicions of liberal Western influences, other provisions bar senior government figures from holding foreign citizenship or bank accounts, give the Constitution primacy over decisions made by international bodies, and affirm traditional values. Socioeconomic changes include annual indexation of pensions and a guarantee that the minimum wage will not fall below the poverty threshold. Before they can come into effect, the amendments must first be approved by a nationwide vote on a date yet to be scheduled. Surveys suggest that public opinion is divided on the changes; as the economy deteriorates due to the coronavirus crisis, there is a growing risk of a 'no' vote, which would be an unprecedented setback for Putin.

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