This Week’s Hotspots
During the 2016 Berlin Security Conference (BSC), France and Germany highlighted their efforts in leading the union’s defence development to counter potential threats. The conference outlined the need for greater cooperation towards the EU’s survival. At the conference top military European and NATO officials called for increased military spending. Their statement came in reaction to President-elect Trump’s comments on the US role in NATO and on spending.
Europol has warned EU member states of potential imminent terrorist attacks as ISIS has been suffering territorial losses in Iraq and Syria. Jihadi recruiters have allegedly perpetrated refugee centres for the recruitment of those that could potentially deliver attacks.
Meanwhile, UNHCR recently published a report titled “Better Protecting Refugees in the EU and Globally” that called for a EU refugee policy reform. The paper recommended the implementation of a better refugee and asylum checking system and stated the need for member states to continue the integration process of refugees and to increase safe pathways.
Public opinion on the refugee inflow in Europe remains problematic and a number of crimes committed by asylum seekers continue to keep tensions high. In Germany this week an Afghani asylum seeker admitted killing the 19-year-old daughter of a senior EU official.
Yet, even in these tensions, Austria rejected what would have been the first far-right President in Europe since WWII. The leftist independent candidate will head the European country instead.
Another critical vote took place last Sunday in Italy, which resulted in the rejection of the constitutional reform of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, which was meant to strengthen central government while weakening the upper chamber of parliament. A few hours after the vote he announced he was stepping down from his post.
In France, Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced his candidacy for the Presidential election after François Hollande declared he would not be running for a second round.
Further up north Norway urged newly elected US president Donald Trump to issue a clear policy on Russia’s increasing military activity in the Arctic region. The Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide elaborated “The earlier and the clearer that the new administration comes out with this, the better it is, also for European security”.
Lastly, the Georgian Prime Minister expressed his excitement and optimism over a potential EU visa liberalisation for Georgia at the EU-Georgia Association Council meeting with HRVP Frederica Mogherini.
The Arctic Dilemma
The EU has long focused on what it could offer the Arctic rather than what it should do to preserve the region. The European Commission released a statement with recommendations for the establishment of a stable and prosperous Arctic. It is now up to the EU Parliament to act. During the 7th annual Arctic Futures Symposium, the International Polar Foundation’s Vice President, Nighat FD Johnson-Amin, lauded a shift in the EU focus from Global Warming and maritime issues to social issues, while avoiding confrontation with Russia over the Arctic. According to her, “It is no longer just a question of whether the ice is melting, whether ships can get through or whether there will be conflict over resources. Now they want to have a discussion with the people who live there.”
Developments in the EU Parliament
A new relationship has been emerging between the European Parliament and the Commission as Germany has implemented the Lead Party process also known as “Spitzenkandidaten”. This procedure has strengthened both institutions and created more political unity through the creation of grand coalitions between parties. However, this closer relationship remains absent with the Council. This means that the growing presence of Eurosceptic entities within the Parliament have so far had little effect on the EU agenda or its political unity.